The Sinister Mr. Corpse
"Whooooo-eeeeee, take a look at the size of that thing, willya?" The elderly fisherman grinned and winked at the camera as he lifted the thrashing bluegill out of the lake and into his net. "Now that is a prize fish. Just like I said, all the fancy mechanical lures and baits in the world can't compare to a good ol' fashioned hook and worm."
He set his pole on the floor of the small wooden boat and carefully removed the hook from the fish's mouth, then proudly held his prize, still in the net, up to the camera. "Sixteen inches. You see, any good fisherman knows that it ain't about the technology, it's about patience and skill. Yep, patience and skill."
The fisherman winked at the camera again. He held the bluegill up to his face and made some kissy sounds at it. "Betcha wish you hadn't gone for that worm, huh? Not quite as comfortable in my net as it is in the cool fresh water, is it, little fella? No, no, no, I'm guessing that you're not a happy fishie at all right now."
He chuckled, then bashed the fish against the floor of the boat, rattling the camera. "Take that, you little shit!" He bashed it again, then smacked the fish against the side of the boat three times in rapid succession. "Yeah, you messed up real good this time, little fishie!"
The fisherman stood up, dropped the bluegill, and stomped on it over and over until it was unrecognizable pulp. "Die, you wormy piece of filth! Scaly vacant-eyed little bastard! Die!"
As the fisherman scraped the mess on his shoe off on the side of the boat, the words "EXTREME FISHING!" flashed on the screen, with the exclamation point formed out of fish bones. Then a series of jump cuts set to heavy metal music: a man gutting a large trout, a topless woman firing a shotgun into a lake, a man getting his arm bitten off by a great white shark, two guys burning a fish with lighters as it dangled from the hook, and a man in a fish costume being severely beaten with a baseball bat.
The small television screen faded to black.
"What do you think, sir?" asked Martin Vines, timidly. He was in his late twenties, wore a long goatee and wire-framed glasses, and always dressed entirely in green, like a Bohemian leprechaun.
Stanley Dabernath stared at the blank screen for a long moment. "Did he really kill that fish?"
"I believe so."
"I don't think we can show somebody bashing a real fish to death. The animal rights groups will have a hissy fit."
"Do they care about fish?"
"Are you kidding? Those squirrel-huggers get their thongs in a twist over roaches. I liked the naked chick, though. We could put her on the front of the box, maybe with severed fish heads over her nipples. I'd buy that, wouldn't you?"
"I could be convinced."
Stanley thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Yeah, let's do it. Fuck the squirrel-huggers. We'll say it was a CGI fish."
"Excellent idea, sir."
"Set up a meeting with the filmmakers for tomorrow. Make it late so we can get some booze into them."
"Thanks, Martin. I need to make some phone calls." Stanley pushed back his chair and stood up. "Keep everybody out of my office for the next hour or so."
Stanley left the screening room and walked to his personal office at the other end of the trailer. He shut the door and pulled off his t-shirt, which was drenched with sweat. He could barely stand to be in the screening room anymore since the fan broke last month.
He sat down on his cot, pressed a snot-stained pillow to his face to muffle the sound, and began to sob.
Stanley cried and cried, occasionally pounding his fist against the blanket. How had he ended up in such a miserable existence? Sixty thousand dollars in debt, evicted from his apartment, washing his clothes in the bathroom sink, eating stolen Ramen noodles three times a day…it just wasn't fair. Hell, the only reason he could work out a distribution deal for the Extreme Fishing tape was because he'd be screwing over the filmmakers on the deferred payment clause.
Demented Whackos Video should have made him a millionaire. He'd started this business with nothing more than an e-mail account, the rights to a no-budget zombie flick, and a $19.95 a month storage unit. Now, three years later, Demented Whackos Video had thirty-nine offerings in its catalog, but he could no longer afford the storage unit. The DVDs were stacked in the trailer's kitchenette.
It just didn't make sense. Cheap horror crap was supposed to be a sure profit, but nobody was buying it. He'd fired and rehired his marketing department, Martin, eight different times and nothing was working.
Stanley sniffled and wiped his nose on the pillow. Oh well. Times were bad now, but he was not one to give up. Yeah, it was pathetic that he was thirty-five years old and had to swipe alcohol from his parents' refrigerator to use in business meetings, but all he needed was one hit to put Demented Whackos Video on the map. One sicko product to capture everybody's attention.
Maybe Extreme Fishing was just that product.
Stanley got off the cot and put his t-shirt back on. He always felt refreshed after his daily cry. Things would be improving very soon, he could feel it.
And even though he would be dead within the next hour, he was right.
Despite his line of business, Stanley had never given much thought to his own mortality. His only real concern was that he might be decapitated. He'd read somewhere that the human head could continue to see for several moments after it was severed from the body, and that idea seriously creeped him out.
"What if you were decapitated, but your eyes were poked out first?" his ex-girlfriend Charlene had asked as they lay in bed one night. "Would you be cool with that?"
Stanley admitted that he probably wouldn't care for that scenario either, and then dumped Charlene the next morning (after the sex).
But beyond the decapitation phobia, Stanley wasn't one to dwell on his own possible death. Physically, he felt fine. He got plenty of exercise thanks to not being able to afford car repairs or gasoline, and had a steady stream of girlfriends. His love life was perhaps lacking the kinky threesomes with gorgeous blonde twins that a handsome film distributor deserved, but he wasn't complaining, save for the occasional comment about the lack of kinky threesomes with gorgeous blonde twins.
Well, maybe "handsome" was stretching it a bit, but he certainly wasn't ugly. He had thick black hair, cut short, and almost perfect teeth in his winning smile. His ears didn't stick out or anything and his nose was sized just right. If he had to be truly honest with himself, he'd say that he was average looking, but at the upper end of average. And despite his career setbacks and daily wallow in shameful self-pity, he still managed to project an aura of self-confidence.
Fourteen minutes before his death, Stanley walked out of the trailer park and along the unpaved street. A good cry and a long walk each day was what kept him sane.
He walked for a while, lost in thought. He heard a large truck approaching behind him, and stepped further off the road so it wouldn't mess up his hair when it rushed by.
Maybe a compilation tape would work. The Best of Demented Whackos Video. He could use clips from Vampire Splatter and The Bloodshot Eyeball and The Mysterious Case of the Chunks of Flesh and Put Down That Chainsaw, I'm Not Made of Wood and-
Brakes squealed behind him.
Stanley glanced over his shoulder to see the semi truck weaving off the road, headed straight towards him.
He dove out of the way and tumbled onto the gravel, scraping the hell out of his arm and the side of his face.
The semi came to a screeching halt.
Then it started to topple over.
Stanley frantically tried to scoot away from the falling vehicle and almost succeeded. It struck the ground with a thunderous crash, landing on Stanley's left foot.
He shrieked in pain.
Cold white liquid began to pour from the vehicle. Stanley got a huge mouthful of milk and spit it out, but more and more milk poured upon him. He desperately struggled to free his pinned foot to no avail. As he screamed, milk filled his mouth and his nostrils and burned his lungs and his eyes and he felt himself choke.
Unrestrained panic set in.
He couldn't breathe.
His arms flailed helplessly.
And then a moment of peace.
A moment of clarity.
I can't fucking believe I'm going to die by drowning in milk, he thought.
"We're going live in fifteen seconds!"
Donald Mandigan clenched the microphone tightly in his left hand, hoping that the beads of sweat on his forehead wouldn't be visible on camera. This was either going to be the big break that turned him into a television superstar, or he was going to look like a complete ass in front of the entire world.
Please, please, please don't let me look like a complete ass in front of the entire world, he prayed.
"Live in five…four…three…"
Donald took a deep breath. As the floor manager pointed to him, he addressed the camera.
"Death. Once upon a time, it was thought to be the end of our worldly existence, at least in our current body. But has this changed?"
Donald gestured to a steel door in the hallway behind him. "Behind this very door, scientists are taking out their felt-tipped red pens and rewriting God's plan. And here, on live television, you are about to witness it for yourself. I'm Donald Mandigan. What you are about to see may disturb you. It may offend you. It may even terrify you. Because tonight you will witness the very first resurrection of a human corpse, or at least the first one since that popular Jewish carpenter a couple of millennia ago."
Please, please, please, please, please don't let me look like an ass, he silently begged.
"Is what you will see tonight wrong? Is it evil? Is it perhaps even the beginning of the end? I suppose that's only for the man upstairs to decide."
Donald paused for a moment of reverent silence, then continued. "The corpse in question is Stanley Dabernath. An ordinary man, taken from this world far too early in a tragic accident several weeks ago."
"And…we're clear," said the floor manager. "Back in eight minutes."
Donald wiped the perspiration from his forehead and forced himself to relax. The show had now switched to a pre-recorded retrospective of the life of Mr. Dabernath, from his normal childhood in Illinois to his sleaze-bucket years as a failed film distributor in Florida.
"If this show ends and there's still a motionless body on that table, I'm going to kick every butt in this place."
"Don't worry about it," said the cameraman. "If the guy doesn't come back to life, we'll just tie some strings to him and make him dance around."
"Real funny." Donald ran his hand over his forehead again. "Look at me, I'm sweating like a pig. I never sweat like a pig."
Missy, the makeup girl who had refused to sleep with Donald on seven different occasions but caved in on three others, hurried over to touch him up.
Donald couldn't believe he was doing this. The ratings were probably going to be killer, far beyond any of the other Bizarre Reality specials he'd hosted, but the risk was incredible. There was a damn good chance that he'd spend the next hour of his life trying to convince the viewing audience that the motionless dead body on the table wasn't the biggest dud in the history of television.
Quite honestly, Donald didn't know why they hadn't just prerecorded the resurrection and told everybody it was live. After all, they were in an underground bunker in New Mexico, whose location had been kept secret to avoid the protestors. There'd been thousands of them gathered outside the network headquarters for the past week, and in fact seventeen of them had been badly injured when things got out of hand yesterday morning.
In the most recent poll, twenty-six percent of the American public was morally opposed to the resurrection, while twenty-three percent were in favor. Fifty-one percent thought the whole thing was bullshit.
Donald stood there for a few minutes, sweating and wondering what hilarious jokes the talk show hosts would crack at his expense if this was, in fact, bullshit.
"Did you all watch the show last night with Donald Mandigan? We didn't get to see a body come back to life, but we did get to see something die: his career!"
"We're back in five…four…three…"
At the floor manager's cue, Donald addressed the camera again. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, let's go beyond the steel door." He warned the audience again about the possibility of being disturbed, offended, and/or terrified, and then opened the door and walked inside the small room, followed by the cameraman.
The cadaver of Stanley Dabernath rested on a gurney, dressed only in a pair of white boxer shorts. Considering the amazing talent of contemporary mortuary workers, Donald felt they could've made the poor guy look a little less hideous, but at the same time the visible decomposition would make the return to life all that much more impressive. The cadaver's left foot was in a white plastic cast. Two scientists in white jackets stood around the gurney, and a dozen or so tubes were hooked up to the corpse.
"Welcome, Donald," said the lead scientist, reading off a cue card. "So glad you could join us."
"The pleasure is all mine. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Richard Brant, head of Project Second Chance. Mr. Brant, how do you respond to those who feel that this is unnatural, that man should not be trying to conquer death?"
"I understand their concern," he admitted. "However, I believe that if the Good Lord has given us the creativity, persistence, and desire to bring a human being back from the dead, we'd be turning our back on His gifts if we didn't pursue it. As you know, Congress did not uphold the attempted ban on our project, and I feel that the possible benefits of our research simply cannot be overstated."
"Let's talk about another question that I'm sure is on the minds of our viewing audience. Why Stanley Dabernath? With all due respect to Mr. Dabernath and his estate, he's not in the best physical shape at the moment, and I think viewers at home can consider themselves fortunate that they aren't here to experience the scent. Why wouldn't you use, for lack of a better term, a fresher specimen?"
"That's an excellent question," said Brant. "Of course, the body has been refrigerated for these past two months or else it would look substantially worse than what you see before you. However, while the science involved is too complicated to get into in this forum, suffice it to say that a certain amount of decomposition is required for our chemicals to work properly."
"And what exactly are these chemicals?"
Brant chuckled. "Oh, no. You're not getting that information out of me until we get the patent."
Donald returned his attention to the camera. "We're only moments away from the attempted resurrection of the corpse you see here before you," he said, perfectly aware that the actual resurrection was at least three commercial breaks away. "Please stay with us as we bring you this historic and controversial moment, live."
As the show went to commercial, Donald looked over the body. There was no doubt that it was dead. He'd touched the body-the leg-before the broadcast and it was either a real corpse or the most realistic artificial one ever created. And having spent some time in morgues for his special on medical malpractice, Donald wasn't sure it was possible to fake that good ol' dead body smell.
The next segment was a pair of prerecorded interviews, one with a New York pastor expressing his outrage at this blasphemy, and one with a college professor and award-winning author who felt that this was the dawn of a glorious new world. After another commercial break, they went to a series of grammatically questionable comments by normal people on the street. After another set of commercials and a segment on the protestors, the show returned live to the resurrection room.
"Let's talk about what exactly is going to happen," Donald said.
"Though again the science involved is very complicated, the procedure is relatively simple." Brant patted the top of a large black cylinder, which held the other end of the tubes that were in the corpse. "This machine will deliver the chemicals in the proper doses into the subject. That should take exactly three minutes and eight seconds. From then, we'll expect the corpse to return to life within several minutes."
"And if this works, what condition will the specimen be in, mentally and physically?"
"To be completely honest, we really don't know."
"Let's say it doesn't work. Could you then just hook another dead body up to the machine?"
"Ah, that would certainly be convenient, wouldn't it?" said Brant with a smile. "Alas, it's not quite that simple. Someday in the future we'd like to be able to just slap another body in the machine and return them to life, but for now, Mr. Dabernath is our only hope."
"So let's say that nothing happens tonight. Where does that leave Project Second Chance?"
"Well, first of all, it leaves us looking rather foolish on national television, as well as yourself, if I may be so bold."
Stick to the cue cards, funny guy, thought Donald.
"Beyond that," said Brant, "I don't care to speculate."
"Fair enough. Now, does the thumbs-up sign that the other scientist is giving you mean that we're ready to begin?"
"It does indeed, Donald. So I'm going to have to ask you and your camera crew to leave."
Donald blinked. What the hell?
"I'm only kidding. Just thought I'd add a touch of humor to an extremely weighty moment in human history."
"Ah, well, I'm sure millions of viewers out there found it highly amusing."
Brant walked over to the machine and placed his hand on the lever. "And so we begin," he said. After a dramatic pause, he pulled it.
There was a loud hissing sound, several multi-colored lights began to flash, and a motor began to whirr as the machine started pumping chemicals into the cadaver. Donald felt a tingle of excitement that did a bit to offset his horrible stomach cramp.
What if this worked? What if this body really did come back to life? He'd get to witness it firsthand, see this miracle of human accomplishment with his own eyes.
For a brief moment, all thoughts of his career vanished as he stared at the corpse, watching its closed eyes.
Then he remembered that he was on live television and supposed to be saying something. "Now, can we expect to see any signs of change at this point in the process?"
Brant shook his head. "Nothing until the chemicals have been fully infused into the body."
Donald watched the corpse anyway. The cameraman remained focused on it as well, and Donald knew that the television viewing audience was seeing a clock counting down the time remaining until this stage was complete.
For the next two minutes, Donald explained what was going on for the benefit of those viewers who were just tuning in.
"We're at three minutes," announced the other scientist.
Donald silently counted down the final eight seconds, and then the machine stopped.
The corpse lay still.
"I need to remind you, nobody knows exactly what's going to happen, or how long it will take," Donald said into his microphone. "It could be seconds, it could be minutes. But whatever you do, do not take your eyes off the screen."
Donald was sweating so profusely that it was dripping off his nose, but that didn't matter. The camera wasn't on him.
He took his eyes off the corpse for just a moment and looked at Richard Brant. The guy was so excited he was practically twitching. Donald wondered if he'd cackle and shout "It's alive…it's alive!" if this worked.
When it worked. He needed to stay optimistic.
"One minute," announced the time-keeping scientist.
"We've just passed the one-minute mark," Donald said. "As you can see, there are no external signs of life, but again, we don't know how long this is going to take."
The second minute passed with no change in the corpse's activity, as did the third. By the fourth minute, Donald was becoming a bit antsy, and by the fifth, the stomach cramp had far overtaken the tingle of excitement. The sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh minutes consisted of increasing degrees of being pissed off.
"I would like to stress once again that nobody knows how long this is going to take," said Donald, who felt that he probably had flop-sweat dripping from his teeth by this point. "This type of human accomplishment has never been accomplished by humans before, and so we have to be patient. Mr. Brant, at what point would we consider Project Second Chance a failure?"
"There are never failures in science, only opportunities to learn from our mistakes."
"Okay, so, at what point do you decide that tonight's experiment is an opportunity to learn from your mistake?"
"Obviously we're going to continue to monitor the cadaver for as long as it takes."
"I understand that, but let's pretend that eventually we need to go to a commercial break…"
The time-keeper scientist pointed to the corpse's hand. "We've got movement in the index finger of the left hand."
Donald's frustration vanished. "Ladies and gentlemen, if you'll look closely, you'll see that we do indeed have a tremor in the corpse's finger. In fact…yes, it looks like the middle finger is twitching as well. My God, this is incredible. Approximately twelve minutes into the procedure, two of the corpse's fingers are showing unmistakable movement."
And then, without warning, the corpse sat up, screaming.
Stanley Dabernath sat up, tubes popping free of his body, and shrieked as if waking up from the Godzilla of nightmares. "Shit!" he wailed. "Mother of fuck!"
Where was he? What had happened to him? Who was that guy with the camera?
"Holy shitting damn shit!" he screamed, looking around the room, eyes wide. His vision was kind of blurry, but he could tell that there were a couple of guys dressed in white and some guy holding a microphone.
Had he been on the operating table? Had he almost died? This place didn't look like a hospital room. Maybe these people were conducting illegal experiments on him.
He screamed some more.
"Stanley, can you hear me?" asked one of the men in white. "Can you understand what I'm saying to you?"
His whole body felt like it was burning up from the inside. He realized that the other man in white was coming at him, holding some kind of freaky metal thing, so he punched the guy out, sending him crashing into some black cylinder-shaped machine with tubes connected to it. The force of the punch hurt his hand so badly that he thought he'd shattered it, and he let out a profanity-laced cry of pain.
Tubes. There were more of them in him. Who knew what kind of stuff his body was sucking up? He yanked the remaining tube out of his side, and then began to pull out the ones in his legs.
Then his vision went into sharp focus as he looked at his legs.
They were a sickly grayish-blue color, with small splotches where the skin looked like it had rotted away.
What had they done to him?
What disease had they injected him with?
He looked at his arms and chest. They were just as bad.
Stanley let out a dry heave, and then passed out.
"Stanley, my name is Richard Brant. How are you feeling?"
Stanley opened his eyes. It took a few seconds for his vision to focus, and then he saw that he was in somebody's bedroom. Aside from the bed, the only furnishings were a large bookshelf and a wide-screen television. The walls were decorated with paintings of peaceful scenes, mostly beaches at sunset. He was under a fluffy pink blanket, which was bunched under his chin but completely covered the rest of his body.
"Stanley, can you hear me?"
Stanley realized that his hands and feet were strapped to the bed. He began to violently tug on them, but quit immediately when it felt like he was going to rip his arms and legs out of their sockets. His left foot hurt particularly bad and felt like it was wrapped in something.
The prick who said he was Richard Brant was seated in a chair next to the bed. He was middle-aged, with a full head of completely gray hair, and wore glasses and a neatly-trimmed goatee. He was wearing a casual tan sweater-vest.
"Let me go," Stanley pleaded. "I won't tell anybody about what you've done, I swear."
Brant chuckled. "Oh, on the contrary, we've spread the news far and wide. You're a star, Stanley."
"What did you inject me with? Am I gonna die?"
"No, you're certainly not going to die. Tell me what you remember."
"Let me out of here."
"Stanley, I need you to calm down. I apologize for the fact that we awakened you in such a cold, clinical environment. This room is a bit nicer, don't you think? You even have a waterbed." Brant leaned over and pressed his hand against the mattress, jiggling Stanley a bit. "Are you in pain?"
"Yes, that's to be expected. Don't worry, if you follow our instructions, it will fade before long. Now tell me what you remember. What happened to you before you woke up in the other room?"
"I don't know."
"Try and remember."
"I think I stomped on a fish."
"Did you, now?"
"Yes…no, wait…I don't know. No, I didn't. I watched it. Extreme Fishing. I went out for a walk, and this semi came at me, and it fell on me and I couldn't get away from the milk. I almost died."
