Happy Brainday To You!
Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~ Edgar Allan Poe ~
Mindless, Teal sunk her teeth through the squishy, soft tissue and questioned for the third time in twenty-five years of death, if this was what living was all about? Tearing at the flesh in her hands, she yanked and pulled taking her time as she chewed; similar to the goats she’d seen at the farm her mother managed.
The first time her mind wandered, she’d been four and questioned her parents about the reason why they did not go out during the day.
“You see our very pale almost paper-like skin?” her mother asked and Teal nodded. “It cannot withstand the sunlight.”
“Is mine like that?”
Softly exhaling, Morgan patted the hand her daughter rested on her forearm.
“Not really, Honey."
“Can I go out? With the sun?”
Morgan grimaced at her baby’s words. “No, Teal. Only humans can. We can’t risk something happening to you since your dad, nor I can go out to help if it did.”
Wrinkling her face, Teal persisted. “What are humans?”
“They’re the inhabitants of the other half of this planet. Beyond the gates.”
“Can I meet one?”
Her mother bounced her eyes from Teal’s excited face to her husband’s muted one, hesitating.
“Can we?” she insisted.
“Shut up dummy!” her brother Jax’s mocking tone reached across the table. “Pff, who cares?! Humans die.”
“I do!” she retorted wide-eyed. “They ... die?!” Teal turned her attention back to her mother.
Before the conversation got any more heated, their father warned them with a commanding, “Eat-your-brains!” and the discussion immediately ended with the siblings falling silent for the rest of the night.
The second time Teal questioned her existence, she’d been fifteen and rebellious, or as rebellious as one can be in the Felix family. Sick and tired of the unanswered questions her parents so frequently swerved, she tried her luck again.
“But, I don’t understand why we have to be in seclusion?” she complained. “Why can’t we live among the living? It’s not like I’m gonna jump on one them, smack ’em over the head, and eat their brain while they’re still alive! Gross!” She shivered with abhorrence.
“Honey, the disease spreads quickly and easily. Humans are not interested in turning into us. They’re afraid of how we look, what we eat ...” her mother trailed off.
“Let’s make them understand! Tell them we eat the hearts, livers, and brains of dead animals or humans, not live ones! They must know we not only eat human brains, and when we do, they are already dead!”
“That’s the way humans are, Teal. They have misconceptions and wrong ideas because they have incorrect information. They don’t bother to learn the truth. Humans don’t care about us or finding a cure as long as they can keep us away.”
Morgan looked away in the distance, disgusted. “It’s like anything else in life Teal, people don’t like what they can’t understand.”
Her mother’s words were bitter as they spilled out of her mouth and there was discontent in her eyes.
“Why ask stupid stuff, Teal?” Came her brothers’ gruff voice.
He was eighteen and apparently handsome and popular with the female zombie population. He couldn’t wait to finish up his brains and head over to a party he’d been invited to. That’s all he ever thought of, food, sex, and parties.
“Teal, eat. Do you know how many starving zombies there are in America?” Her mother gave an attempt to change the subject. “Jax, clear your plate, and stop asking for trouble.”
Both she and Jax glared at each other from across the table. She stuck her tongue out at him in distaste, he stuck his middle finger at her like an ass.
“I want to know! And no, I don’t know how many zombies are starving. You won’t talk about it and we don’t own a TV, so ...!” In typical teenage fashion, Teal’s sarcastic tone was thick in her mother’s ears.
“Eat. Brains. Now. Then, bed.” Her father scolded.
“But it’s 2:00 a.m.!” she complained. “It won’t be daylight for hours!”
“Teal!” her father warned.
Teal understood it to be the end of their conversation. Her father wasn’t a great communicator like their mother, but he clearly could get his point across.
“Yes, Sir,” she mumbled, never questioning family, or friends again.
Teal followed instructions as expected, not doing much of anything except look at what was in front of her. Today, yet again, she felt differently.
Looking down at the brains in her small hand made her stomach churn. They didn’t taste as good as they had all these past years no matter how delicious her mother prepared them on this special day.
Teal was born a corpse unlike her parents and brother, who were infected. Her little fetus fed of brains and blood. What else was she to know but survival? She’d always felt something was missing from her life, but her family assured her the questions were unnecessary. She is who she is. An undead. A brain-eater. A zombie. Period.
Before tonight, thoughts of change and life, in general, were fleeting. Teal hadn’t considered them a challenge. But for the past few hours, while she stood in the dark, Teal wondered if she’d be able to live a different life. One she’d be content with. One where she could be a different zombie, maybe even feed on something else.
Earlier, she’d casually mentioned her doubts to her best friend, Samantha. But her response, yet again, had been unsatisfactory.