"And what do you remember after that?"
"I'm not sure." Stanley tugged at the straps again, wincing in pain. "C'mon, let me go."
"At least take off this blanket. You did something to me. My skin is all messed up."
"Try and concentrate, Stanley. What do you remember after you nearly drowned?"
Stanley thought for a long moment. "Nothing."
"Nothing at all?"
"Just waking up in the other room with all those tubes stuck in me. Please take off the blanket."
"I need you to take a long, deep breath. Can you do that for me?"
"You can't keep me here! The cops'll find you! My parents are probably looking for me right now!"
"Stanley, you have to calm down or I'm going to walk out of this room and leave you alone in the dark for a while. I'm sure you don't want that, so how about taking that long, deep breath for me, all right?"
Stanley closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His lungs burned as he did so.
"You didn't almost drown after that truck hit you," Brant explained. "You did drown."
Stanley opened his eyes again. "What?"
"Yes, I'm afraid you did."
"I didn't die. I remember…" He tried desperately to recall what had happened to him afterward, but his mind was blank. "Well, I sure as hell don't remember dying!"
"But you did. And I brought you back to life. On national television. With record ratings, I assume."
"Fuck you. You give me some disease and tell me you brought me back to life? You think that's funny? What kind of sick bastard are you? When the cops get here, they'll lock your deranged butt away for good."
"You have no disease. You are, in fact, remarkably healthy for somebody who was dead for eight weeks." Brant stood up. "I'm going to remove the blanket now, and it will probably disturb you. You may even pass out again. But I need you to be strong. Can you be strong for me, Stanley?"
"I can be strong enough to kick your ass."
"You know, Stanley, we're going to have to work on that profanity problem. We can't have you being a celebrity with such a foul mouth."
"Quit saying 'Stanley.' It's not nearly as soothing as you think it is."
"Very well. You don't seem willing to calm down, so I'm afraid I'll have to leave you for a short while. Take this time in the dark to compose your thoughts and make that special effort to cooperate."
Brant stood up and left the room, shutting off the light behind him.
Oh, sure, like I'm supposed to be scared of the dark, thought Stanley. I'm not five years old anymore, you jerk.
He took another deep breath and exhaled slowly. He didn't know exactly what kind of perversions were going on in this place, but he sure as hell hadn't died and been brought back to life. Or if he had, it was one of those deals were he'd been legally dead for a couple of minutes and they revived him. He definitely hadn't been dead for eight weeks.
He did smell pretty bad, though.
Maybe he had leprosy.
Or maybe they'd infected him with one of those flesh-eating bacteria.
It could even be some experimental disease commissioned by the government to use in combat. That was the most likely explanation. They were going to see how long it took for him to die. Well, these sadists weren't going to get any good research out of him. He'd find a way out of here and inject them with their own funky virus.
The dark was kind of scary.
He almost tugged at the straps again but decided against it.
He needed to stay calm and focused. If he just played along with them, there was bound to be a chance to escape. And they probably had an antidote for whatever disease they gave him. He'd be fine. Everything would be fine.
Did something move next to him?
No, no, he was just imagining things.
Deep breaths. Lots of deep breaths.
He needed to distract himself.
I spy with my little eye…
You're in the dark, dipshit.
I'm going on a camping trip and I'm bringing an apple.
I'm going on a camping trip and I'm bringing an apple and a box.
I'm going on a camping trip and I'm bringing an apple, a box, and a cooler.
I'm going on a camping trip and I'm bringing an apple, a box, a cooler, and a deadly disease, one that's eating through my legs at this very moment.
He wasn't going to panic.
He wasn't going to scream.
Who had saved him from the milk? Maybe it was the idiot driving the semi. Or maybe it had been Martin. Hopefully it was some hot chick who'd given him mouth-to-mouth.
I just need to get some rest.
Stanley closed his eyes. He got no rest.
Richard Brant turned the light back on as he walked into the room, holding a briefcase. "Are you feeling more peaceful, or should I leave for another hour?" he asked.
"Good." Brant sat down next to the bed again. "I apologize for that. It wasn't very polite. But there's a serious physical risk if you get too worked up, and so I'll have no choice but to do the same thing if it happens again. It's for your own safety."
"Thanks. I feel very safe now."
"Excellent," said Brant, apparently oblivious to the sarcasm. "So let me restate the situation. You died and we brought you back to life."
"If you say so."
"The truck fell over, crushing one of your feet, and you drowned in the flow of milk that leaked from the side. The driver of the truck was killed instantly. He was drunk and hadn't been wearing his seatbelt, so it's no loss to the gene pool. Another driver arrived several minutes later and called for help. You were brought to the hospital where you were pronounced dead. You lay on a mortuary slab for several hours. The tag that had been on your toe is doing quite well on eBay, for what it's worth. Your corpse was then taken into custody by Project Second Chance. Two months later, you were the star of a television special where we brought you back to life. And now you're here. Any questions?"
"No, I guess you covered it pretty well," said Stanley. "It's good to be in the know."
Brant set the briefcase on the floor and stood up. "You're probably going to scream," he said. "That's fine. But don't struggle or you'll only hurt yourself."
He pulled off the fluffy pink blanket.
Seeing his body without the mental cushion of blurred vision and disorientation, Stanley realized that it was even worse than he'd thought. Sickly grey. Shriveled. Almost skeletal in places. And covered with small splotches of black rot. "Oh shit…" he whimpered.
"You should feel fortunate," said Brant. "Because of the treatment we gave you in the morgue, your body didn't decompose the way a normal body would. It looks bad on the outside, but we believe that your internal organs are in more or less perfect working order. Normally they would have liquefied."
Stanley felt absolutely sick to his non-liquefied stomach. "Is it going to get worse?"
Brant shook his head. "You'll be given an injection every twenty-four hours. They will halt the process of decomposition. If you should miss one of them, it will be unattractive. I suggest that you don't miss any of them."
"But this is all going to heal up, right?"
"Sadly, no. We're able to stop it from spreading, but there's no way to reverse it. My apologies."
Stanley sat up as much as he could. "I need a mirror."
"I don't think you're ready for that."
"Goddamn it, get me a mirror!"
"Are you going to make me leave you in the dark again?"
Stanley sunk down into his pillow. "No."
"Good. Now, you will continue to eat, sleep, and handle necessary bodily functions like a normal living human being," Brant explained. "However, you will not bleed. Shall I demonstrate?"
"No, no, that's okay, I trust you. I'll wait until I accidentally cut myself on something."
"That sounds reasonable. I realize you're upset, Stanley, and I don't blame you at all. However, keep in mind that this is a blessing. You should still be dead. Your body looks bad now, but think how it would look six feet underground, covered with maggots and spiders."
"You're right. Every day's a sunshiny day when you don't have maggots and spiders eating your guts."
Brant smiled. "I'm glad to see you've maintained a sense of humor. I must admit, I was worried that you'd wind up catatonic or completely insane. You certainly wouldn't be a good spokesman for Project Second Chance if you could do nothing but babble and shriek, right? By the way, if you're feeling up to it, we'd like you to do a brief press conference tomorrow. The world wants to see The Amazing Mr. Corpse."
"Say the hell what?"
"That's what the press has dubbed you. I think it's rather catchy."
"I don't want to be known as Mr. Corpse."
"The Amazing Mr. Corpse."
"I'm gonna be The Amazingly Pissed-Off Mr. Corpse if you don't untie these straps. C'mon, how am I gonna run away if my legs are rotting off?"
"Actually, your motor functions will hold up remarkably well. You'll be a bit stiff, but…" Brant trailed off and grinned. "Stiff. That was kind of funny."
"I'm laughing my ass off."
"You'll be doing that literally if you miss an injection. Anyway, Mr. Corpse, I do hope that you'll be as charming as possible at the press conference. You're a celebrity, Stanley. This could be a huge opportunity for you."
"Sure. Pay a quarter to see Stanley Dabernath, the disease-ravaged freak."
"You still don't believe that you were dead, do you?"
"Oh, I'm sure you would never fib to me. This whole strapped-to-the-bed thing proves that you're a trustworthy chap."
Brant knelt down. Stanley heard him open the briefcase, and then Brant stood up again, holding a small stack of photographs. He held the stack in front of Stanley's face.
"Recognize this handsome gentleman?" Brant asked.
The top picture was of Stanley, lying on a gurney, dried milk on his face, his eyes open, his expression lifeless.
"So? That's me in a coma," said Stanley, even though it didn't look anything like a coma.
Brant flipped to the next picture. "How about this?"
In the photo, Stanley lay on a metal table, his body the appalling gray color, his eyes still open. Stanley turned away.
"What's the matter, Stanley? Is it disturbing to see yourself dead and refrigerated?"
"Right," said Brant. "While you were unconscious we put some makeup on you and took some photographs just for an elaborate practical joke to convince you that you'd been deceased."
"And that's supposed to be a less plausible explanation than that I'm a re-animated zombie?"
"Here, watch yourself rot." Brant flipped through the next few pictures, which showed Stanley on the same table, his body decomposing more and more with each photo.
"Having fun, you sick fuck?" asked Stanley, feeling like he was about to vomit.
Could he still vomit?
"This isn't about having fun. I'm proving a point."
"This isn't proving a damn thing. And how come you won't give me a mirror, but you'll shove these nasty pictures in my face?"
"Fair enough," said Brant, straightening the stack of photographs. He knelt back down, dug through the briefcase, and stood up with a small mirror in his hand. "Just to warn you, though you'll be on every magazine cover in the country, it won't be as the Sexiest Person Alive."
Brant held the mirror in front of Stanley's face.
Stanley stared at his reflection in stunned silence.
This wasn't him. It couldn't be.
His face wasn't a face at all. It was a skull with grey skin tightly stretched over the surface. He barely even had a nose, just a pair of nostrils.
He tried to touch his face, momentarily forgetting that his hands were still bound.
What disease could possibly have done this to him?
He knew he couldn't be dead, because he could see a tear trickling down his cheek, and dead people didn't cry.
"It's upsetting now, but you'll get used to it," said Brant.
"I'm a freak."
"Oh, no, you're a scientific phenomenon. Freaks stay locked in basements, or are gaped at in carnivals, or are hidden away in padded cells. You, my friend, are destined for much better things."
Stanley kept staring into the mirror and said nothing.
"I think you've seen enough for now," said Brant, lowering the mirror. "And I think it's safe to undo the straps. How does that sound?"
Stanley didn't respond.
Brant stepped over to the foot of the bed and began to unfasten the straps that bound Stanley's feet. "I don't know if this will make you feel better or not, but if you look at the pink blanket, you'll notice that there's no residue from your body on it. We really did stop the decomposition. I'm just pointing that out in case you were worried about it."
"Thanks," Stanley said without enthusiasm.
Brant finished undoing the foot straps and then moved over to unfasten the ones binding Stanley's hands. "I think we've made a connection, Stanley, and I'm confident that you won't try to do anything foolish. So please don't take offense when I mention that your parents and your friend Martin Vines are here, and I would hate to see you do anything that might force me to restrict visiting hours. Do you understand?"
"Out loud, please."
"Yes, I understand."
"Good." Brant finished undoing the straps. "You're free now. This room is yours, and before too long we'll give you a chance to redecorate it to your personal taste."
Stanley sat up, but a wave of dizziness struck him and he nearly fell back onto the bed. He braced himself upright and rubbed his forehead, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to see his rotted palms.
"You shouldn't have any problems walking on that cast," Brant assured him. "Your foot was completely crushed, but you'll be surprised how much it has healed since your death."
"How could somebody's foot heal after they're dead?"
Brant winked at him. "That's my little secret."
"Don't wink at me."
"You'll find that you heal remarkably well. The holes in your side where we put the tubes are already starting to fade. I can't say for sure, but I suspect that your foot will be back to normal within a couple of days. Just the crushed part; the rest will still be rotted."
"Well, I have things to take care of," said Brant. "If you need anything at all, there's a call button on the headboard of your bed. Do you have any questions before I go get your first visitor?"
Stanley shook his head.
"Remember, Stanley, this is a blessing."
"It is. And you'll understand that before too long. I'll talk to you soon."
Brant picked up his briefcase and left the room.
Stanley just sat on his bed for several minutes, staring at the wall. This was no blessing. This was a nightmare. This was hell.
There was a timid knock at the door. "Sir?"
"Can I come in?"
"No, not yet." Stanley hurriedly lay back down on the bed and pulled the pink blanket completely over him. "All right, come on in."
The door opened, somebody walked in, and the door closed again. "Sir?"
Stanley heard Martin approach the bed. "Sir, I've already seen how you look. You don't have to hide yourself."
"I'm not hiding. This blanket is very comfy."
"Sir, really. I've seen far more disgusting things in our videos."
Stanley pulled the blanket away from his face. Martin flinched and recoiled a bit, but then composed himself. He was wearing green slacks and a green sweater, and held a large glass of water. "Good to see you, sir."
"Martin, what the hell is going on?" Stanley quickly sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "What did they do to me?"
"They brought you back."
"Oh, c'mon, don't you give me that horseshit too."
"It's the truth. You were dead. I saw you out on the road. I was with you in the ambulance. You drowned."
"I did not drown. People don't die and come back to life!"
Martin placed a reassuring hand on Stanley's shoulder, although Stanley noticed that he hesitated before actually touching him. "I've never lied to you. I've had plenty of opportunities to, and I know that you've lied to me many, many times, but I swear that I have never lied to you in all the time we've worked together."
"You were dead, sir. I saw you. I saw you after it happened, and I saw you in the morgue, and I saw you right before they brought you back to life on television."
"So I'm a zombie?"
Martin shrugged. "I guess that's what you'd call it."
"I can't be a zombie, Martin. I just can't. I can't do the whole hungering for human flesh thing."
"I don't think that's a requirement."
"I mean, look at me." Stanley tossed the blanket aside, stood up and turned around in a circle. "I'm grotesque. I'm revolting, and appalling, and…and just plain gross! Don't tell me I don't reek."
"I won't tell you that."
"I just…I don't…I don't get it. Why me? Why bring me back as a rotting monster?"
"Something about your DNA mixing with the chemicals. They said it was very complicated."
"You've got to get me out of here, Martin," said Stanley. "I'll go live in a cave or something. I can't stay here and let them do experiments and stuff on me for the rest of my life. You know what, I don't even know if I can die again. Can I?"
"I'm not sure."
"Something to look into. But I have to get out of this place. You can help me, right?"
Martin was silent for a long moment. "I think you need to trust these people. They brought you back from the dead, and they have only your best interests in mind."
"My best interest? The son of a bitch strapped me to the bed, left me in the dark, and told me my body was gonna turn into gook!"
"That's only if you don't get your injections."
"The guy's a sadist. You've got to help me, Martin. I need you."
"I'll be here for you, sir. I'm staying in the bunker. I promise I won't let them hurt you."
"I promise I won't let them hurt you," Martin repeated, looking Stanley in the eye.
Stanley relaxed. "Okay."
"I'm going to go now," Martin said. "Oh, here, this is for you." He handed Stanley the glass of water. "You're supposed to just lie down. If you get plenty of rest, by tomorrow you should be feeling fine."
Stanley nodded. "If you say so."
"I'll send your parents in, all right?"
"No. They can't see me like this."
"Sir, they've seen your body."
"I don't care what they've seen. I can't let them see me like this. Tell them to go home."
"They'll be disappointed."
"Better disappointed than terrified."
"All right," said Martin. "If you change your mind, you can press the button. It's good to see you again, sir. Things will be fine. You'll see."
Martin looked as if he wanted to give Stanley a hug, but then changed his mind and left.
Stanley drank the entire glass of water in one gulp, except for what dribbled out of a small hole in his lower lip. He set the glass on the nightstand and then lay back down on the bed and closed his eyes. He'd never had a waterbed before. It was kind of nice. And the pink blanket was undeniably soft and comfortable. Maybe Martin was right. Maybe things wouldn't be so bad.
He lay there silently for a long while, and then fell asleep.
Stanley woke up feeling…good. At least in a physical sense. There was no trace of the pain from before, and no wave of dizziness when he got out of bed. He almost felt like doing some jumping jacks, but still wasn't entirely convinced that useful bits of flesh wouldn't fly off in the process.
"Ah, I'm glad to see you're up," said Brant, entering the room.
"Uh-huh, I'm sure you just happened to walk in here right as I got out of bed."
Brant smiled. "Well, of course we're monitoring you. You're a scientific phenomenon."
"Yeah, well, knock next time, asshole."
"We really do have to do something about that mouth of yours. Perhaps a swear jar is in order."
"Sure. Every time I say 'fuck' I'll drop a finger in it."
"No need to be morbid." Brant walked across the room and opened the closet door. "Some of these are your own clothes, and some are new. Put on whatever you'd like."
"Aren't you going to dress me?"
"Maybe later." He opened another door. "You have your own private bathroom, of course, with a shower. The cast is completely waterproof. Your, ah, scent should fade in a day or so, but until then you're welcome to be generous with the cologne you'll find in the medicine cabinet."
"So, get ready, and then we'll head down for breakfast. You haven't eaten anything except intravenous fluids for two months, so I assume you're hungry."
"Yeah, I had myself a hankering for some brrrraaaaaaaains."
"Very amusing. Anyway, enjoy your shower, and I'll be back to walk you downstairs."
"Is it, y'know, safe?" Stanley asked.
"Is what safe?"
"Oh, certainly. Make it as hot as you'd like. We gave you your injection about three hours ago, so there's no danger of you going down the drain."
After Brant left, Stanley walked into the bathroom, stumbling a couple of times because of the cast. He opened the medicine cabinet and quickly scanned the contents. Nothing that could be used as a weapon, but he did have a nice large box of Q-Tips. He wondered how much earwax a living corpse produced.
He turned on the water. He stared in the mirror for a long moment, still horrified by his almost skeletal face. More importantly, though, he was really dreading what he might see when he removed his boxer shorts.
Please, all deities within hearing range, I beg of you, don't let me have a decomposed dick. Just spare me that one appendage and I'll be your slave for all eternity.
He stripped off his boxers. The most positive thing he could say about his penis was that it was still attached.
It wasn't like he'd ever be getting laid again anyway, but the process of decomposition could've been kind enough to spare his dick. Would that really have been so much to ask?
Stanley flipped up the toilet lid and took a long piss, terrified that he might spring a leak and hit himself in the eye. But at least his equipment seemed to be functioning fine.
He got in the shower. The hot water felt wonderful against his skin. He lathered himself up, tentatively at first, but Brant seemed to be right, no flesh was detaching. He stayed in there for about fifteen minutes, until the hot water ran out while he still had shampoo in his hair. He cursed and rinsed it out in the cold water, then grabbed a towel and dried himself off.
He brushed his teeth, trying not to gag as some foamy toothpaste leaked through the hole in his chin. He wiped off his mouth and noted that he didn't need to shave. He wondered if this meant that the hair on his head had stopped growing, too.
He returned to the bedroom and put on fresh underwear and white socks, then dressed in a pair of his own jeans and an unfamiliar orange polo shirt. He returned to the bathroom, combed his hair, and then stepped back in the bedroom just as Brant was entering.
"What did I tell you about knocking?" Stanley asked.
"Were you spying on me in the shower? Pity about my dick, huh?"
"Are you ready for breakfast?"
"Sure. I'm always up for a good old bowl of Corpse-O's."
They left the room, walking into a barren, sterile white hallway. "So where are we?" Stanley asked.
"About one hundred feet underground," said Brant.
"So it's like we're all buried, huh?"
"If you wish to think of it that way. I prefer to think of us as being safe. Believe it or not, not everybody is entirely pleased with the idea that we've brought a dead human being back to life, and so precautionary measures are in order."
"This is a pretty decent place," Stanley noted.
"It's a rental. Surprisingly affordable."
"So what's with the biohazard sign on that door?" asked Stanley, pointing to a door at the end of the hall.
"That's the lab where your injections are synthesized. It's a very dangerous process."
"Can I go in?"
They walked for about a minute, making three or four turns, and then stopped at a metal door. Brant slid his security badge through the card reader and pulled the door open after the beep. They walked into a small room with a long table and several chairs.
"Ah, breakfast is ready," said Brant, gesturing to a plate of eggs, bacon, and sausage, along with two pieces of toast and a glass of orange juice. "Please, have the seat of honor."
Stanley sat down at the head of the table. The only other occupant of the room was a woman who sat at the other end, furiously typing on a laptop. She finished what she was doing and got to her feet.
"Mr. Dabernath, it's so good to finally meet you," she said, walking towards him. "Alive, anyway."
This woman was absolutely gorgeous. She had long black hair, slender features, and a body to die a second time for. She wore a tight red skirt and blouse that made Stanley want to just…
Remembering his hideous appearance, Stanley kept those thoughts in check.
"I'm Veronica Luxen," she said, extending her hand.
Stanley shook it. "Stanley Dabernath."
She smiled at him and didn't seem creeped out in the least by the way he looked. He watched to see if she frantically wiped her hand off on her skirt, but instead she casually placed it on her hip. "So how are you feeling this morning?"
"Ooooh, good one. Make sure you remember that. It'll be a perfect sound bite." She took a small notebook out of her breast pocket and quickly scribbled in it.
"This is your personal assistant," said Brant. "She'll be handling all of your public appearances and taking care of anything you need outside of this bunker."
"I have a personal assistant?"
"Yes. That would be Veronica. I explained that about two seconds ago."
"Don't be a prick. I was just surprised, that's all. I can't imagine that many walking corpses have personal assistants."
"You'll have your work cut out for you with this one," Brant told Veronica. "Especially his mouth. He has quite an affection for profanity."
"Oh, I think I'll tame him just fine."
Stanley sat there for a moment, thinking about how desperately he wanted to be tamed. Veronica gestured to his food. "Go on, eat up. You've got a busy day ahead of you."
Stanley took a bite of sausage, which was absolutely delicious. Veronica sat down next to him. "I guess you've had a lot to think about recently, haven't you?" she asked.
"You could say that."
"I admire your bravery. A lot of people wouldn't be able to cope with this."
"What makes you think I'm coping?"
"Well, for one thing, you're not lying on the floor in the fetal position. That's a good start. And you're mentally well-off enough to be rude to Richard here."
"Well, that's not so difficult." Stanley turned to Brant. "Fuck off, I'm eating."
"Actually, I am going to leave you two alone," said Brant. "I trust that Mr. Dabernath will behave himself."
"I'll do my best, but if she jumps me, it's not my fault."
"Understood." Brant nodded politely at Veronica and left the room.
"He's such a sweetie," said Stanley, shoving a bite of eggs into his mouth. "So what Personal Assistant organization did you get blacklisted by to get stuck with me?"
"Are you kidding?" asked Veronica. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Ooooh, that's a good one, too. If they ask you how you feel about being resurrected, you can say 'It was the opportunity of a lifetime.'"
"Seriously. You're the personal assistant to a corpse. That's gotta suck."
"I'm the personal assistant to a famous corpse. The Amazing Mr. Corpse. Let me tell you, Stanley, your fame is going to last for a lot more than fifteen minutes."
"What if I don't want the fame?"
"Then do it for the fortune."
"Maybe I don't want the fortune, either."
"I saw the movies that you distribute, if you can call them movies. Don't tell me that you're not in the exploitation business."
"Okay, fine, but there's a difference between selling weird movies and parading myself in public as a freak."
"You're not a freak, you're a-"
"-a scientific phenomenon, I know. But, c'mon, look at me. I've got a face that only a drunken coked-up lobotomized mother could love."
"I'm thinking we won't use that one as a sound bite. Don't be so caught up in your appearance. You're Mr. Corpse. People aren't expecting beauty."
"So I don't gross you out?"
"Not at all."
"What about now?" Stanley opened wide, showing her a mouthful of chewed-up eggs.
"I think we'd better get down to business."
"No, seriously. How can I not gross you out? I gross myself out. You should see my dick."
"Don't you think it's ironic that the world's first scientifically resurrected human being, a marvel beyond compare, feels the need to get attention by talking about his penis?"
"I just can't believe you're not grossed out by me."
"I don't find you gross. I find you fascinating."
"Nobody's ever told me I'm fascinating."
"Well, I'm not talking about your personality," Veronica said. "That I'd call adolescent."
"Okay, yeah, people have told me that."
"Stanley, focus. You'll have a psychological test as soon as Dr. Lamber gets here, and then a few physical tests just to make sure that undead body of yours is in good condition, and then you've got a press conference this evening. Are you comfortable talking in front of people?"
"I used to be, pre-zombie."
"Well, get back into it, because you'll be doing it a lot. They should be fairly generic questions. How do you feel, what was it like to be dead, that sort of thing. You'll probably be asked about the machine and chemicals that brought you back to life, but it's okay to admit that you don't know anything about them. Just be honest."
"Can I say that I was brought back by a DVD player and grape Kool-Aid?"
"No. Let me explain something to you. Your resurrection was shown on live television all over the world, but many people, perhaps even most people, think it was faked. They're sure you're phony. And when you do your press conference, I guarantee that somebody will accuse you of being some actor in makeup. So if you stand up there and make smart-ass comments, they're not going to believe that you're real."
"But that's what I am. A dead guy who makes lots of smart-ass comments. I'm thinking of eight or nine of them right now."
"Yes, but that's not what people expect from a resurrected corpse. I certainly encourage you to be funny, and especially to use the 'chance of a lifetime' joke, but you can't act like an idiot. Be charming and respectful. Can you do that for me?"
"Nobody is looking for a zombie to be charming and respectful. They're looking for me to devour human flesh and have body parts drop off. What if somebody decides to shoot me in the head?"
"Don't worry, the press conference will be secure. Would you like to watch your television special after you're done with breakfast?"
"You have it recorded?"
"Jeez, do you think they could pad this thing out any more?" asked Stanley, shoving a handful of popcorn into his mouth as they sat in his room; Stanley on the bed, Veronica on the recliner.
"Well, they had to fill a two-hour special," said Veronica.
"They didn't even get my biographical material right." Stanley picked up the remote control and fast-forwarded through a set of commercials. "Ah, here we go."
He watched on the television screen as Brant pulled the lever and the machine started pumping chemicals into his dead body.
Stanley shut off the video. "Maybe I don't want to see this."
"You've only been re-alive for a day," said Veronica. "You still need time to adjust."
"Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah, why? Do I look like I'm not?"
"You just look a bit disturbed."
"Nah." He ran a hand through his hair. "So if you died, would you want to come back?"
"Even if you looked like this?"
"I don't know. I just would."
"That's a lousy answer."
"I'm not the one who's supposed to be giving answers," said Veronica.
An unknown voice crackled over the speaker. "Dr. Lamber is ready for Mr. Dabernath."
Veronica got up off the recliner. "Okay, let's go prove that you're sane."
Stanley shifted uncomfortably as he sat across the table from Dr. Lamber. They were in a small room with mold-green walls (though not from actual mold) and absolutely nothing in the way of decor. Dr. Lamber, who was middle-aged, clean-shaven, and completely bald, had a piercing stare that really creeped Stanley out. He wished there were posters on the walls, maybe something in an "It's Good To Be Sane!" motif, to distract him.
"Are you ready to begin?" asked Dr. Lamber in his quiet, emotion-free, oddly eerie voice.
"What is your name?"
"Are you certain?"
Dr. Lamber nodded in a thoughtful yet eerie manner and wrote something in his notebook. "Do you know this because you remember your name, or because people in this bunker have recently explained to you that your name is Stanley Dabernath?"
Stanley stared at him for a long moment. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
Dr. Lamber nodded thoughtfully again and wrote something else in his notebook.
"Did you write something bad?" Stanley asked.
"There are no right or wrong answers here."
"But did you write something bad?"
"Do you think you gave me justification to write something bad?"
"I don't know. I just don't want to get locked up in a padded cell as an insane cadaver."
Dr. Lamber nodded thoughtfully and wrote more in his notebook.
"You wrote something even worse, didn't you? Look, I'm sorry I dropped the f-bomb. I wasn't thinking. Let's just move on."
"When I asked you the question about your name, why did you think I might be kidding?"
"Because it was a very silly question."
"Because I know my name."
"I had no way of knowing that you knew."
"But you asked me again after I said I did know."
"I see. Did you think I looked like the sort of individual who would ask questions in jest?"
"I don't know. I just met you."
They sat there in silence.
Dr. Lamber leaned forward. "What's your middle name?"
Dr. Lamber shuffled through some papers, glanced at the top of one of them, and nodded, apparently satisfied.
Stanley sighed. "This is going to be a long interview, isn't it?"
"What made you call it an interview?"
Stanley felt at least thirty-five percent less sane as he walked out of his psychological examination, but he was pretty sure they'd stamp his file "Not a Whacko."
"I can't believe you made me go through that," he told Veronica as they walked down the hallway.
"You've been dead. We have to make sure that a professional finds you mentally competent to sign the contracts that are going to bring lots of money to you and Project Second Chance."
"Anyway, your physical exam is going to suck much worse."
"Well, helloooooo Stanley!" said Dr. Arnzin as Stanley walked into the examination room. This guy looked barely old enough to be playing doctor with a co-ed, let alone performing duties as a medical professional. His memory was fuzzy, but Stanley thought he might have been the scientist he punched out after his resurrection. "How are your dead bones doing today?"
"They've been deader."
"Good, good, good. That's good. Have a seat on that ice-cold stool and we'll look you over, okay?"
Stanley sat down on the metal stool and gave a friendly wave to the not-particularly-well-hidden camera on the wall. He didn't mind them recording him, but he did mind them insulting his intelligence by trying to hide it.
"Let's start by checking your pulse," said Dr. Arnzin, wrapping the cuff of the blood pressure monitor around Stanley's arm and inflating it. He glanced at the readout and nodded. "No pulse. Good."
"Can I see?"
Dr. Arnzin showed him the display screen. All three numbers read zero. "Pretty hard to have a pulse when you don't have any blood. Just wanted to make sure nothing was squirming around in there."
"I don't have any blood?"
"Not a drop. It's being stored in jars in a freezer somewhere in the facility. Do you want to see it?"
"I guess there isn't any reason to check your heartbeat," said Dr. Arnzin with a wink. "Not gonna hear a lot of activity in that area, now are we?"
Stanley pressed his palm to his heart. Nothing. "I'm not sure I like this," he admitted.
"Oh, don't let it bother you. I know I wouldn't."
"So isn't blood used to, y'know, carry oxygen around the body?"
"The red blood cells, yes."
"Then why do I need to breathe?"
"You don't. You're just used to it."
"Try to hold your breath. Watch what happens."
Stanley sucked in a lungful of air and then held it.
And held it.
And held it some more.
"See? Isn't that great?" asked Dr. Arnzin.
"It's messed up," said Stanley, still not breathing.
"No, no, no, messed up would be if you needed to breathe but couldn't. I almost suffocated once and let me tell you, it's not an experience I plan to repeat any time soon if I can help it. I really envy you, Stanley. Do you realize that if you were buried alive you could keep living in your coffin until you were rescued?"
"What if nobody rescued me?"
"Well, you'd have sufficient time to burrow your way to the surface."
"You know, that just doesn't thrill me at all."
Dr. Arnzin patted him on the shoulder. "Oh, now, don't be that way. Do you want to embrace eternal life, or do you want to be like those whiny vampires?"
"The best part for you is that your body heals itself at an absurd rate. In a day or two we'll be able to take off that cast. Not bad, considering that your bone was pulp."
"Okay, I will admit that it's a pretty decent side effect."
"Let's take your temperature. Or I could just look at the thermometer on the wall."
"I'm room temperature?"
"In theory. Open up."
Stanley opened his mouth and Dr. Arnzin stuck a thermometer under his tongue. "Oh, Stanley, you have no idea how much I wish it was me who'd been struck by that milk truck."
"It didn't strike me. It fell on me."
"Still, regardless of how your death came about, I truly envy you."
"Have you seen my dick?"
"Yes. Not attractive. But that's a small price to pay for what you've been given. You're destined for great things, Stanley Dabernath."
"Well, not to seem ungrateful, but even with a fully intact penis I'd trade you places in a second."
Dr. Arnzin nodded, looking forlorn. "If only that were possible." He removed the thermometer from Stanley's mouth and glanced at it. "Ah, it's a bit chilly in here. Now, if you don't mind, we're going to get some hair samples, tissue samples, saliva samples, fingernail samples, urine samples, and stool samples."
"Would you like a booger, too?"
"Actually, yes, let's get a mucus sample while we're at it."
"Y'know, maybe I wouldn't trade places."
"Oh, now this isn't gonna happen," said Stanley, marking the offending clause in his contract with a yellow highlighter. "Neither is this. Or this. And a big fat 'hell no' on this one."
"Sir, don't you think we should bring in a lawyer?" asked Martin. They sat next to each other in Stanley's room, pages of the contract spread out over his waterbed.
Stanley shook his head. "I've written up plenty of contracts that screw people over. I know what to look for."
"Still, I think an attorney would be a good idea, just to be safe."
"I don't have any money for an attorney, and I don't need to pay one of those bloodsuckers to tell me that this contract is crap." Stanley went back to work with his highlighter. "Hell no, hell no, hell no, fuck no, hell no…"
Martin looked over the contract pages. "Sir, you should probably leave in a clause or two so that there's something left to sign."
"But this contract is horseshit." Stanley tapped one of the pages with his index finger. "Look at this, seventy percent of my income goes toward the costs of my resurrection and upkeep! Screw that! Look what they're charging me for room and board! Bastards!"
"Yes, it's an unfair contract, but technically you're a ward of Project Second Chance. You're lucky to be getting this much say in the matter."
"I don't need them. I'll march right on out of this dump."
"You need your injections."
"They can't keep those from me."
"Sir, you're a zombie. You should probably stay in the care of those people who know what to look for if there are any…zombie-related problems."
"I know, I know, I'm not going anywhere," said Stanley, pushing the contract page aside. "But c'mon, they're trying to take merchandising rights! If there's going to be a Mr. Corpse action figure, and I think there will be, I want final say on that decision, not that Brant wanker." He looked over at the camera. "Sorry, Brant wanker!"
"I completely understand, sir," said Martin. "That's why I'm pushing for a lawyer."
"You know, Martin, technically I'm not your boss anymore. You don't have to keep saying 'sir' to a zombie."
"You can if you want to, though."
"No, I'm fine to drop it."
"Oh. Well, good. It was weird anyway." He gathered the pages of the contract into a pile. "I should just throw this whole thing away and make them start from scratch. No way in hell am I signing this. I'm dead, not brain-dead."
There was a knock at the door.
"Since they're actually knocking, that must not be Brant," Stanley remarked. "Come on in!"
Veronica opened the door and stepped into the bedroom. "Hello there," she said with a smile. "The people spying on your every move tell me you're unhappy with the contract."
"Yeah, I'm not signing it. They can go fuck a monkey."
"May I ask what the problem is?"
"It's a crap contract."
"It's actually very fair. It allows Project Second Chance to recoup their investment while making sure that you're given a reasonable percentage of the profits. You'll be a rich man."
"I'm glad to hear that, but we've got some serious negotiating to do."
"The contract isn't negotiable."
"Every contract is negotiable."
"Not this one."
"Aw, c'mon, they're asking me to sign my whole life away!"
"No, you signed your life away when you died. You belong to Project Second Chance, Stanley. If you sign the contract, all of us will benefit. If you don't, you'll do nothing but spend your days sitting in this room, watching television and waiting for your next injection. Do you want to be a superstar or a couch potato?"
"Will you feed me grapes while I watch TV?"
"Sorry, but I'm not signing it. These monkey-fuckers can keep me locked up all they want. I don't give a shit; I've got TiVo."
"They're privately funded. Without being able to financially exploit your celebrity, they may not be able to afford your extremely expensive injections."
"So, what, they'd let me ooze away?"
"Nobody would let you ooze away. What would happen is that somebody who could afford to pay would take over the project. What kind of experiments do you think the government would want to perform on you if they had the opportunity?"
"Ghastly ones, sir," said Martin, helpfully.
"Shut up, Martin." Stanley sighed in frustration. "You know, Veronica, this would have been much more effective if they'd sent you in here to bat your eyes and offer me a blow job."
"Trust me, I was much nicer than Brant would have been."
"Well, yeah, that goes without saying." He scowled and did his best Brant imitation. He "'If you don't sign that contract, your liver will be under a microscope by Thursday.'"
"That's not a bad impression," said Veronica.
"Thanks. It works better with a splintery stick up your ass, but I don't have one handy."
"I could get you one."
Stanley shook his head. "No thanks. But I've gotta say, you're hot when you resort to blackmail."
"It's not blackmail. It's just the facts."
"Uh-huh. Well, here's the deal. I'll think about signing this crap contract to avoid being sliced up by government scientists. Think about it. I'll also think about that blow job."
Veronica turned to Martin. "Is there an upper limit to how much he's willing to embarrass himself?"
"Actually, there is," Stanley told her. "But it's a few notches past bestiality, so you don't want to see it."
"Don't I get any makeup?" Stanley asked as Veronica straightened his tie.
"C'mon, why do I have to go out there looking like a rotting zombie? I know you don't have much to work with, but can't you do something?"
"Stanley, you look fine. You look exactly the way you're supposed to look. Besides, they'll be focused on the fact that you're a snappy dresser."
Stanley was wearing a black three-piece suit. He'd half expected Veronica to insist that he walk out there in his boxers so that they could gape at his body, but the suit had been her idea.
"You're a big boy. You can handle being itchy for a while."
Stanley shifted nervously in his chair. "Are you sure they aren't, like, expecting me to bite the head off a chicken or something?"
"Just relax," Veronica told him. "Take deep breaths. Visualize yourself standing calmly in front of the audience, answering their questions in an articulate, charming manner."
"That sounds more like fantasizing."
"Do it. Close your eyes and picture yourself behind that podium."
Stanley closed his eyes. "Wow. Now whenever I close my eyes I see rabid elephants. I bet that's not a side effect you guys were expecting."
"Be serious. Or at least be funnier."
Brant, wearing his white lab jacket, walked into the dressing room. "We're ready to begin."
They left the dressing room and proceeded to the next door in the corridor. They were no longer in the underground bunker, which, surprisingly to Stanley, was in a regular town rather than hidden out in the desert. They'd climbed up a ladder and emerged in a small warehouse that was empty except for Brant, Veronica, and Dr. Arnzin's cars. They gotten into Brant's car with its tinted windows and drove about ten blocks to the building with the press conference.
Brant, Veronica, and Stanley walked into a small area covered by a curtain. They were standing right next to a stage, but the curtain blocked Stanley's view of the audience.
"You'll do fine," Brant told him. "Just keep the swearing under control."
"I'll do my gosh-darn heckin' best."
Brant walked up on stage to a smattering of applause. He stood behind the podium and addressed the crowd.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm very pleased that you can be with us today for this historic event. You all saw the resurrection on live television, and now you're going to meet the scientific miracle of the past two millennia. I give you Stanley Dabernath, the Amazing Mr. Corpse!"
Veronica gave Stanley a light shove, and he walked up onto the stage.
Approximately one hundred people sat on folding chairs in the room, all of them holding notebooks or tape recorders. Several other people were in front of the stage with video cameras. CNN, CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC…hell, even MTV was here.
They were all gaping at him.
Stanley took his place behind the podium and fidgeted nervously with the microphone. "Uhhhhh…hi."
Virtually every hand in the place shot up at once.
Stanley coughed and cleared his throat, then pointed to an attractive young female reporter in the front row. "Your question?"
"How are you feeling?"
Stanley's mind went completely blank. How was he feeling?
"Alive," he finally said.
There was some light laughter from the audience. Stanley relaxed a bit. He glanced off-stage and saw Veronica giving him the thumbs-up sign.
"You," said Stanley, pointing to another attractive female journalist a couple of rows back.
"I hate to ask such a weighty question this early in the conference, but I think everybody here wants to know: when you were dead, did you see God?"
Stanley thought for a long moment. "I don't remember."
"You don't remember?"
Stanley shook his head.
"You don't think that maybe that's something you'd try to remember?"
"Let's not be antagonistic," said Brant. "Next question, please."
"Do you remember anything at all about being dead?" asked a heavyset guy in a tacky blue suit without being called on.
"Nothing," Stanley admitted. "In fact, if Mr. Brant here hadn't forced me to look at photos of my refrigerated corpse while he had me tied to the bed, I probably still wouldn't believe that I was dead."
Stanley glanced over at Veronica. She was no longer giving him the thumbs-up sign.
Brant seemed completely unphased. "Unfortunately, the process of resurrection is not a pretty one, and of course you all saw Mr. Dabernath's reaction when he first became aware of his surroundings. Certain precautionary measures were and will continue to be necessary to keep this scientific marvel from accidentally harming himself."
"I guess I can be kind of a klutz," Stanley told the audience. They laughed. He pointed to a drop-dead gorgeous brunette near the back. "Your question?"
"How do you feel about being dubbed The Amazing Mr. Corpse?"
Stanley shrugged. "It's not very scary, is it? Somebody who looks the way I do should have a spooky name. Maybe The Terrifying Mr. Corpse. The Grotesque Mr. Corpse. The Oozing Mr. Corpse."