“Teal darlin’, there’s nothing better to soothe our soulless bodies than brains, music, and sex. You shouldn’t be thinking of anything else.”
“Because it’ll bring nothing but trouble and heartache.”
’What do you mean by that?”
In popped Jax’s smiling head, interrupting them. “Ready, Querida Mia?”
My love, being the only two words he’d ever remembered in Spanish, no thanks to the condition which fated them. Teal was proud of his accomplishment of remembering such a thing she’d taught him many years ago. Something she’d read in one of the many books she loved.
“Hey, Teal,” he greeted as if she were a second thought. In the dark, a few blue veins at both sides of his temple, visible. His eyes, a beautiful dull, light, honey-brown color, almost yellow.
“Yes, Love. Did you congratulate Teal on her birthday?” Samantha hopped off the bed.
“Huh?” He narrowed his eyes at Teal.
As part of Jax’s zombie-ism, as the years went by, he lost a little more information from his mind, forgetting words and remembering only impactful moments in his life, regardless if they were new or old memories. His mind was jumbled and besides the things that came naturally to him, everything else was a hit or miss. His moments of clarity unpredictable.
Turning his head to look at his sister, he cocked an eyebrow.“Wanna go?”
Teal shook her head.
“I don’t care much for that sort of thing. You know that.”
He bobbed his head from side to side unsure. “Even birthday?”
He shrugged. “See ya, Squirt!”
She rolled her eyes and laughed. “You’ve become so charming. You used to be such an ass when we were little.”
He gave her shoulder a playful push.
Teal giggled. “See you, guys. Have fun!”
With a quick kiss to the cheek and a comforting hug, Samantha whispered happy birthday in her ear. Teal muttered an unhappy thank you under her breath and watched them leave hand in hand.
Laying back on the bed she stared at the cobwebbed ceiling. Happy freakin’ birthday, she thought miserably. What was a birthday without adventure? Without growing up? Without answers? Teal wondered why she was named after a duck if she wasn’t meant to fly.
Facing the crackling fireplace, she sighed in discontent still chewing on the same piece of fat, as if it were rubber.
“Sweetheart, is something wrong?” Her mother’s soft voice interrupted her solace.
She’d quietly walked into the large, dark chamber that had long been abandoned by humans and was now her reading room. The dust scattered about and the spiderwebs were prominent. Once a beautiful, bright room decorated luxuriously where people sat and met to watch television, she was told.
Now it sat deteriorated looking raggedy and dirty.
Zombies were not ones to gather except perhaps around a dinner table. When her family took over the house, not much was done to it. The dust scattered about and the cobwebs were prominent. At one point, a large broken TV remained in the middle of the wall. If she stared at the spot long enough, she would be able to see the marks left from it being there.
Slowly turning her head towards her mother’s voice, the flicker of the candelabra glowed lights, casting dark shadows on her mother’s visage. They displayed a resemblance of what her mother must have looked like as a human twenty-five years ago.
Her beautiful but pale, translucent facade, stared back at Teal and she noticed how much her own image looked back at her. The blueness and brightness of their eyes, the raven hair, the fine mouth ... except her mother’s features resembled more the aspect of a cadaver’s.
The bone and skin around her gentle eyes, hazy and skeletal, the white of her eyes yellow and her thick hair long and ever-growing. The thin, delicate lips now purplish in color vaguely showing the outline of teeth under the attenuated skin. Her mother’s face displayed a deep hollowness under the tight skin of her cheekbones, now leathery in texture.
If people paid attention, they would recognize her mother to be something more than what she had become. If they stopped and look, they would realize, pieces of her human mother still lay under all of that physical tatter.
“Why do we live in darkness? Why is dad simple-minded and Jax forgetful? Why can I have a decent conversation with Samantha and one so intelligently with you?”
You wouldn’t be able to tell the questions took her mother by surprise except Teal knew, because she knew her mother.
“Sweetheart, why don’t you come to the kitchen and get new fresh brains? Those you’re nibbling on might not be so tasty. You’ve been chewing for hours.”
“Stop. Please stop,” came her small but firm voice. “Why?” She turned her body in exasperation. “Why are we not able to question what we are? Who we are? Why we do what we do?”
“I thought I answered your questions last time ...”
“Last time,” Teal interrupted, “you didn’t answer my questions. Both you and dad told me to eat my brains like you are doing so now.”
Her mother sighed.
“Tell me. Tell me how you and dad turned. Tell me why and how we were cast out of the human side of the country. Tell me why we live like rats and roaches even though we are not.”
She gently touched her mother’s arm and pleaded with her eyes. “As my birthday gift?” A teasing smile lingered, lightening the mood, “In case you hadn’t figure it out yet, brains, are not a birthday gift, just so you know.”
Her mother laughed nervously and nodded. “We can talk.”