"Of course, we prefer to stick with The Amazing Mr. Corpse for PR purposes," said Brant.
"Look at this, he brings me back to life and thinks he's my agent," said Stanley. "I owe him a hundred percent of my soul and twenty percent of my income."
The audience laughed again. Stanley relaxed some more. This wasn't so bad. At the very least it would probably drum up some business for Demented Whackos Video.
He called on another pretty girl. "What proof do we have that you really did come back to life and this isn't just an elaborate hoax?" she asked.
"You could come up and touch me."
The journalist stood up. Stanley watched the sexy way her hips moved as she made her way through the row of reporters and past the security guard in the back who was holding a gun and pointing it at-
As the bullet struck him, Stanley stumbled backwards against the curtain. A second gunshot rung out as he tumbled to the floor, a stinging pain in his chest. He heard screaming and the thunder of footsteps and felt two pairs of hands pull him to his feet and rush him off the stage.
A door behind him slammed shut.
"Stanley, can you hear me?" asked Brant.
Stanley was too stunned to respond.
Brant and Veronica hurriedly unbuttoned his suit and then the white dress shirt underneath it. Stanley saw a bullet hole in his chest, just to the left of his solar plexus, but there was no blood.
It hurt like hell.
"Stanley, can you hear me?" Brant repeated. "Curse if you can hear me."
"He's fine," said Veronica.
"I'm not fine! I just got shot! I'm the exact opposite of fine, thank you very much! Maybe we should shoot you and see just how fine you feel, huh? Oh, I know, let's find the psycho in the back of the room and borrow his gun!"
Veronica put her hand on Stanley's shoulder. "Shhhhh. You're babbling."
"I'm not babbling! I'm ranting!"
"Either way, settle down. You need to stay calm."
"I know it hurts, but you'll be okay. See? There's no blood."
Stanley looked at the gunshot wound again. "I know you meant that to be reassuring, but really, the lack of blood is kinda freaking me out." He touched the hole and winced.
"We'll have Dr. Arnzin dig out the bullet as soon as possible," said Brant.
"Oh, now that's making me feel calmer."
"I suppose we could just leave it lodged in your body."
"Don't be a prick."
"I am not the one engaging in prick-like behavior, Mr. Dabernath. I don't expect you to be grateful for what we've done for you, but you could at least be somewhat less hostile."
Stanley sighed. "Okay, I'm sorry. It just hurts!"
"Did I hear right?" asked Brant. "Did the Amazing Mr. Corpse just apologize? What kind of surreal world have we entered?"
"Don't be a prick."
There was a knock at the door. "Mr. Brant?" asked a voice through a small speaker.
"The shooter has been subdued and locked away, sir. We're evacuating the press."
Brant stood up. "Good, I want to be there for the questioning."
"He's unconscious at the moment."
"Not for long. Veronica, take Stanley back to the bunker and have the bullet removed."
Brant exited the room, closing the door behind him.
"I'm sorry you got shot," said Veronica.
"When you're a scientific miracle, it's only natural that some people are going to be afraid of what you could mean to the future and lash out like that."
"If you say so. Personally, I want to know why he just didn't assume that I was some idiot in a spooky mask."
"That's what most people believe, I'm sure."
"Which part? The idiot or the spooky mask?"
Veronica smiled. "You're really something, you know that?"
"Yeah, but think how much it would've sucked if you'd spent all that money to bring a boring guy back to life. You know, the pain in my chest is fading pretty quickly. Is that the natural order of things or should I be concerned?"
"No, it's fine."
"Good. So am I, like, immortal?"
"The Immortal Mr. Corpse?"
"I'm serious. I mean, can I die? What if he shot me in the brain?"
"I'm not sure."
"What if he threw a machete at me and lopped off my head? Would I just be this living head, rolling around on the floor?"
"That seems unlikely."
"Unlikely, but not impossible, right? What if I get burnt up? Will I be this pile of living ashes? So I could get cremated and scattered to the wind, and each individual ash would be alive, and some old guy might accidentally inhale me and I could be living in his stomach until his digestive juices start to-"
Veronica placed her finger on his mouth. "Stanley? Stop talking."
"Let's get you back so we can take care of that bullet."
"Is it going to hurt?"
"Yes, it's going to hurt, and you're going to use lots of vulgar language, and you're going to be sarcastic towards the nice doctor who's just trying to make your chest bullet-free."
"You think I'm a jerk, don't you?"
"No, I just think you like to behave like one."
"But you've got to admit that I'm justified in being annoyed with the way my life has turned out. I'm gross and people are shooting at me."
"Ah, yes, but there's a major hole in your argument."
"I've done my research. You were a jerk before your resurrection."
Stanley held up his hands in mock surrender. "Okay, you got me. I'll behave."
"Good. So let's go get you fixed up."
Henry Sweet sighed and impatiently drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he checked his watch. Six more minutes. Six long, tedious minutes. God, he hated this job.
Killing people had lost its allure several years ago. Oh, sure, when he got started in the business, there was nothing like the feeling of slamming his knife into an innocent (or not-so-innocent) target, but these days he just got annoyed when they bled on his shirt.
He yawned. Then yawned again.
Henry had turned fifty last week, and the sting had yet to wear off. Fifty. Five decades. Half a century. That was just wrong. Turning fifty was for decrepit, toothless, senile old men, not him.
At least he didn't feel half a century old. He still turned female heads at the gym, and he could bench press more than most guys half his age. His short brown hair didn't require that much dye to hide the gray, and his vision was absolutely perfect. Physically, he was in every bit as good of shape as he was twenty years ago. He was just bored.
He checked his watch again. Five more minutes. He should've brought a handheld video game.
The minutes passed in an excruciatingly slow manner. When only one remained, he got out of the car and went around to open the trunk. He took out a pistol with a silencer, a roll of duct tape, a compact disc, and a hatchet.
He hid these items from sight (the pistol in the outside pocket of his black leather jacket, the tape and hatchet in the inside pocket) and then walked across the street to the front porch of the white suburban home.
At exactly eight o'clock he rang the doorbell.
The door opened, revealing an annoyed-looking Mr. Kabot. "May I help you?"
"Hi. I'm here to murder you. May I come in?"
Henry didn't wait for Mr. Kabot to ask if this was some kind of joke. They always asked if this was some kind of joke. Henry was tired of the question. Instead, he whipped out his gun and pointed it at Mr. Kabot's chest to indicate that no, this was certainly not some kind of joke.
Mr. Kabot blanched and his mouth dropped open.
"Inside," said Henry. "Now."
As they stepped inside the house, Henry immediately swung his gun toward Mrs. Kabot and their daughter Trisha, who were seated on the sofa watching the asinine reality television show that they never missed. "Not one noise!" he said, closing the door behind him. "If I hear so much as a squeak I'll kill all three of you."
To their immense credit, the women didn't scream. Mrs. Kabot whimpered a bit, but he'd let it pass.
He took out the roll of duct tape and tossed it to Mr. Kabot. "Tape their hands, feet, and mouths. If you want to whisper some reassuring nonsense at the same time, that's fine, but don't try anything. I've seen it all."
Mr. Kabot stood there helplessly.
"I'm not here because I want to admire your new carpet," Henry told him. "Tape them up or I'll do it for you, and I won't be gentle."
Mr. Kabot continued standing there long enough that Henry thought he might actually have to use the gun, but then he nodded and began to unspool the tape. He wrapped it around his wife's hands while Henry watched impatiently.
He glanced over at Trisha. She was eighteen years old, blonde, and incredibly hot despite a couple of pimples. Hard to believe she was a virgin.
Once Mr. Kabot had finished taping up his wife he went to work on his daughter. The guy was trembling, but at least he wasn't bawling like a baby. The last one had blubbered from beginning to end, and it made Henry want to gag.
With the two women sufficiently taped up, Henry walked over to Mr. Kabot and pressed the gun to his nose. "I'm going to tape you up," he said. "There is to be no kicking, hitting, biting, or any other aggressive move. If you disobey, or even look like you're going to disobey, I'll shoot your wife. Understand?"
Mr. Kabot nodded.
"Good. Start the roll for me."
Mr. Kabot stared at him quizzically.
"I can't do it with one hand," Henry explained, annoyed. "I need you to get it started."
Mr. Kabot obligingly unrolled a couple inches of tape. Henry took the roll from him, stuck the end to Mr. Kabot's ankle, and then tightly wrapped the tape around his feet. Once that was done, Henry taped up his hands and mouth.
Henry lowered the gun. All three of them sat on the couch, looking terrified, but not so terrified that he thought they might panic and do something stupid.
"You're all doing fine," Henry informed them, walking over to their entertainment center. He shut off the television. "Why do you watch that crap? Are you worried about becoming too smart or something? I'm going to borrow your stereo, if that's okay."
He bent down next to the stereo and ejected the CD holder. He removed the CD that was already in there and grimaced. "Kenny Rogers? Are you kidding me?" He flung the CD, Frisbee-style, against the far wall, and then began to flip through the CDs stacked next to the stereo. "Garth Brooks, Kenny Loggins, Faith Hill…you can't be serious." Life was too short to listen to hicks moping about their lost love.
He took his own CD out of his pocket, tenderly placed it in the machine, and pressed play. At the sound of the wonderfully familiar piano melody he turned up the volume.
"That's me," he told the family. "I'm playing that. Not bad, huh?" None of them acted as if they understood what he was talking about. "It's mood music. Kind of mellow now, but it'll pick up."
An electric guitar joined the piano. "That's me, too. I did everything on this song but mix the tracks. No, that's not right, I didn't do the drums, that was a drum machine, but everything else was me."
Henry could feel the music boosting his spirits a bit. He reached into his inside jacket pocket and took out the hatchet. Mrs. Kabot gasped, but Henry put a finger to his lips. "You'll like the vocals," he said. "I'm singing out of my usual range, but it works."
He fondled the hatchet as his voice sounded over the stereo. "Ferocity…ferocity…must control my own ferocity…" he sang in a slow, soothing manner. Yeah, this was doing the trick. It always did. Once the song kicked into high gear with the next verse, the bloodbath could begin.
"The feelings inside me…think I'll have to hide me…before I unleash my (unleash my) ferocity…"
The electric guitar suddenly grew louder and faster.
Henry raised the hatchet.
"Ferocity! Ferocity! Gotta be somethin' wrong with me!"
As Mrs. Kabot and her daughter screamed through their duct tape, Henry rushed at the man of the house and let the poor doomed bastard have it. He chopped in time with the pounding drumbeat, singing along with himself.
"Insanity! Brutality! Gotta love ferocity!"
Chop! Chop! Chop!
"Cruelty! Mean ol' me! Gotta love…damn it!" Henry stopped singing and spat out some blood that got in his mouth. God, he hated the taste of that crap. He wiped his mouth off on the back of his hand and then went back to work.
Chop! Chop! Chopchopchopchop…
Not much left of poor Mr. Kabot. "Ferocity" was almost over, but the CD actually had the same song on all twenty tracks. Someday, when he finally retired from this business, he was going to record a demo CD with all new cuts, but for now "Ferocity" was the only song in his oeuvre.
Which was okay. It was a kick-ass song.
"Thanks for not trying to run away," Henry told Mrs. Kabot and Trisha, who looked completely (but understandably) freaked. "A lot of the time, people will be rolling around on the carpet like idiots, as if they're actually going to get somewhere with their feet all taped up. It bugs the hell out of me. Show some dignity, y'know what I mean?"
When the song picked up again, he slammed the hatchet into Mrs. Kabot's face. By the time it was done, she was just as unrecognizable as her husband.
Henry dropped the hatchet on the floor and stretched. There was a time when he would have felt a burst of euphoria after finishing off a good murder, but now he was just glad it was over.
He shut off the stereo and crouched down next to Trisha. "Just so you know, I'm not going to chop you up like I did your parents," he told her, putting his hand on her knee. She flinched. "I've got to do this ritual. It's pretty disgusting and it involves a lot of your parents' blood, so I'll need you to bear with me for a few more minutes. Then we'll get you out to my van. Sound okay?"
She didn't respond.
"Sorry I had to waste your mom and dad, but really, it's all your fault. If you'd gone all the way with your boyfriend like he wanted, you wouldn't be a virgin, and I wouldn't have any use for you and your family. See, your parents and teachers and priests are always saying that you should wait, but when a guy like me needs a virgin, abstinence turns out to be a real bitch."
The terror in her eyes wasn't particularly exciting to him, and all he could really think about was what a pain it was going to be to cover his tracks and get her out to the van unseen. And then he had a long, long drive.
Oh well. Better than working in a cubicle.
"Ahh! Damn it!"
"Stanley, he hasn't even started yet."
"I know, but this table is freezing!"
Veronica rolled her eyes and smiled apologetically at Dr. Arnzin. "I'll make you a deal," she said to Stanley. "I'll bet you twenty dollars that you can't make it through this entire procedure without using a single swear word."
"I don't have twenty dollars."
Stanley shrugged. "Sure thing. I'm not a slave to profanity. So how much cash do you think we'll rake in by exploiting my zombieness?"
"Then we're fucked."
"The bet hasn't started yet."
Dr. Arnzin strapped Stanley's feet to the table. "This will only be for a moment, to make sure you don't thrash around and hurt yourself or me."
"No problem. I'm used to the whole bondage thing by now. I'm the best sub ever."
After Dr. Arnzin completely strapped him to the table, Stanley winked at Veronica. "Is this making you frisky?"
"Not even gonna lie about it?"
"I'll need you to relax," said Dr. Arnzin. "Just take a long, deep breath, like a butterfly in the meadow."
"Don't I get any anesthetic?"
Dr. Arnzin shook his head. "It won't work on you."
"How about a couple of lines of cocaine?"
Stanley took a long, deep breath.
"Are you ready?"
Stanley nodded, and Dr. Arnzin slowly pried open the gunshot wound with a pair of forceps.
"Ow! Frickin' son of a berch!"
"Farking fark! Cork-sucking freakin' fark!"
"Keep breathing. You're a butterfly in the meadow."
"This really hurts!"
Dr. Arnzin began to dig with a pair of tweezers. "Just keep relaxing. You're doing fine."
"Ow! Fark! Ow! Fark!"
"It'll be over before you know it."
"You're a farking freakin' forkin' liar! Oh, shint! Shint, shint, shint!"
"Almost got it."
"Got it." Dr. Arnzin dropped the bullet onto the table. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"Now there's just one more piece."
"Aw, fuck. I mean fark. Ah, fuck it. Keep your twenty bucks."
"So why did that whack-job shoot me?" asked Stanley as he sat having lunch with Brant and Veronica.
"He's not talking," said Brant.
"Are you torturing him or anything like that? I know you've got implements of torture around this place. Don't pretend that you don't."
"No, we are not torturing anybody. We'll continue to question him until it's necessary to turn him over to the proper authorities."
"Define 'proper authorities.' That sounds kinda sinister and cool."
"None of your business."
"Ooooh, somebody's kind of pissy today. What's your problem?"
Brant sighed. "I apologize. It's been a stressful day."
"Yeah, you'd almost think you got shot."
Brant ignored him.
"So how did he get through security? I mean, he had a real gun, right? It seems like it would've been pretty tough to sneak a real gun past the kind of security you would expect to have at such an important press conference."
"I'm just saying, it should have been really, really, really difficult to get a gun in there. You had metal detectors, right?"
"And you made them run their stuff through an X-ray machine, right?"
"Stanley, I'm only going to ask you one more time to let this drop. I'm not in the mood."
"Okay, but I'm right, aren't I? You didn't blow all this money on bringing me back to life just to protect me with a minimum wage security guard, did you? Oh, did you know you've got this vein in the center of your forehead that throbs when you get pissy?"
Veronica cleared her throat. "Well, I thought that before the gunfire, the press conference was going pretty smoothly."
Stanley gestured to Brant. "What you should do now is say something like 'Really? I thought the gunfire was the best part of the press conference.' Then we'll all have a great big chuckle at my expense. Try it. It'll be cool."
Brant sighed. "Next time, I'm going to re-animate everything except the corpse's mouth."
"Whoa, good one!" Stanley exclaimed. "That was like a genuine slam! I mean, I felt an actual sting. You go, Brant." Stanley held up his hand for a high-five but didn't receive one. "So let's get back to me wondering aloud how I got shot."
Brant glared at him. "Stanley, do you really think we'd be sloppy enough to just let somebody stroll into your press conference with a gun?"
"Before the bullet penetrated my chest, I would've thought no."
"If you would spend more time thinking about the situation and less time randomly running off at the mouth, you'd realize that this was an inside job. The man who shot you was a security guard who was, in fact, dutifully employed with us. This makes me very uncomfortable and very unhappy, because it makes me question whether other employees of Project Second Chance are similarly hostile to our cause. So perhaps I'm justified in being 'pissy.' And perhaps I'm more interested in trying to figure out where my trust was misplaced than in accommodating your childish and obnoxious behavior. Stanley Dabernath, please shut the hell up."
Stanley shut the hell up and picked up his sandwich. He suddenly had no appetite.
Stanley and Martin sat in the interrogation room across from Veronica and a lawyer named Bloodsucking Bastard. It was not really an interrogation room, nor was the lawyer's real name "Bloodsucking Bastard," but both seemed appropriate.
"I want at least two bodyguards at every personal appearance," said Stanley, handwriting that clause on his copy of the contract.
"Project Second Chance will take all reasonable precautions to ensure your safety," the lawyer explained.
"I can see that. The contract says 'all reasonable precautions.' I don't want it to say 'all reasonable precautions.' I want it to say 'two big-ass bodyguards at every personal appearance.'"
"In instances where having two bodyguards goes beyond what Project Second Chance would consider reasonable precautions, the bodyguards would certainly be provided upon your request, but the financial responsibility would be yours," Bloodsucking Bastard explained.
"Well, duh! I could have hooker twins at every personal appearance if I wanted to pay for it myself! You guys should be covering this. I got shot!"
"Mr. Dabernath, I assure you that Project Second Chance is even more concerned with your well-being than you are."
"Then gimme the big-ass bodyguards!"
"I'll see what I can do."
"And see what you can do about getting me some hooker twins at every personal appearance. Blondes with heaving bosoms and 'come-hither' looks. Make sure they're identical twins; none of that fraternal crap."
"I'll see what I can do."
"You're not even going to write that down, are you?"
"Good for you. Because I was obviously just being immature." Stanley flipped to the next page in the contract. "Now what other cornholing clauses are in this thing? Oh, yes, merchandising. I want final say on all of that."
"You won't get it."
"It's my face."
"Be that as it may, this part of the contract is not negotiable. Your previous Stanley Dabernath face of course belongs to you. Mr. Corpse's face belongs to Project Second Chance."
"Well, if that's true, why don't I just rip it right off and hand it over? Martin, get me a hacksaw."
"Sir, I think we need to get our own legal counsel."
Stanley nodded. "Yeah, you're right. Who was that guy who got Frank Konrath out of jail that one time? Remember when he was drunk driving and he crashed into the side of that old lady's house? Didn't he kill a few of her cats?"
"No. The woman just claimed that they were traumatized."
"Oh. What about him?"
Martin bit his lip. "Actually, Frank is still in jail for that. And perhaps we don't want to hire a criminal defense attorney to negotiate a contract."
"Good point. We'll find somebody else." Stanley nodded at Bloodsucking Bastard. "I guess we'll talk to you later. Sorry to have squandered your generous hourly fee."
"Not a problem. I charge for mileage."
An hour later, Stanley was beating the living crap out of Martin at video game boxing. "Who's your daddy, punk?" Stanley asked as his on-screen boxer delivered the knock-out blow. "I may be a zombie, but my reflexes rule!"
There was a knock at the door. "Anyone but Brant can come in," Stanley called out.
Veronica opened the door and stepped inside. "Brant wants to see you immediately."
"Brant's ass can wait until this game is over."
"The game is over."
"We're playing two out of three."
"Stanley, shut off the television." She sounded genuinely annoyed, so Stanley picked up the remote control and did as she asked.
"What does he want?"
"I don't know."
"How did he sound? Angry? Sexually frustrated?"
"He said immediately. Let's go."
Stanley and Martin set down their game controllers and stood up. "You're the boss."
"Just you," said Veronica. "Martin can wait here."
"Okay. He needs the practice anyway." Stanley followed Veronica out of the room.
She was silent as they walked down the corridor and unresponsive to small talk. Most likely she'd suddenly realized that she was the personal assistant to a corpse. That had to sting.
Veronica opened Brant's door and ushered Stanley inside. "You're not going come in to protect me?" Stanley asked.
Veronica didn't respond. She shut the door, leaving Stanley alone with Brant, who sat behind his immense desk.
"Have a seat," said Brant.
"Yes, sir." Stanley sat down. He considered putting his feet up on Brant's desk, but Brant looked like he was in a worse mood than usual.
"I understand you didn't sign the contract."
"Nah. The contract was rabbit poop. We're going to get a lawyer."
"You could have saved us some time if you'd gotten a lawyer originally, instead of behaving like a jackass and pretending that you could negotiate it yourself."
"I thought your lawyer would be more reasonable."
"You thought wrong." Brant rested his arms on the desk and glared at him. "Stanley, you are what I like to call a 'problem child.' You don't have children, but I have three of them, and I know how to handle a problem child."
"Oh my God, I'm getting a spanking, aren't I?"
"No. But you're going to be disciplined."
"Can Veronica do it?"
Brant grinned without humor. "Do you remember what it was like to be dead, Stanley?"
"Nah. Blocked it."
"Well, we're going to refresh your memory."
"I beg your pardon?" Stanley asked. Brant didn't sound like he was joking. Brant never sounded like he was joking, but this would've been a damn good time for him to start.
Brant gestured to a red vinyl recliner in the corner of his office. "Have a more comfortable seat."
"I'm fine," Stanley said.
"That was not a request."
"Okay, look, I can see that you're on a power trip. How about I come back later?"
"How about you sit in the recliner before I kill you?"
Stanley gaped at him. "You didn't just…yes, you did. You can't be serious."
"Let me explain something to you. Your mental health was not guaranteed upon your return. We were not one hundred percent sure what we'd be dealing with. Yes, we were concerned with protecting our investment, but we were more concerned with the safety of our staff. Therefore, we set up a contingency plan in case you went berserk."
"What kind of contingency plan?"
"An injection, deliverable by hypodermic needle or, if necessary, a dart gun. It's the reverse of the injections that keep you alive. If I were to inject it into your system, you would feel a slight pinch. And then you would feel as if your skin were boiling from the inside. It would feel that way because that's exactly what would be happening. You would probably start to scream. And then your burning, boiling, melting flesh would start to rip itself from your bones, which would hurt about as much as one might expect. Within five minutes of the initial injection, The Amazing Mr. Corpse would be reduced to a pile of bones and scraps of sizzling flesh. I have both the hypodermic needle and the dart gun here in my desk. Would you like me to show them to you?"
He's totally serious, thought Stanley. He was tempted to jump up and make a run for it, but he'd never make it to the door. "You've got too much invested in me," he said.
"Indeed I do. It would be a terrible waste and I would lose many weeks of sleep. So let's avoid that particular lose-lose situation if at all possible."
"Works for me."
"Go sit on the recliner."
Stanley sighed. "Okay, I get the message. The clowning around got out of hand. I'll be a docile little zombie from now on."
"I will ask you one more time to sit in the recliner. Please do not make me ask again."
Stanley pushed back his chair and stood up. "You've already proven everything you need to prove. I get that you're the boss."
"If I have to resort to the cliche of counting down from ten, I will be very unhappy."
"Okay! Jesus!" Stanley walked over and plopped himself down on the recliner. "Are you happy now?"
"Put up the footrest."
Stanley pulled the handle on the side and raised the footrest. "It's very comfy."
"I'm glad. I just don't want you to fall on the floor and hurt yourself. Now, do I need to deliver this injection by needle or dart gun?"
"You're gonna sizzle me? I sat on the freakin' recliner!"
"No, I am not going to sizzle you. I'm going to remind you what it was like to be dead."
"I already said you won. Lesson learned."
"The problem, Stanley, is that I don't believe you. It's clear that you're terrified, but I don't know how much of that will remain after you walk out of this room. You'll start to convince yourself it was all a bluff, and then we'll be right back where we started."
"I don't think you're bluffing."
"Unfortunately, I can't prove that, now can I? So what is it going to be? Needle or dart?"
"Needle or dart?"
"An excellent choice." Brant opened a drawer and took out a hypodermic needle, wrapped in plastic. "I regret that I'm forced to take these measures, but I think we'll have a much better working relationship as a result."
He stood up and removed the needle from the plastic. Stanley's heart was racing. No, wait, it couldn't be racing, since it didn't beat any more, but it sure felt like it was racing. Pounding. Bashing against his ribcage.
What the hell was he supposed to do? Just let Brant inject him? Try to overpower him? Start bawling and hope that the whole scene became too pathetic for Brant to witness?
"Don't move," said Brant. "Trust me when I say that trying anything remotely clever will turn out badly for you."
"What if this completely messes me up?" Stanley asked. "Do you want to risk that? Think how bad it'll look to maliciously destroy your project."
"Oh, I think you're plenty resilient." Brant walked over to the recliner and without any sort of build-up jabbed the needle into Stanley's upper arm.
"This room is soundproof. You're welcome to scream."
Everything went dark.
Not dark as if somebody had turned out the light or whacked him over the head with a baseball bat. It was a complete blackness. Though Stanley was sort of aware of his body, he couldn't see it, and there was a "going down the first hill of a really tall rollercoaster" sensation in what he thought was his stomach. The whole experience was not unlike rapidly sinking in an ocean of oil. Or rising. He couldn't quite tell.
His head might've come off, but he wasn't sure about that, either.
Still, it wasn't that bad. Not exactly relaxing, but not exactly repeating the third grade.
Then he could see, sort of.
Just himself, floating/falling in the blackness. Not a very good view of himself, but better than the all-encompassing darkness.
A piece of skin on his right arm tore off, curling up as if it were a sardine can lid. It was uncomfortable.
A slightly larger piece of skin on his left arm did the same thing. Way-too-red blood began to jettison from the wound, even though Stanley distinctly remembered being told that he didn't have any blood.
Strips of flesh began to peel off each of his legs. More strips came off his arms. The flesh on his chest joined in, exposing rotting, misshapen organs.
Stanley decided to scream.
Then he felt something bite him. It was a set of teeth, attached to nobody. The teeth bit their way up his leg. More teeth joined them, forming a little trail of choppers biting through the skin of his leg. He could feel them on his back.
Something was burrowing its way into what remained of his arms. The pain was worse than giving rectal birth to a school of hungry piranha.
Did this mean that when he died he'd gone to hell?
The burrowing creature squirmed up into his brain. He could see it in the back of his eyes. It was red and slimy and had lots of pincers.
Stanley screamed some more.
And then woke up in the recliner.
He continued screaming as he flailed around to get away from the teeth and burrowing creatures that were no longer hurting him.
Stanley realized that his skin was all intact, but he couldn't stop screaming.
"Stanley, it's okay now."
Stanley saw Brant standing over him. He tightly gripped the armrests of the recliner and forced himself to take a slow, deep, non-oxygen-delivering breath. It seemed to work. After a few more moments, he was more or less calmed down.
"Did you enjoy that?" asked Brant.
Stanley elected not to tell Brant to go fuck himself. "What was that?"
"But what was it? Is that how it was like when I was dead?"
"You tell me."
"If I remembered, I wouldn't be asking," said Stanley. He wanted to add the word "asshole" to prove that his spirit wasn't broken, but if Brant had the power to make him go through that again, then perhaps Stanley's spirit was broken.
"Fair enough. But I'm not here to reveal the secrets of life and death to you, Stanley. How would you like an eternity-long replay of what you just experienced?"
"Good. Then my discipline was successful." Brant smiled. "It may have been excessive, but I want to make sure you realize just how important it is for you to behave. I'm not asking you to behave like a robot. I'm asking you to behave in a manner that doesn't inspire me to want to place a shotgun in my mouth. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, I understand."
"Good." Brant's smile disappeared. "Because believe me, Stanley, if I have to destroy you, I will. I'll shoot that fucking dart right between your fucking eyes. You will respect me. You will obey me. And you'll watch your fucking language when I'm in the room. Do you completely understand?"
"I completely understand."
The smile returned. "Then it should be smooth sailing from now on. You're not to discuss anything that has transpired. You'll tell Veronica that I threatened to keep you in the bunker until your behavior was in line with that of a Project Second Chance employee."
"Y'know, that actually would've worked just as well," Stanley remarked.
"We'll never know. Do you need a few minutes to compose yourself?"
"Nah, I'm fine."
"Take a few minutes anyway. And Stanley?"
"Sign the contract."
"By the way, the security guard who shot you? A religious zealot. We had to turn him over to the police because we couldn't exactly make him disappear, if you know what I mean. More people like that are out there, Stanley. Don't antagonize the ones who are keeping you safe."
"So what did he say?" asked Veronica as Stanley stepped out of Brant's office. She was a respectable distance down the corridor, but Stanley wondered if she'd been holding a glass to the soundproof door.
"He was a smidgen pissed."
"You look kind of shaken up."
"He threw me into a pit. Did you know he has a pit under his office? Giant spiders and everything."
"Be serious. What did he say?"
"I dunno, something about my attitude needing adjustment. I may turn over a new leaf. I'd hate for him to have to scold me again."
"That's it? He just talked about your attitude?"
Stanley shrugged. "He raised his voice. And he sort of implied that he wasn't going to let me out into society if I kept being my usual witty self. I guess I'll give him what he wants; I don't really care."
"Well…good, I guess."
"I'm still going to be obnoxious around you, though."
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
Donald Mandigan kissed the photograph of Mr. Corpse. Dear, sweet, precious, glorious Stanley Dabernath. His savior. His meal ticket.
"I wish you'd stop kissing that thing," said Missy the makeup girl, buttoning her blouse. "It's getting kind of creepy."
"You're lucky they don't have the Mr. Corpse blow-up doll," Donald informed her.
And to think I was worried about looking like an ass, he thought. The live resurrection special had been a ratings smash. It didn't top the M*A*S*H finale or Oprah's interview with Michael Jackson, but it had been stellar. And Donald himself had received good reviews, which was not something he was used to.
His career had been going reasonably well before, but now it was in another stratosphere. And in a couple of days he'd get to conduct a live, one-hour, prime-time interview with Mr. Corpse. Originally he'd protested the idea of the press conference coming first, but now he was elated that his lawyers had been unable to negotiate that in his favor. Mr. Corpse taking a bullet at that press conference made this whole story even more fantastic, and Donald's interview would set ratings records, he was sure of it.
He kissed the photograph again.
"Why don't you just tongue the stupid picture while you're at it?" asked Missy.
Stanley relaxed, therapy patient style, on the sofa in Veronica's small but surprisingly luxurious office. She sat in a chair next to him, a notebook on her lap.
"The most important thing is that you present yourself as grateful for his miracle," she said. "I want you to think of five reasons you're glad to be alive."
"I'd smell worse if I were dead."
"Say that in a positive way."
"I'm positive I'd smell worse if I were dead."
"What about your current scent would you consider an improvement over the way you smelled before you died?"
"Think of something."
"Uhhhh…the flies are kind of cool when they disintegrate in the air next to me."
"So your scent is entertaining?"
"Maybe we should move on."
"Maybe we should."
"But you know, I could probably get one hell of a good endorsement deal for deodorant. 'Boffo Deodorant – Strong enough for a zombie, but made for a human.' You should look into that."
"We already have. You'll be wearing Degree in all of your public appearances."
"Wow. Think you can get me an endorsement gig for Trojans? 'When decay strikes where it hurts the most, strap on a Trojan and…', actually, I'm going to leave that one unfinished."
"But it would be a cool endorsement."
"Well, nothing's impossible, unfortunately. But let's get back to why you're grateful to be alive. You were happy to see your parents again, right?"
"I didn't see them."
"I thought they were here."
Stanley shifted uncomfortably on the couch. "I sent them away. I didn't want them to see me like this."
"But you're going on television to let everybody in the world see you."
"It's different, okay? Can we not talk about it?"
"Of course. What about Martin? He's your best friend, right?"
"So you're grateful to still get to spend time with him."
Stanley nodded. "He's a good guy. Always a lot more supportive of me than I deserve. Great fashion sense if you're really into green. He desperately needs a girlfriend."
"He doesn't have one?"
Had Veronica perked up just a bit? Nah, it had to be Stanley's imagination. "He hasn't for a while. His last girlfriend, Katie, messed him up pretty good. She cheated on him. A lot. With ugly, nasty, fat guys. If a girl cheats on you with Brad Pitt, you pretty much have to admit that you're not Brad Pitt and get over it. But when she cheats on you with these dog-men, it's a pretty big blow to the self-esteem. I tried to convince him that she just had an ugly, nasty, fat-guy fetish, but it didn't help. He's a really loyal person, so it hurt a lot."
"I can imagine."
Veronica seemed way too interested in this topic. "And he has an extremely tiny penis," Stanley added.
"Okay, once again we've moved away from the subject of you being grateful. If we don't count your smell, and I'm all in favor of that idea, you've only given me one reason. I need four more."
"I've discovered that life truly is precious."
"Have you really?"
"No, but the world doesn't need to know that."
Veronica wrote it down in her notebook. "Three more."
"Now that I'm a zombie, I've got a really hot personal assistant."
"Still three more."
"Since I don't have to breathe, I guess I could spend hours underwater."
"And why are you grateful for that?"
"I dunno, maybe I could see some neat fish or something."
"Okay, two more."
"I've discovered that life truly is precious."
"You already said that."
"I know, but I should keep on repeating it every chance I get. 'Stanley, do you want fries with your burger?' 'Yes, because life truly is precious.'"
"Then you'll just sound sarcastic. Still two more."
"When I was drowning in that milk, my last thought was that I'd never again get to see dew glistening on a leaf in the morning sun."
"What was your real last thought?"
"'I can't fucking believe I'm going to die in milk.'"
"Oh, c'mon. I can sell the dew thing."
Veronica considered that for a long moment. "We'll practice."
"I'm grateful that I can help make the world a better place."
"By making it easier for the general public to choose a brand of deodorant."
"Don't make me poke you with this pen."
"What would be your favorite place to poke me?"
"Okay, okay. Let's see…making the world a better place…making the world a better place…making the world a better place…uh, if a loser like me could come back from the dead, there's hope for anybody to come back from the dead."
"I can talk to kids about proper pedestrian safety."
"Maybe. But keep trying."
"I can inspire people to cherish the wonder of life because I'm so grateful to be alive again."
"But you're not all that grateful."
"Yes, I am."
"I've got to be honest with you, Stanley. At this point I don't see you inspiring anything in people except for a deep concern over the post-mortem state of their genitalia."
"When you went to personal assistant school, did you ever think you'd be uttering that exact sentence?"
"I need one more reason."
"I'm grateful because even though I'm a zombie and I don't breathe or have any blood, pizza still tastes good."
"That we can use."
"Let's see your walk," said Veronica.
Stanley walked to the other end of her office and back.
"Did I have my groove on?"
"You had your groove on."
"Should I maybe limp? Do a zombie shuffle to make it more believable?"
"Nope. You don't want people to catch you walking normally and assume that you're a fraud. Just be yourself, except for the behavior modification that we're doing right now. Let's see your smile."
Stanley gave her a wide grin.
"That's more than a little creepy. Try to tone it down so you don't scare the kids."
"I think they'll be scared anyway, what with the death mask that I've got for a face."
"Possibly, but your grin is really macabre."
"Want to hear my macabre laugh?"
"No. But chuckle for me."
"What kind of chuckle?"
"Just a chuckle."
"Give me something to chuckle about."
"Part of being a gracious celebrity involves chuckling politely at things that aren't funny. So do it."
Stanley cleared his throat. "Heh heh heh."
"That's a macabre chuckle."
"I can't chuckle under pressure."
"A zombie walks into a bar and orders a screwdriver. The bartender says 'Do you want that in your ear?'"
Stanley gave her a blank stare.
"Have you seen the original Dawn of the Dead? A zombie gets a screwdriver jammed in its ear."
"That's the kind of humor you may have to chuckle at."
"Can I cry instead?"
"Okay, we want to make sure that you won't be nervous during the interview," said Veronica. "If you get nervous, I foresee you resorting to sarcasm and the F-word, and we want to avoid that."
"I don't get nervous."
"How many one-hour prime-time live television interviews have you done?"
"Seven or eight."
"Uh-huh. What we're going to do are some visualization exercises."
"You mean like picturing the audience in their underwear?"
"Would that work for you?"
"I doubt it. I'd be thinking, orgy!"
"Close your eyes."
"Do you promise not to touch me inappropriately?"
"Believe me, I promise."
Stanley closed his eyes. "Good thing my eyelids didn't decompose. I'd be peeking."
"What do you see?"
"The back of my non-decomposed eyelids."
"Erase the bunny."
"Now imagine a chair. A very comfortable brown chair with leather cushions."
"Maytag just delivered it."
"Do you see the chair?"
"Now imagine yourself sitting on the chair."
"Whoops…was that me or a whoopee cushion?"
"Stanley, take this more seriously or I'll have to report you to Brant."
Stanley flinched and opened his eyes. Did she know what Brant had done to him? "Don't do that," he said, louder than he intended.
Veronica frowned. "Are you okay?"
"I didn't mean it. I just need you to work with me here."
Stanley nodded and closed his eyes again. Now he saw his skin pulsing as something burrowed underneath it. He managed to switch the image to that of a comfy brown chair pulsing as something burrowed within the cushion.
"Are you back on the chair?"
"Not yet." Stanley mentally placed himself back on the chair, desperately hoping that the burrowing thing would remain a polite distance from his ass. "Okay, I'm there."
"Visualize yourself being very, very comfortable. Not sleepy, just comfortable."
The burrowing thing vanished. "I'm there."
"Visualize yourself being confident. Imagine actual rays of confidence shooting out of your body."
"Are they scaring people?"
"Only you can see them."
"I can't do the ray thing. That's just too freaky. Sorry."
"How about waves of confidence. What's your favorite color?"
"Imagine ochre waves of confidence emanating from your body."
Stanley couldn't think of any particular benefit to imagining waves of confidence emanating from his body, so he imagined Veronica naked instead. Supple breasts with sensitive nipples that responded to the gentlest touch. A firm, luscious, massage-seeking ass. And, proving that she was a natural brunette, a tight-
"Are you imagining the ochre waves of confidence?"
"You know it."
"You are relaxed. You are confident. You know exactly what you're going to say, and you do so in an articulate, highly quotable manner."
Why, Veronica, you seem to have dropped your notebook! Perhaps you should crawl around the floor on your hands and knees to retrieve it.
"You chuckle at Donald Mandigan's jokes."
Veronica, you keep accidentally bumping into me during your crawling expedition. What's that? My shirt looks too constricting? Now that you mention it, the A/C is on a bit too high in here…
"Heh heh heh."
"Still too macabre."
"Hee hee hee."
What's that? You want me to grasp your hips tightly and thrust into you repeatedly from behind in a most rapid manner? Goodness gracious, I've never known a woman to be so forward. My mind says no, no, no but my heart says yes, yes, yes…
"You can open your eyes now."
Stanley opened his eyes. "That was very productive."
"At least your erection thinks so."
Stanley glanced down at the surprise bulge in his pants. "Whoa! Hey, it still works! How about that? I thought I was gonna be Mr. Limpy forever. I wonder how I did that without blood? That's pretty weird."
Veronica didn't look as amused as he hoped she would. "Do you need some privacy?"
"Well, I think it's time for a break. Let me know when your emergency backup brain has gone back into hiding."
"How did he do?" asked Brant.
Veronica shrugged. "I think he's getting better. We did three sample run-throughs of the interview. It would've been easier if the producers had been willing to give us the actual questions, but I think we've got a pretty good idea about how it's going to go."
"That's good to hear. Is he still an obnoxious cretin?"
"He's getting better. I think he'll be fine during the interview. I really do."
Brant nodded thoughtfully. "I'm going to trust you, then. Because ultimately his behavior is your responsibility."
"It's not like I can sit behind his chair and zap him with a cattle prod if he gets out of line. I've been working with him. I'm comfortable putting him on television. But he's not going to be Cadbury."
"Richie Rich's butler. The perfect gentleman."
"How come nobody ever gets my pop culture references?"
"The only pop culture reference I'm interested in right now is Stanley Dabernath, the Amazing Mr. Corpse."
"He hates that nickname."
"Woe is him. The interview is tomorrow evening. Do I have your assurance that he won't humiliate Project Second Chance?"
"Perfect. Then I very much look forward to reaping the fruits of our labor. I'll have three bottles of the finest champagne waiting here. I sincerely hope that we'll be in a celebratory mood."
Stanley sat on the comfortable brown chair, feeling extremely nervous. He wasn't used to that. He suspected that it had something to do with the fact that his last public speaking engagement had ended with a bullet puncturing his chest.
He was in the same building where they'd held the press conference, although now it had been redecorated into a fairly cozy set where the interview would take place. Various members of the television crew were scurrying around, finishing all of the last-minute setup. Donald Mandigan was seated against the far wall, having his makeup done.
"You'll do fine," said Veronica, placing a reassuring hand on Stanley's shoulder.
"Just be eighty percent yourself and everyone will love you," she said with a wink, as she left to discuss something with Brant.
Stanley fidgeted with his tie. He wasn't in a three-piece suit this time, but rather a light blue dress shirt and dark blue slacks. He thought he looked pretty good in it, all things considered, but he just wasn't a tie man.
"Three minutes!" announced one of the stagehands.
Donald walked onto the stage and over to Stanley's chair. "Hey there, you're looking a lot better than when I saw you last!"
"You've got some pretty good lungs for a dead guy. Anyway, just relax. The interview will be done before you know it."
The director ushered Donald aside, and so Stanley resumed his fidgeting. It had never really occurred to him before that this was his chance not to be a complete outcast in the world. He was, after all, a zombie. A dead guy. A freak. If the public didn't like him, he could end up in a circus, shouting "Booga-booga!" at people for fifty cents a head. Or living in the bunker forever, with nothing to look forward to except the next ghastly medical experiment performed upon him.
He had to make a good impression. Not for that creep Brant, but for himself. Hell, if he made enough money off of his newfound celebrity, he could pay for his own damn injections and live wherever he wanted.
Witty and charming…grateful to be alive…chuckle at Donald's crappy jokes…
Donald sat down in his own brown chair across from Stanley. "Everything okay?"
Stanley closed his eyes and visualized himself giving an amazing interview, one that professors would be teaching to students for centuries to come ("Now that, class, is how a zombie should give an interview!"). Then he visualized Veronica naked again, just because it was an enjoyable visual.
Brant hadn't felt this queasy since…well, since the resurrection. It was crucial that Stanley be likable; the project was controversial enough without the end product being disagreeable to the general public. There were plenty of "bad boy" celebrities, but they had some leeway from audiences in that they were usually physically attractive and had never been dead. If people were repulsed by Stanley's appearance and his personality, the money just wouldn't materialize.
Still, he wondered if it had been a bad idea to take such severe measures with Stanley so soon. He never wanted to be a cruel person, but it wasn't like he could simply run out and resurrect another, less annoying cadaver. He wasn't happy that it was Dabernath who met the conditions for resurrection, but he had to play the hand he was dealt. Unfortunately, he'd received a joker, and so he had to be heartless.
And if Dabernath botched the interview tonight, Brant could be much more heartless.
Some uncatchy theme music began to play, and Stanley watched on the large monitor as "THE AMAZING MR. CORPSE – THE LIVE INTERVIEW" appeared. Snazzy logo, using a skull in place of the letter "O." This was followed by "WITH DONALD MANDIGAN." Donald's "O" wasn't a skull.
Donald turned to the camera closest to him. "Hello, I'm Donald Mandigan. This week, a record number of households witnessed the live resurrection of Mr. Stanley Dabernath, the Amazing Mr. Corpse. When he first returned to the world of the living, he looked like this."
The image on the monitor switched to Stanley in his underwear, sitting up and shrieking. The bad words were bleeped out.
"Following that, The Amazing Mr. Corpse gave a press conference. I'm sure you know the results."
The image shifted to Stanley getting shot in the chest. Damn, thought Stanley. I look like a complete sissy.
The image switched back to Donald. "But now, Mr. Corpse is sitting right in front of me, and I have to say, he looks just fine. Welcome, Stanley."
"Thanks, Donald," said Stanley, a bit surprised by the squeak in his voice. "Glad to be here."
"Tell me about the underground bunker where you've been living since you started living again. How are your accommodations?"
Be quotable, damn it! Quotable!
"This is our first time to actually get to sit down and talk. Tell me, when you look at the video of your resurrection, how does it make you feel?"
"It's kind of embarrassing, actually," Stanley admitted. "Now I know how celebrities feel when talk show hosts show really bad clips from early in their careers. I just want to say that I was not responsible for the choice of boxers."
Donald chuckled. Stanley relaxed.
"So how do you feel?"
"Alive." Crap, I can't start recycling material this early! "I have to admit, I don't feel all that much different than I did before. I look different, obviously, but I feel about the same."
"Really? So you're not in any pain?"
"None. And you'd think that my rot spots would itch, but they don't."
"Let's talk about your rot spots," said Donald, leaning forward in his chair. "Clearly, your body has undergone quite a bit of decomposition. Is that going to continue?"
"I'm told that it isn't. They could just be saying that to keep my morale up. Nobody wants to be around a disgruntled zombie."
"Let's talk about that word zombie. When I think zombie, I'm thinking about creatures that eat human flesh. What's the story with that?"
"Give me your hand and I'll show you."
Donald chuckled again, but it seemed a bit forced.
"No, actually, I have no interest in eating human flesh. I think the idea is every bit as gross now as I did before. Your arm would be perfectly safe if you waved it in front of my mouth."
"And that's very reassuring. What about the word zombie itself? Do you find it offensive?"
"Not at all. It's kind of badass."
"As I'm sure you know, a lot of people think that you're a fraud, that you're just some guy in a Halloween mask. In fact, that's the question you were asked at your press conference right before you were shot. I saw and touched your dead body, so I know that you're the real deal, but how do you convince people watching television who think it's all a scam?"
"I'm not sure. I guess you could have a bunch of designated representatives from around the world try to yank off my face."
"Could I host that TV special?"
"Anything for you, Donald."
They both chuckled.
"What's next for Project Second Chance? Are they cooking up a Mrs. Corpse?"
"I'm not sure. I'd hate to lose my bachelorhood this soon."
"Understood. So tell me, what's the best thing about being alive again?"
"Knowing that I'll get to see another sunset as soon as they let me out of the underground bunker for more than an interview. Knowing that the dew glistening on a leaf in the morning sun is within my reach. Donald, life is precious. Life is more precious than you can imagine. Life is filled with rainbows and puppies and babies and flowers and waterfalls and rivers and golden stalks of wheat and mountain ranges and corn and moonlit walks on the beach and kittens and ice cream and Valentine's Day and bubble baths and birds. Treat every moment as if it were your last."
Stanley looked into the camera. "Life is so very precious. Be grateful that you're on this beautiful earth. Dance. Sing. Turn off that television-not now, but around 9:00 Eastern Standard Time-and go out and live." He wiped a tear from his eye. "Live. If you ignore everything else I say tonight, just hear that one word: Live."
He turned back to Donald. "I'm sorry, I just get worked up when I think about this sweet gift that I've been given." He looked out past the set at Brant. "Richard Brant, my savior, I just want to say how much I deeply appreciate what you've done for me. I love you, man. Everyone in this room, everyone at home, let's give him a big round of applause, what do you say?"
Stanley began to enthusiastically applaud, as did Donald and the rest of the camera crew and onlookers. Brant looked as if he weren't sure whether to be deeply touched or deeply pissed. Veronica was obviously trying very, very, very, very hard to stifle a grin.
"Those are very inspiring words," said Donald. "I think your message is one that everybody should take to heart. Because let's face it, most of us who die aren't going to come back to life. Unless you believe in reincarnation, but that's a topic for a different show. Now let's talk about some of the controversies surrounding your resurrection. Obviously, there was the incident at your press conference. Let's take a look at that clip again."
On the monitor, they showed the clip of Stanley getting shot. He still looked like a sissy.
"I guess my first question is, how's your chest?"
"They dug the bullet out, but there's still a hole."
"Can we see it?"
"Uh, yeah. I don't see why not." Stanley unbuttoned his shirt as one of the cameramen rolled his camera forward to get a close-up. Stanley draped his tie over his shoulder to get it out of the way and then opened his shirt, revealing the bullet hole.
"Wow," said Donald. "You could almost stick your finger in there."
"I'd rather you didn't."
The cameraman moved back and Stanley buttoned his shirt. "Did it hurt?" Donald asked.
"It definitely stung."
"I can imagine. This whole incident has to be disturbing for you because he's obviously not the only person who believes that you're-pardon my choice of words-an aberration that should be destroyed."
"Well, I got that a lot from my teachers in high school, so I don't let it bother me too much."
"But seriously, you're a corpse that was brought back from the dead. To a lot of folks that's pretty scary stuff. And a lot of people think that we've entered territory that mankind was never meant to touch. What do you say to the people who think your existence is blasphemy?"
"I invite them all to kiss my dead ass."
Stanley froze. He and Veronica had practiced a very similar question to this, and the agreed-upon answer had not involved the kissing of any deceased ass.
"I'm just kidding, of course," he said with a smile. "I can understand their point of view. But blaming me is like blaming Frankenstein's monster for the actions of his creator. Which is what they did in the movie when the angry mob destroyed him, so that's a poor example. I'm just saying, I'm a regular guy who was given a second chance, and I'd have to be an ungrateful hooligan not to run with this chance. Because life is so very precious, and I know this now, and I don't think I knew it before, and if being a blasphemy is what it took for me to appreciate the beauty of life, well, then maybe the good Lord above doesn't mind a little blasphemy every now and then."
"And with that, we're going to take a short break, but we'll be right back with more from The Amazing Mr. Corpse. Don't go away."
As they went to commercial, Veronica and Brant walked up on stage. "I'm sorry about the whole Frankenstein thing," Stanley said. "I got a little nervous."
"No, no, that's fine," Brant assured him. "No harm done. You did slip near the end, but aside from that I think you're doing a marvelous job. Keep it up and I think we're in business."
"Great job, Stanley," said Veronica. "I knew you could do it."
"You thought I was going to make dick jokes the whole time, didn't you?"
"I thought you might try to squeeze in fifteen or sixteen of them, yes."
"You should have more faith in your client. I clean up very nicely."
"Indeed you do."
"Great stuff," said Donald. "So what do you think if I try to yank off your face in the next segment?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"The idea came to me when you gave that answer about people thinking you were a fake. We could get a close-up and I could tug on your cheek or something. It wouldn't convince everybody, but it might switch over a few non-believers."
Stanley turned to Brant. "My skin won't actually rip off, will it?"
"Not any more than if he were to tug on my cheek."
"So, Donald, how about you tug on Brant's cheek to see what happens?"
"Don't worry, if it feels like anything is actually coming off, I'll stop," said Donald. "And I'm going to wear surgical gloves, if that's okay. No offense, right?"
"Good. If you could get me a pair of surgical gloves, that would be great."
"I'll get right on it," said Brant, walking away from the stage.
"Places, everyone!" said the director.
Stanley found his stride again as they launched into the second segment of the interview, though he wasn't sure it was necessary to repeat the clip of him screaming in his underwear. He was (mostly) witty without being sarcastic (often), and managed to convey a (partially simulated) grateful tone.
"So you wouldn't mind if I tugged on your face, would you?" asked Donald, slipping on the surgical gloves.
"Of course not. I'd welcome it."
Donald stepped over to Stanley's chair and knelt down next to him. "I have to say, if this is a makeup job, it's the best makeup job in the world. There is not a seam to be found. And you can see how close up our high-def camera is getting. I also would like to assure the viewing audience at home that there is no post-production tampering going on here. We are indeed broadcasting live, and to prove it I can share that the Cowboys just went into their third quarter with a 14-6 lead." Donald hesitated. "Hopefully none of you were recording the game to watch later. If so, you have my apologies."
Donald poked Stanley's cheek, somewhat harder than Stanley would have liked. "I know that you at home can't feel what I'm feeling, but you can at least see that this is not rubber or foam latex. And watch when I tug on his skin." Donald pinched his cheek and yanked on it. "That, ladies and gentlemen, is genuine flesh."
"You can stop now," said Stanley.
"Can I squeeze your nose?"
"Stanley, I'm trying to prove that you are truly what you say you are."
"Can I squeeze your nose?"
Donald blinked. "Certainly," he said, uncertainly.
Stanley reached over and squeezed Donald's nose between his thumb and index finger. Donald did the same to what little existed of Stanley's nose. They squeezed each other's noses for a long moment and then released their grip.
"And that's going to be on the front page of every newspaper in the country tomorrow," said Donald.
Stanley nodded. "Some guy on the Internet has already made the t-shirts."
The rest of the interview continued without any pinching or squeezing. Though there were a couple of other slip-ups and lame answers, Stanley had to say that it had been a darn good hour of television.
"I've really enjoyed talking to you and hearing your fascinating story," said Donald, shaking Stanley's hand as the bad music swelled. He turned to the camera. "Ladies and gentlemen, you've met The Amazing Mr. Corpse. He's not a shambling, flesh-eating beast like you'd expect, but rather a kind-hearted human being who has learned that life truly is worth living. Can't we all take a page from Stanley Dabernath's book and appreciate the gifts around us just a little bit more? I'm Donald Mandigan. Good night."
"That was wonderful!" said Veronica, giving Stanley a big hug. "You did great!"
"It was quite acceptable," said Brant, extending his hand. "I'm very pleased."
Stanley wasn't keen on the idea of breaking his hug with Veronica in order to shake Brant's hand, but he did so anyway. "Thanks. Do you think people will like me?"
"We'll find out."
"Guess what?" Veronica asked. "Tomorrow's your big day."
"I thought today was my big day."
"What happens tomorrow? Mandigan and I quit the nose foreplay and just go at it like wild animals?"
"Tomorrow, Stanley, you get to head out and speak to your adoring public in person!"
"I thought he was kinda funny. I wasn't expecting that from a dead guy, y'know? I mean, I wouldn't want him hanging around my restaurant or anything, but he seems like a nice guy."
"The corpse man came off pretty well, all things considered. I don't know; I still think it's probably a hoax. With those computer effects you can pretty much do anything you want."
"They don't need to be showing that kind of scary-ass shit on TV when my kids are still up. That zombie motherfucker would keep my ass up all night, so what kind of nightmares you think my kids had? They oughta be ashamed."
"In a world where overpopulation is a constant problem, we have no business bringing the dead back to life!"
"My son already wants to be Mr. Corpse for Halloween. I keep telling him, Halloween is a long way away, but he just gets so excited!"
"Mr. Corpse is hot. I don't know if he's got diseases and all that, but if he got himself tested, I'd do him."
"What a load of crap. I mean, what a load of crap. Do they think we're stupid? Is that what they think? Do they think we're all a bunch of stupid idiots who'll buy their load of crap? I saw that same actor last week on a CSI repeat. They need to fire Donald Maninnen, and they need to burn that stupid-looking mask. My kid could make a better mask than that. What a load of crap."
"What bothers me is that people can't see what's going on here. You don't think the government funded this project? Guy back from the dead? Hell-oooo, killing machine, anyone?"
"I can't even begin to speculate on the impact of this miraculous breakthrough in science. A world where everybody is immortal. It's just…it's almost too much for me to think about. It's staggering. A world without death. Holy shit."
"I like him! I know I shouldn't, because he's a monster, but I can't help it. I like him. He just seems like a cool guy, somebody you'd want to hang out and have a few beers with on Saturday night. I'll tell you what, Mr. Corpse, if you're into poker, stop by my place. We've got the beer. You bring the potato chips."
"I would just like to say that it's not really our business to question what has happened either way, and that we should support our leaders and scientists and not be always second-guessing them. And I think that maybe if we did that we could live better. That's all I wanted to say. Thank you."
"Dude, where's the Mr. Corpse video game? That'd be sweet!"
"God is looking down upon us, and God is crying. This is all against God's will, and there's going to be judgment. People are going to burn in hell for this. I am terrified that maybe this is the act that causes God to decide to do a clean sweep and start over. A lot of people will be answering for their actions. This could be judgment day. This could be Armageddon."
"I've gotta say, I just feel sorry for the poor guy. Why couldn't they leave him dead? He looked so peaceful. Now he's deformed and kind of gory and I just wouldn't want to live like that. How can he have a normal life? Why would they do that to somebody? He didn't ask to come back. They should've left him alone. Nobody should have to go through that."
"I didn't actually watch the interview, but we're having a Going Out of Business sale here at Walt's Furniture and everything must go! Save thirty, forty, even fifty percent on all items in our store! Our doors close on Sunday, so don't miss out!"
"I think it's ghoulish. Sick people doing sick things to entertain other sick people. Disgusting."
"My question is, why Stanley Dabernath? If we have the power to bring the dead back to life, why not start with Einstein? Why not Shakespeare? Abraham Lincoln? It seems to me that you're low-balling the whole miracle by wasting it on some sleazy film distributor living in a trailer park. Even if you argue that there's not enough left of Lincoln to resurrect-which there probably isn't, I'll admit-there have to be other people who died recently who are much more worthy subjects. Why not a brilliant musician, or a physicist, or an inventor, or even a social worker who volunteers all of her time to help people? Why bring this loser back? What's he going to contribute to the world?"
"My uncle, he was into this cryogenics stuff. He was always like 'They're gonna freeze my body when I die and bring me back to life in a thousand years and I'll get to see the future!' And we were all like, yeah, right. It wasn't even gonna be his whole body, just his head. And we're all laughing at him and he's getting all pissed off and he runs out the door and he gets smushed by a pizza delivery truck. Not even enough left of his head to freeze. Sucked to be him."
"If you discover a way to bring my mother-in-law back, please, I'm begging you, don't! Ha ha, I'm just kidding, honey."
"I'm already sick of hearing about him. Mr. Corpse this, Mr. Corpse that, blah, blah, blah. He's so overrated. I'll bet you anything he runs for office. That's just what we need; a zombie in the white house. Oooh, let me get right to those voting booths now!"
"It's witchcraft. Science can't bring dead people back to life so that they retain their memories, their personalities. How is he talking? How is he moving? There's something unholy going on here."
"Mr. Corpse is a homo."
"No, you're a homo."
"No, you're a homo."
"You thought Mr. Corpse had a nice butt."
"Oh, that's just wrong!"
"You did! I saw you checking out his butt on TV!"
"He was sitting down the whole time, homo!"
"I'm not necessarily against the whole idea of what they've done, but I wonder if they tested for all possible side effects. I hope they keep him on a leash when he's out in public."
"The whole thing makes me miss my wife Megan. She passed away on the same day that Stanley Dabernath did, and I'd give anything to have her back. A lot of people are going to ridicule Stanley for the way he looks, but I bet there are plenty of people who love him, no matter what. I'd want Megan back. Unconditionally."
"They're just exploiting it. Why does this thing have to be dumbed-down for the masses? Why aren't we hearing about the science involved instead of watching him act like a guest on Letterman? Where's the NOVA special? Why does everything have to be about the entertainment value?"
"Mr. Corpse is a freak, man! Did you see his ugly skull-lookin' face? Nasty. He's like Frankenstein. I've got nothing against the guy personally, but it's just not a face I need to be looking at. Yecch."
"What I want to know is, if he had kids, would they come out alive or dead?"
"The Amazing Mr. Corpse makes him sound like a circus act. I expected him to start juggling or spinning plates. I know that Stanley Dabernath isn't really a good name for a zombie, but they've got to do better. Or else he's got to start juggling or spinning plates. I'd pay to see that, to be perfectly honest…"
"I thought it was a great interview, but dead guys should not wear blue."
"Oh, come on!"
"You don't like it?" asked Veronica, tilting the poster as if viewing it at a slightly different angle might improve Stanley's opinion of it.
The glossy poster featured the words "APPEARING TODAY: THE AMAZING MR. CORPSE" in large orange letters. The rest of the poster was an artist's rendition of Stanley wearing a three-piece suit, a top hat, and holding a cane. Stanley didn't object to the attire.
"I'm a skeleton!" he said.
"Well, yeah. It's not meant to be an actual picture of you. But it's eye-catching, isn't it?"
"Very eye-catching. But I'm a skeleton!"
"Why is that a problem?"
"Because that's not what I look like. Yeah, I've got splotches of decay all over my body, and the skin on my face is kinda stretched out so that it looks skeletal." He tapped on the poster. "But this is a skeleton! This is just bones! I'm not just bones!"
"It's symbolic of a skeleton! And I'm not a skeleton!"
"Stanley, I can understand what you're saying, and I didn't personally design the poster. But they felt the image would be less disturbing this way."
"Oh, so now I'm disturbing?"
Veronica let out a frustrated sigh. "I apologize. You've made enough obnoxious comments about it that I thought you were realistic about the effect your appearance might have on people. I didn't realize that I needed to tiptoe around the subject."
Stanley took the poster and looked at it more closely. Maybe Veronica was right. He'd been pretty outspoken about being unattractive/grotesque, and bones were a better selling point than rot. He supposed it wasn't much different than a celebrity's photo being airbrushed to remove wrinkles and a saggy ass.
"All right," he said, reluctantly. "If I have to be a skeleton, I'll be a skeleton. But no jokes about snapping my wishbone, or 'You'd better get something to eat because I can see your ribs,' or 'Hey, Stanley, what's the hip bone connected to?' or anything like that."
"However, you can make all the boner jokes you want."
"I probably won't do that very often."
"Well, if you think of any, the offer stands." He looked at the poster again. "Wow, I have good bone structure."
"These are going to be quick appearances," Veronica explained. "Basically just hit-and-runs. You'll wave to people from your limo, do a bunch of rapid-fire interviews, sign a bunch of autographs…just get to know the public."
"I get a limo?"
"With a Blu-Ray player?"
"I think so. DVD at least."
"Tomorrow night you're going to be the guest of honor at Creeping Hemlock, a Goth club. You can dance, right?"
"I can twitch and spasm."
"Is it safe for me to be doing public appearances like this? I hate to quit going back to the 'I got shot' thing, but…"
"Believe me, there'll be plenty of security." She smiled. "And anyway, you're impervious to bullets, remember?"
"Hey, I was pervious to that last one! It may not have killed me but it hurt like hell!"
"You'll be fine. You're the Amazing Mr. Corpse!"
Stanley stood out in the desert, adoring the feel of the hot sun against his face. He hadn't realized how confined he'd felt inside the bunker until now. Climbing out of the trap door, leaping into a limo, and driving a few blocks wasn't making him any less stir crazy. Though a little breeze would've been nice, he'd be satisfied with the fresh air.
He inhaled deeply, held it, and exhaled. Sure, no oxygen was being delivered, but it still felt good. He closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and just let nature work its magic.
"Warm weather kind of guy, huh?" Veronica asked.
Stanley didn't open his eyes. "I spent weeks in a freezer. I've got a lot of catching up to do."
They stood there for a while. Stanley smiled as an almost imperceptible breeze blew across his skin.
"We should have a picnic," he said.
"I'll add that to the itinerary."
He opened his eyes. "I'm feeling good today. Not Snoopy Dance of Joy good, but pretty darn good. And not giddy or giggly, but, y'know, good. Well, maybe a little giggly."
Brant and Martin walked over to join them. "Are you ready to go?" Brant asked.
"There went my gigglyness," Stanley told Veronica. "Yep, let's get this freak show on the road." He tapped on the side of the limousine. "I call shotgun."
Brant was lost in some paperwork and thus wasn't being a complete prick. Martin read a comic book with a slug on the cover. The driver, John, had seemed like a nice enough guy but he'd prepared a playlist of zombie-related music that got old pretty quick. Veronica wrote in a notebook. Stanley watched Veronica.
He was developing a serious crush on her, one that went beyond simple thoughts regarding the quality of her buttocks. She wasn't just gorgeous; she was intelligent, funny, and both able and willing to put Stanley in his place. If he'd had somebody like her in his life before, he would never have ended up living in a trailer park crying into a crusty pillow on a daily basis.
Too bad he was a monster.
She seemed like somebody who could get past the whole "physically repulsive" element, but still, he knew that he'd never dare to make a move. Shameless flirting and crude comments were fine. A genuine admission of his feelings was not. He couldn't put her in the position of having to admit that dating a corpse wasn't really her thing. That would be more than a little socially awkward.
Veronica probably had a boyfriend. Maybe even a husband. She didn't like to talk about her personal life. Hell, for all he knew, she kept a harem in her basement.
Beauty and the Beast.
Hottie and the Zombie.
Never gonna happen.
"What?" Veronica asked as she noticed that he was staring at her.
She wiped at her nose. "Did I get it?"
"No, now it's crawling on your cheek."
"You need a hobby."
"I have a hobby. I just need a better one."
Veronica tore a piece of paper out of her notebook and handed it to him, along with a pen. "I want you to write down the names of all fifty states and their capitals by the time we reach Santa Fe. That's about two hours. No asking for help."
"Will you flash me if I get them all?"
"Yes. If you get all fifty states and their capitals without asking for help by the time we get to Santa Fe, I will flash you for three seconds."
"Wow, let out your inner floozy! You've got a deal."
"Slow down the limo!" Stanley cried. "I'm almost there! Park at that Dairy Queen or something!"
"How many states do you have?" asked Martin.
"Forty-nine. I think I'm missing one of the states with East or West in the name!"
"Let me see," said Veronica, taking the paper from him. "East Mississippi is not a state."
"I thought that sounded wrong."
"You don't even have New Mexico on here. We're in New Mexico."
"New Mexico! Thanks!" Stanley grabbed the paper and hurriedly wrote down the state. "Why is this limo going so fast? Isn't there a speed limit in New Mexico?"
"Give it up, Stanley," said Veronica. "You only have twelve capitals on there."
"I have fifteen."
"No, three of them are wrong."
"Really? Which ones?"
"Anchorage, Miami, and Vermont City."
"Damn. So I get a one second flash instead, right?"
"A one second flash of one breast?"
"You get nothing. But I got two hours of relative peace. It's a win-win situation for me."
"You're a tease."
"And your U.S. geography skills are pathetic. We're going to have to work on that if you're going to be speaking to our nation's youth."
Stanley crumpled up the paper. "I challenge you to a rematch. Name the Three Stooges."
"No time for that," said Brant. "It's time to meet up with the Mr. Corpse Cavalcade."
"Oh my God," said Stanley as they turned the corner, so astounded that he couldn't even think of a sarcastic remark, let alone deliver one.
Both sides of the street were jam-packed with people as if it were a parade at Disneyland. Cheering people with balloons and confetti. A huge banner stretched out over the street read "SANTA FE WELCOMES MR.
"All these people are here for me?" Stanley asked.
Brant nodded. "Miles of them."
"I thought I was supposed to be a freak."
"No, you're a celebrity," said Veronica. "Now stand up and make thousands of people happy."
Stanley was almost too dazed to get to his feet. This was incredible. He was a zombie, for God's sake!
He stood up through the small section of open roof and waved at the crowd. Their cheers intensified a hundredfold.
They'd gone over the security precautions beforehand. Supposedly lots of highly trained individuals were monitoring the crowd very closely, and at the first sign of trouble Stanley would be given the signal to duck back down into the limousine. Stanley had personal safety concerns, but still, he had to trust that Project Second Chance would do everything it could to protect its investment, and he sure as hell didn't want to spend the rest of his life underground.
The limo moved slowly down the street, flanked on all four sides by police cars with their lights flashing. Stanley waved, blew kisses, and hoped that his smile wasn't too creepy.
Some college-age girls were holding a banner that read "WE LOVE
YOU MR. CORPSE!"
"I love you, too!" he shouted back.
He gave a thumbs-up sign to a crowd of children. Why hadn't they brought candy along to throw out? He'd have to rectify that at the next parade.
Another sign: "MR. CORPSE IS AMAZING!"
And another: "I WANT YOU DEAD OR ALIVE."
"I love you, Santa Fe!" Stanley shouted into his microphone. "All of you, remember that life is precious! Help a neighbor! Give blood to the Red Cross! Feed a stray cat! And then go PARTY TILL YA PUKE!!!"
The crowd roared.
There seemed to be no end to the people, all of them cheering and shouting their support. Stanley knew that there was an alternate gathering of angry protestors, and he would've loved nothing more than to drive by, give them all the finger, and request that they all pluck their thumbs out of their rectums, but he suspected that Brant would veto the suggestion.
An amazingly hot blonde held a sign that said "MARRY ME MR.
"But think of the babies!" Stanley shouted to her. She laughed and waved her sign at the camera crew.
Finally, what seemed like hours later, the crowd thinned out and Stanley ducked back down into the limo. His legs were sore from standing for so long but he was feeling great.
"People love me!" he said, plopping down into the comfy seat.
"Of course they do," said Veronica. "You're the Amazing Mr. Corpse."
"But I thought our culture worshipped youth and beauty."
"That's for female celebrities," said Martin. "You're a guy. You're allowed to be ugly."
"Ah, so that's it," said Stanley. "Still, I never would've expected this. I was thinking lynching, burning at the stake, voodoo dolls…that kind of stuff."
"That's six blocks away," said Brant.
"I think I know what was missing from my life before," said Stanley, settling back into his comfy seat. "I wasn't an adored celebrity. I guess now it seems like such an obvious solution to my lack of direction, but hindsight is fifty-fifty."
"Twenty-twenty," Veronica corrected.
"Right." Stanley frowned. "Martin, did I say dumb stuff like that before?"
"I didn't think so. Why am I suddenly becoming a bimbo?"
"Don't worry about it," said Veronica. "I'm sure it's just stress and excitement."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Stanley agreed, with more conviction than he felt. His mouth spewed out a gigantic waterfall of stupid comments on a regular basis, but he'd always said them on purpose. Being an accidental dullard was something new. Did sudden celebrity turn one into an idiot? It would certainly explain a lot…
Next up was a press junket, where Stanley got the unbearable thrill of sitting in a room and talking to a series of reporters for five minutes each. This was not quite as cool as the parade, because it was pretty much the same questions over and over and he eventually quit trying to think of new ways to answer them. He only had two decent answers for What was it like to be dead? ("Like being alive, but without quite as much breathing" and "Sort of like living in Iowa") and so he just alternated between them, until Veronica suggested that he try not to annoy his Iowa fan base, forcing him to stick with a single answer.
Several of the female reporters were damn attractive, though. He flirted with the first one ("What's your sign? Mine's a tombstone") but she seemed kind of creeped out by it and lost her place in her notes, so he stopped.
After the assembly line was finished, they went to a private room in an exquisite steakhouse, where Stanley ordered the New York Strip and lobster. He usually preferred his steak rare, but was concerned that the rumor mill might equate that with a desire for raw human flesh, so he went with medium well.
The food was delicious. It had been a ridiculously long time since Stanley had a restaurant meal, and the waiter was sufficiently snotty enough to make the whole experience seem like he was living the high life.
Which he was.
Stanley Dabernath, the Amazing Mr. Corpse, had finally found his niche.
The next day was more of the same. Interviews, cheering fans, and great food. After a seafood lunch, Stanley, Veronica, Martin, and Brant sat in a luxurious hotel room. Several boxes were piled on the bed.
"Most of these have already been approved," said Veronica, "but I wanted you to see what we've got." She reached into the first box and took out a shirt. "T-shirts, of course." She unfolded the shirt and held it up to her chest. It was a close-up of Stanley's face.
"I'm sure teachers will love seeing their students wearing that," said Stanley.
"Don't forget, you're educational." She modeled several more t-shirts, including a couple with the annoying skeleton version of him.
"A lot of bootleg shirts are already on the streets," said Brant, "but that's only to be expected given your instant popularity."
"There aren't any with Calvin peeing on me, are there?"
"No, but I've seen one depicting you as an African American that says 'Mista Corpse.'"
Stanley thought about that. "I can't decide if that's racist or not."
"It was a black teenager wearing it."
"Then I guess it's not."
"There are lots and lots of t-shirts, so I won't show you all of them," said Veronica. "But I've got a prototype of the Mr. Corpse action figure."
"Wow, that was quick."
"Oh, they started on it before you came back to life, then they did some tweaks after the resurrection." She tossed the action figure to him.
Stanley inspected the figure carefully. "It doesn't look anything like me."
"Between you and me, I think they just painted a Luke Skywalker figure."
Stanley walked the Mr. Corpse figure up his leg. "They should make a super-villain figure of Brant." He suddenly wished he hadn't said that, but Brant chuckled and seemed genuinely amused.
"Let me see that," said Martin. Stanley tossed the figure to him. "Does it have Super Punching Action or anything like that?"
Veronica shook her head. "Nah."
"What a lame toy."
"Well, most of them will probably be kept in their original packaging anyway."
"Like my first condom," said Stanley.
"There's serious interest from several different companies in doing a Mr. Corpse video game," said Veronica. "We haven't yet decided which bid to accept. Obviously, the development period on that will be fairly long, but we intend to keep your popularity going strong."
"I could fight zombie Pac-Men."
"Anything's possible." Veronica took more items out of the box. "Of course, we've got the Mr. Corpse watch, in both realistic and skeleton models. Tomorrow we'll be taking you in to record some dialogue for the Mr. Corpse Talking Alarm Clock."
"They'll have to record his dialogue on a five-second delay," Brant noted.
"Hey, I uttered nary a swear word in any of my interviews or during the Corpse Caravan."
"And I applaud you for it."
"But I think there'd be a market for a swearing alarm clock. 'Get the fuck out of bed, you lazy zombie.'"
"There was very little interest in food tie-ins," Veronica admitted. "The closest we came was Sour Gummi Corpses, but they didn't want the word 'Corpse' in the name of the candy. We tried to sell them on Sour Gummi Stanleys, but that's still up in the air."
"That's probably for the best," Stanley said. "I don't need any more reason to tell people to bite me."
"You certainly don't. There was also no real interest in Mr. Corpse toothpaste, soap, shampoo, or really any kind of personal hygiene products except deodorant, for obvious reasons. But-and this would be way off in the future-there may be a Mr. Corpse theme park ride."
"No way!" Stanley exclaimed.
"What would happen in that?" asked Martin. "They'd kill off the riders and bring them back to life?"
"No concepts have been discussed yet."
Stanley grinned. "We could do the Mr. Corpse Glory Hole Experience."
"You know what?" asked Veronica. "That may well be the single most disgusting thing you've ever said to me. I'm impressed."
"I'm sure I've said worse."
"No, no, actually, you've never…oh, wait, yes you have. I'd blocked it. Now it's back. Wonderful."
Veronica continued to show off the merchandising options. Stanley had never realized that there were so many possible zombie spin-offs. He entertained the others for a couple of minutes doing tricks with the Mr. Corpse yo-yo, and then they headed back out for the next round of publicity.
The Saturday Night Live sketch parodying his interview with Donald Mandigan was, without a doubt, the single lamest thing Stanley had ever seen. The cast member playing Stanley (badly) couldn't even get through it without almost cracking up and blatantly glancing at cue cards.
An animated spoof on YouTube, on the other hand, caused Mountain Dew to jettison out of his nose. He also noticed that there were countless online discussions about him, and the temptation to participate was almost unbearable, but Veronica informed him that there simply wasn't time. He had a commercial to shoot.
"Hi, I'm Stanley Dabernath, the Amazing Mr. Corpse. As I well know, death can strike at any time. But you probably won't come back like I did, and if you don't, will your loved ones be cared for? Do you have all the life insurance you need? Take a tip from Mr. Corpse and call the number at the bottom of your screen…"
ANNOUNCER #1: And we're back with our live coverage of the 18th Annual Bardsley Celebrity Charity Golf Tournament.
ANNOUNCER #2: And at the tee is The Amazing Mr. Corpse himself, Stanley Dabernath.
ANNOUNCER #1: Of course, Stanley has proven himself to be quite a bit less than amazing today. [Both announcers chuckle.]
ANNOUNCER #2: He's lining up the shot…now he's getting down on his hands and knees to line up the shot from another angle…
ANNOUNCER #1: And he's back on his feet, ready to swing. In this announcer's opinion, his form is not good.
ANNOUNCER #2: I'd have to agree with that. And he swings…and he misses the ball and the club flies out of his hand.
ANNOUNCER #1: And now he just kicked the ball well past the hole.
ANNOUNCER #2: I don't think the Humane Society will be saving many puppies from the proceeds of this tournament.
"Uh, okay," said Stanley, gazing in terror at the thirty-five fifth graders who sat in their seats, staring at him expectantly. He'd vigorously protested the idea of speaking to schools, on the basis that 1) He had no useful wisdom to impart to their young minds, and 2) Little kids were fine from a distance, but they terrified him up close.
"We need this photo op," Brant had explained. "This isn't going to be a coast-to-coast school tour; it's just one class to show that you care about our nation's youth."
"But I don't. They're generally miscreants."
"Then pretend, like you pretend about everything else. And don't mess it up."
"So what happens if I mess it up? Are you gonna inject me with the Wacky Fluid?"
"I didn't say that. And I won't say it. But I'm pleased that your mind is moving in that direction."
And thus Stanley found himself standing in a school classroom, the one place he'd swore to never return, facing an army of menacing children.
"Drugs," he said. "A lot of you will probably at some point in your life feel pressured into trying drugs. Well, drugs are a loser's game. A few years ago I scored some pot-that's also known as marijuana-and I lit it up and I was getting all mellow, and then my cat jumped up on the coffee table. And she had two heads. Now, my cat didn't really have two heads, I saw that image because I was under the influence of the marijuana cigarette. But to me, she had two heads, and I thought, 'Hey, I don't want some funky two-headed cat that's going to end up in the circus.' So I'm running all over the place trying to catch this cat so I can pop off the extra head, you know? But the cat jumped up on the refrigerator, and inside the refrigerator I hear all these voices saying 'Help me! It's cold in here! It's cold in here! And the pickle relish is trying to eat us!' The pickle relish wasn't really trying to eat anybody, but that's the kind of thing you might hear when you're under the influence of marijuana."
Several of the kids giggled and were shushed by their teacher.
"I'm scared to go near the refrigerator and get the cat, so I just walk back over to the couch and sit down. And I'm there for, like, three hours. I didn't even notice when my cat jumped into my lap. It was a complete waste of an evening. What's ironic is that now that I've been resurrected, marijuana wouldn't have any effect on me. I could smoke it all day long and I wouldn't see a single two-headed cat. But I'm not going to, because it's illegal and wrong. Don't do drugs. And always do your homework, and study hard, and listen to your teachers. And your parents. And cops. So, uh, are there any questions?"
At least twenty hands shot up. Stanley pointed at a little boy in the front row.
"If you were in a fight with Spider-Man, who would win?"
Stanley flexed his muscles. "I would destroy him!"
The children cheered and applauded. Maybe kids weren't so bad after all.
"You don't have to be dead to stink," Stanley told the camera, holding up the deodorant container. "That's why you need the guaranteed protection…"
Stanley flipped through the magazine covers. Newsweek, Time, People, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly…he'd made them all. Of course, the Newsweek headline was "Are They Squandering a Miracle?" Newsweek could kiss his ass.
"Two different networks have expressed interest in a Mr. Corpse reality show," said Veronica. "Don't worry, that's something we'll save until you're washed up and desperate for publicity."
"But how do you feel about doing a rap music video?"
"I'd feel like it was a really stupid, shamelessly commercial idea that probably pays extremely well."
"And you'd be right. And you don't have a choice. We'll be shooting in a couple of weeks."
"So how do you think things are working out? Seriously?"
Stanley smiled. "Getting killed was the best damn thing that ever happened to me."
A week after his whirlwind publicity tour began, Stanley sat alone in a hotel bar in New York City, nursing a beer at a corner table. Since he couldn't get drunk, there was no sense chugging it.
Brant, Veronica, and Martin had all gone up to bed, leaving Stanley alone to enjoy a rare quiet moment. It wasn't a private moment (he was being monitored by hotel security), but at least it was relaxing.
The bar was set to close in about ten minutes, and aside from the bartender, the only other occupants were a pair of girls, a blonde and a brunette, seated on stools at the bar. They looked to be in their early twenties. Incredibly hot. Downing numerous shots.
Stanley noticed that they kept glancing at him, whispering, and giggling. He wondered what they were saying. Probably something along the lines of "Eeeeewwwwwwww!" That was okay. They could ridicule him all they wanted as long as they kept displaying that ample cleavage. The blonde in particular had a superb rack.
The blonde and brunette each downed another shot, whispered to each other, giggled, and then got off their stools and approached Stanley's table, clearly tipsy.
"Hi," said the brunette.
"Hi," said Stanley.
"You're the dead guy, right?"
The brunette elbowed her friend. "I knew it!"
Gee, what clued you in? The rot? Stanley thought, but instead of saying anything he just smiled politely.
"Can we sit down?" the blonde asked.
The girls each pulled out a chair and sat down, although the brunette had a bit of trouble with the process. "I'm Mandy," said the blonde. "My friend is Dot."
"Hi, Mandy and Dot. I'm Stanley."
The brunette smiled. "What's a celebrity like you doing sitting all by himself?"
"My entourage retired for the night."
Stanley glanced back and forth between the two women. Were they actually interested in him? Or were they waiting for the right moment to laugh and throw a drink in his face? Even the ugliest celebrities seemed to be able to attract hot women, but did that apply to zombie celebrities as well?
Were these women zombie groupies?
"Yeah," said Stanley, taking a swig of beer in what he hoped was an incredibly masculine manner. "They're a bunch of lightweights."
"I saw you on TV," said Dot. "You're kinda cute for a dead guy."
"And you're kinda cute for a live girl."
Dot giggled much louder than was warranted by the comment. "I like guys with tattoos and piercings and stuff, but I've never been with a real zombie before."
"I'm one of a kind."
"I bet you are."
"Can we touch you?" asked Mandy.
Stanley leaned forward. "Be my guest."
Mandy ran her fingers across Stanley's face and shivered. "Ooooh, wow, that's freaky!"
Dot joined in, still giggling. "It is freaky!"
"Good freaky or bad freaky?" asked Stanley.
"I haven't decided yet," said Mandy, sliding her hand down to his chin. "I think I'm leaning toward good freaky."
"Good freaky all the way," said Dot, leaning over and giving Stanley an unobstructed view of a good thirty-five percent of the surface area of her breasts.
"So, uh, can I buy you ladies a drink?" he asked, feeling more than a little self-conscious.
"You can buy us anything you want," Dot informed him.
Stanley waved to the bartender. "One more of whatever they're having."
"Your face doesn't feel at all like I thought," said Mandy.
"How'd you think it would feel?"
"Well, they keep it pretty warm in here. I'm room temperature, you know."
"Really?" asked Dot.
"That's awesome! So you're like a lizard?"
"No, I'm not cold-blooded. I'm no-blooded."
"Does that mean you wouldn't bleed if we bit you?" asked Mandy, making it sound like the single naughtiest activity imaginable.
Bite me, baby, bite me.
Mandy and Dot removed their hands from Stanley's face as the bartender brought over their drinks. Stanley made meaningless but flirty small talk with them for a few more minutes, still not completely sure that they weren't just messing with him. He didn't think they were teasing him, considering that they were totally plastered and probably not particularly intelligent while sober, but still, he was one ugly zombie.
The bartender informed them that the place was closing. Mandy gave a mock pout, while Dot rubbed Stanley's thigh. "Do all of your parts still work, Mr. Corpse?"
Stanley shook his head.
Dot mimicked Mandy's pout. "That's too bad."
"I mean, my heart doesn't pump blood anymore, if that's what you were asking."
Dot slid her hand further up his leg and gently brushed her fingers against his crotch. "Does this work?"
"Oh, that thing? Yes, it works."
"Rrrrrreally?" Mandy purred.
"No, just, y'know, it looks like the rest of me."
"I like the rest of you," said Dot.
Oh my God, I believe I'm going to get laid tonight, thought Stanley. He wondered if the security guard watching him was getting sick to his stomach. Stanley would have been puking in a very large bucket if their roles were reversed.
"We could continue the party in your room," said Mandy. "Unless you have a prior commitment."
"Nope, no commitment. I mean, I have to get up early, but that's not really a commitment."
Mandy pushed back her chair. "Then lead the way, stud."
Stanley walked out of the hotel bar, a woman on each arm, and headed down the hallway toward the elevators, feeling more nervous about potential sexual activity than he had since his myriad of near-miss almost-losses of virginity during his teenage years.
Don't say anything stupid to mess this up. Don't say anything stupid to mess this up. Don't say anything stupid to mess this up. Don't be yourself.
An elderly woman was standing next to the elevators as they approached. She glared at them with a You three are doomed sinners expression that quickly turned into a By the way, the whole idea is really gross expression.
The elevator doors opened. Stanley, Mandy, and Dot stepped inside. The elderly woman decided to wait for the next one.
As the elevator doors closed, Mandy and Dot each began to nibble one of Stanley's ears. It sent a tingle of erotic pleasure through…well, just through the part of his ears that they were nibbling. The whole chewing-on-ears thing had never been much of a turn-on.
Is this such a good idea? he wondered. After all, the durability of his penis had yet to be proven. Was an energetic threesome really the best way to test it out? It would certainly be a socially awkward moment if it were to break off inside-
Stanley put that thought out of his mind. He'd be fine. He'd just ask them to be gentle.
Suddenly he realized something important. "Oh, crap, we have to go back downstairs," he said. "I don't have any protection."
"Think somebody's going to shoot you again?" Mandy asked, rubbing his chest. Stanley wasn't sure if she was joking or genuinely confused.
"Lower body protection," he said.
"Nobody's gonna shoot you there," Mandy promised him. "Unless that's what you're into."
"That can't be an actual documented fetish," said Stanley.
"I don't think it is."
"Anyway, the issue is condoms. I don't have any."
"I have lots and lots of them," said Dot.
"Did you bring the glow in the dark ones?" asked Mandy.
"No, we used all of those in Dallas."
"What about the cinnamon ones?"
"I think those are gone, too. Let me check." Dot opened her purse and began rummaging through the contents. "I think we used the last one at that truck stop by D.C."
"Damn. I liked those."
The elevator doors opened and they stepped out into the hallway. Dot continued to dig through her purse as they walked to Stanley's room. "I've got the strawberry ones."
"Nah, those gave me a rash."
"What about the chocolate ones?"
"Those were nasty."
"Are you sure? I thought you liked those."
"No, they were disgusting. They didn't taste anything like chocolate."
Stanley took out his room key and waved it over the reader. At the beep he pushed open the door and led the women inside, closing the door behind them.
"Ah, here we go!" said Dot, pulling out a strip of condoms. "Cinnamon."
"Those aren't the cinnamon ones, those are the cherry ones," said Mandy with a frustrated sigh.
Dot sniffed one of the wrappers. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. The cinnamon ones have the flames on the wrapper."
"Can I get you ladies a beverage?" asked Stanley. "We've got a mini-bar."
"Ooh! Ooh!" Dot set her purse on the dresser and crouched down beside the mini-bar. "I vote we empty this thing by the time the night is over."
"Works for me," said Mandy.
Dot grabbed a handful of tiny bottles and tossed them onto the king-size bed. Mandy dove onto the bed after them. Dot followed. Stanley just stood there, unsure of exactly how presumptuous he should be in this situation.
He'd never had two women at once. He'd had the opportunity, years ago, but had blown it. They'd been making out on his parents' sofa, and one of the women had sexily asked him which one of them Stanley liked better. He'd answered truthfully. It had, of course, been a trick question. He got nothing that night.
Dot and Mandy each opened a bottle of liquor and chugged it down. Dot looked over at him. "Why don't you join us?" she asked.
Stanley climbed onto the bed with them. Mandy handed him a bottle, which he opened without reading the label and downed in one swig. It felt good to be financially secure enough to consume obscenely overpriced mini-bar liquor.
An image of Veronica flashed before his eyes.
Go away, he told it. This is no time for guilt. Veronica would never have me anyway. Now is the time for gettin' nasty with Mandy and Dot. Fuck off, mental image.
The mental image vanished.
"Mind if we get more comfortable?" asked Mandy.
"Not at all."
Mandy patted Dot on the arm. "C'mon." They got off the bed and walked into the bathroom, shutting the door.
Stanley cleared the bottles off the mattress. It wouldn't do for somebody to roll over on one and break it. Although these women could very well be into arterial spray.
Normally in an amorous situation, this would be the perfect opportunity for Stanley to disrobe. But despite their lack of gagging over his appearance, he wasn't sure it was a good idea to hit them with his body all at once. Let them see it bit by bit.
God, he hoped his penis wasn't a turn-off.
He heard giggling from the bathroom.
He wondered if they would satisfy each other's needs as well as his. That would be pretty cool.
He wondered what Veronica would think about what he was doing right now.
Maybe she'd approve. After all, he didn't know her very well. Perhaps she'd give him the thumbs-up and say "Good job, Stanley! Make those women happy! And drink more booze from the mini-bar! I'm proud of you!"
Yep, that's exactly what she'd say. No worries.
More giggling from the bathroom.
What was taking these cruel temptresses so damn long?
The bathroom door opened. Mandy and Dot emerged, wearing remarkably little. Mandy was in a black bra and panties, while Dot wore a red bra and a g-string. They looked absolutely spectacular. Stanley gaped at them, unable to speak.
Was he being a selfish bastard, hogging both of them for himself? Perhaps he should give Martin a call. Or try to get on Brant's good side…
"What do you think?" asked Mandy.
"Gahuh," Stanley replied, not quite sure what it meant.
Mandy and Dot turned around in a circle, modeling for him. Stanley thought that he was going to pass out from sheer bliss. How could his life get any better?
The women kissed.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Holding hands, Mandy and Dot walked over to the bed. "Think you can handle both of us, stud?" asked Dot.
"I'll do it or die trying," Stanley replied.
The women giggled. Stanley's lust was so intense that it took him a moment to realize that he'd accidentally made a zombie joke. He'd have to remember that one for future interviews.
Dot gave Stanley a gentle shove, and he lay on his back. Mandy and Dot climbed onto the bed, one on each side of him, and began to rub and kiss him through his clothes. Stanley closed his eyes and just let the physical sensations overpower him.
He was going to have sex with two gorgeous women.
Two unbelievably hot women.
Stanley opened his eyes. Here he was, about to have sex with a pair of women who were into re-animated dead guys. He was a freakin' zombie! What the hell were they thinking? What kind of messed up chicks slept with a rotting guy named Mr. Corpse?
He'd dated plenty of women who were into kinky stuff. He could provide spankings when requested. He was always up for a good tied-to-the-bed session, both as the provider and recipient of the rope burns. Hot candle wax was never a problem, nor were nipple clamps, testicle decorations, or this scary toy his ex-girlfriend Charlene owned that looked like the crab-monster in Alien.
But he had limits. The inclusion of household pets, for example. And fantasy role play that involved him pretending to be a father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, or great aunt.
Sleeping with necrophiles was another one.
"Hold on a second," said Stanley, sitting up. "I don't think I can do this."
"What do you mean?" asked Mandy.
"I mean…I just can't do it. It's icky."
"We'll be the judge of that."
"No, really. This is just deranged. I've got a decomposed dick. You seem like two very nice girls, but you're also scary. I think you should leave."
"You're kicking us out?" asked Dot, incredulous.
"Yes," said Stanley, equally incredulous.
Mandy pouted. "Don't you like us anymore?"
"You know that Groucho Marx line about not wanting to join a club that would have him for a member? I'm thinking that any women who would screw a zombie are best left untouched."
"You've got a lot of fucking nerve," said Dot, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "You talk to us, you buy us drinks, you bring us up here, and now you aren't going to put out?"
"How about just oral?"
"That's actually much worse, to be honest."
Mandy smacked his leg. "Asshole."
The women got off the bed and walked back into the bathroom. Stanley lay there, torn between wanting to call them back and wanting them out of his room as quickly as possible so he could start spraying disinfectant.
They emerged from the bathroom less than thirty seconds later, fully dressed. Mandy gave him the finger.
"You can have the rest of the booze, if you want," Stanley offered.
"Go to hell."
They left the room. Stanley lay there, relieved but a little depressed. Was he doomed to be alone for the rest of his life? Would he never again know the touch of a woman? Never again know intimacy? Never again experience a really good, sloppy blow job?
Stanley's eyes widened. What in the holy name of fuck had he been thinking? Quasimodo and the Phantom of the Opera had to kidnap women to try to get laid, and he'd turned away two hot women who were throwing themselves at him! Forget a life of self-imposed celibacy! He was gonna get himself a piece of necrophile ass!
He hurried out of the room, but Mandy and Dot were nowhere to be seen. The man with the gun, on the other hand, was quite easy to see.
The man looked to be in his fifties. He wore brown slacks and a white dress shirt that was drenched with sweat. He was pale, had no eyebrows, and wore a baseball cap. The gun, pointed at Stanley, shook in his trembling hand. He stood right next to the door, close enough that Stanley could reach out and touch the gun's barrel should he be so inclined (which he wasn't).
"Hey, whoa, let's be cool," said Stanley, holding up his arms in what he desperately hoped was a "Look, I'm unarmed and have no intentions to cause you bodily harm, so please don't shoot me Mr. Crazy Person" gesture.
A tear ran down the man's cheek. "You give people false hope," he whispered.
"I do what?"
"I'm dying," said the man. His voice was so soft that Stanley almost had to lean forward to hear him, but he elected not to for fear that it might look like a cannibal zombie attack. "Cancer."
"I lost my grandmother to cancer," Stanley told him, hoping to establish some sort of personal connection to the guy to help keep himself from getting shot. Where were the security guards? Where were the insomniac hotel guests who needed to refill their ice buckets?
"You give people false hope!" the man repeated, his voice growing louder. "You walk around in that mask and you pretend that you're a miracle and you lie!"
"I'm not a miracle," Stanley explained. "I'm a scientific marvel. It's not a mask, I swear. You can touch my face if you want. Everybody else does."
"How can you live with yourself?" the man demanded, now sobbing. "How can you lie to the world when people like me are dying?"
"Again, not a lie. Do you really think I would've sent those two women away if it were a mask? I could be writhing in ecstasy right now! I'm trying to get them back! C'mon, put the gun down and we'll share!"
"Don't make fun of me."
"Dude, I'm not making fun of you! I'm making a generous offer!"
"Well let me ask you something, Mr. Corpse. If you're for real, why are you scared of being shot?"
"Because it hurts and leaves holes!"
The man looked uncertain.
"What's your name?" asked Stanley.
"Can I call you Chuck?"
"I prefer Charlie," the man said with a sniffle.
"Okay, Charlie, I want you to look at something." Stanley unbuttoned his shirt and held it open. "See how my skin is all nasty? Why would I walk around with makeup on my chest? I'm a real zombie!"
Charlie shook his head. "That's impossible."
"It's not impossible! Feel my heart! It's not beating!"
"You just want to knock the gun away."
"Well, yeah, but I mostly want you to feel my heart! I'm a zombie! A dead guy! A cadaver! What'll it take to convince you? Do you want a certificate of authenticity?"
Behind Stanley, the elevator door dinged. "Freeze!" shouted a voice behind him. "Put down your weapon!"
Charlie looked at Stanley. "Do you know what my son said to me a few days ago? He said 'Daddy, don't worry, the doctors will bring you back to life just like they did Mr. Corpse.'"
"I said put down your weapon!" repeated the man behind Stanley, who was hopefully packing heat. Several doors opened and various people peeked out, but quickly pulled back as they saw what was happening.
Charlie pulled off his baseball cap, revealing his bald head. "And I had to look at my six-year-old and tell him, no, the doctors aren't going to bring Daddy back. And he promised me that they would. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and told me that everything was going to be okay."
"Listen to me, Charlie. I feel bad for you, I really do. But if you shoot me and I'm not a zombie, then you'll become a murderer. Six-year-olds with murderer parents have a shitty social life."
"He needs to know that it's a lie."
"It's not a lie. Which means that you'll look like a jackass when I get back up. Your son won't be impressed. So just put the gun down, let me prove my deadness, and let's be friends, okay?"
Charlie pointed the gun away from Stanley. Stanley's momentary sense of relief vanished as Charlie pressed the barrel to his own head.
"Aw, Charlie, no, don't do that," Stanley insisted. "C'mon, man, there's no reason to give up. I know that life sucks sometimes, like it did for me after I sent those women away, but killing yourself is not the answer. Let's go somewhere and have a beer, just you and me, what do you say?"
"I say, see you in hell."
"Okay, wait, wait." Stanley turned around and glanced at the two security guards who were behind him, guns raised. "You guys leave us alone. I'll take care of this."
"We can't do that."
"Fuck off, rent-a-cops, or I'll sue this crappy hotel!"
The security guards exchanged a concerned look, and then simultaneously shook their heads.
"Then could you lower your guns at least?"
After a bit of hesitation, the security guards lowered their weapons. Stanley turned back to Charlie. "All right, Charlie, we're going to play a game. I want you to name five reasons that you're grateful to be alive."
"Are you kidding me?"
"No. Give me five reasons."
Charlie just stared at him.
"I'll give you two. You've got a son who loves you, and you have a really snazzy baseball cap. Now all you need is three more. Let's hear them."
"I have nothing!"
"Do you have a dog?"
"I'll buy you one if you put the gun down."
Charlie's finger tightened on the trigger.
"No, no, don't kill yourself yet! Charlie, listen, I'll make you a deal. I don't want to get shot, but I'd rather have you shoot me than shoot yourself. So if you promise not to shoot yourself afterward, you can shoot me. Deal?"
Stanley pulled open his shirt again. "Right here in the chest. Let me have it."
"Are you serious?"
"Totally serious. Shoot me in the chest. It's okay."
Charlie slowly removed the gun from his head and pointed it at Stanley's chest. Stanley gritted his teeth, clenched his fists, and tried to make his left eye stop twitching.
"You can't do it? No problem. Nobody will think less of you. Now let's go get that-"
Charlie pulled the trigger. The bullet knocked Stanley off his feet. Fiery pain tore through his chest as he struck the carpeted floor.
The security guards rushed forward as Charlie dropped the gun. They immediately subdued him, smashing him against the wall.
"You asshole!" Stanley shouted. "You weren't really supposed to shoot me! That was a goodwill gesture! Shit!"
Stanley got to his feet, rubbing his chest. It hurt a hell of a lot worse than the last time, probably because he'd been shot at much closer range, and he felt dizzy and sick to his stomach.
Charlie looked over at him. "You…you're…"
"Yeah, I'm alive, dipshit! You know why? Because I'm a goddamn zombie!"
Fresh tears began to stream down Charlie's face as the security guards wrenched his hands behind his back. "You're a miracle!"
"No shit!" Stanley stumbled and fell back onto the floor. He was pretty sure the bullet had shattered his solar plexus, and he was pretty sure that wasn't a good thing.
"Don't worry, Stanley Dabernath!" Charlie shouted. "I believe in your miracle, and I'm going to make sure the whole world believes in you!"
Stanley's vision faded to black.
Stanley awoke in his hotel room bed. Veronica, Martin, and Brant were there, as was Dr. Arnzin, who was currently hovering over him and prodding him with a small metal thingie.
"Ow," said Stanley.
"Oh, good, you're awake," said Dr. Arnzin. "How do you feel?"
"Not delightful. What is that thing?"
"This? I use it to prod people." Dr. Arnzin set the metal thingie aside. "So you got yourself shot again, huh?"
"You'll be fine, but there was serious bone damage, and this one will take a while to heal. You'll have to be off your feet for a while."
"What happened to Charlie?"
"Charlie. The guy who shot me."
"They took him away," said Brant. "He was a lunatic."
"Yeah, but…yeah, he was."
"It looks like it was a rather busy night for you. How were the two tramps you lured back here?"
Stanley glanced over at Veronica to gauge her reaction. Was it jealousy or disgust? Looked more like disgust.
"We didn't do anything. I sent them away."
"Really? I just assumed you were very quick about it."
Brant chuckled. "If you are able to find women of questionable sanity who are willing to give up their bodies, more power to you, I say. The benefits of celebrity are quite plentiful."
"How about you go someplace else? Anyplace else. Just someplace that isn't here."
"With pleasure. Fix him up nicely, Doctor." Brant nodded politely and walked out of the room.
"I'm sorry," Stanley told Veronica.
"You know. For the girls."
Veronica seemed genuinely confused. "Why would you apologize for that?"
"I can't stop you from having sex, Stanley."
"I didn't, though. I sent them away."
"Oh, I'm sure you did. I'm sure you didn't say anything crude, sexist, adolescent, or disgusting that scared them off."
"Veronica, look at me! Do you think that the kind of woman who would sleep with me is going to have problems with a disgusting comment?"
"Then why did they leave?"
"I told you, I sent them away."
"Why would you do a silly thing like that?"
"Because…because I realized that I didn't love either of them, and that I couldn't be intimate with somebody I didn't truly care for."
Veronica smacked the side of her head. "Wow! My bullshit detector just exploded!"
"Do you think so little of me that you believe I'd just pick up a couple of skanks in a hotel bar?"
"Stanley, honey, I adore you, but a three-dollar hooker wouldn't surprise me. Try not to pick up any of those, though. It's bad press."
"Those women were all over me. Right here on this bed. They could be mounting me at this very moment, and yet I cast them out. That's the kind of morally upright individual I am."
Veronica winked at him. "Then why were they in your room in the first place?"
"Uh-huh. I'm gonna let Dr. Arnzin fix you up. Get some sleep and we'll head back to the bunker first thing in the morning."
She ruffled his hair and left the room. Martin sat down next to the bed. "How the hell did you get two girls at once?"
"I didn't. I sent them away."
"Why would you do something like that?"
"I don't know! I was in a weird mental place!"
"But how did you do it? No offense, sir, but you're a living corpse! I wore my best green shirt and I didn't get diddly!"
"Maybe it's your approach. Did you actually use the word diddly?"
"I'm going to bed. I can't believe you got two women."
"I sent them away!"
Martin shook his head and left the room.
"I sent them away," said Stanley to Dr. Arnzin. "You believe me, don't you?"
"Of course I do," said Dr. Arnzin, patting Stanley's shoulder reassuringly.
"Anyway, you really should get some sleep. Tomorrow's going to be a long day for you, what with me setting those shattered bones and digging out another bullet."
"It's going to hurt, isn't it?"
"Mr. Corpse Celebrates Birthday in Style"
It was a birthday bash to remember as Mr. Corpse celebrated his thirty-sixth birthday yesterday! (No word on whether or not his birthday was prorated to make up for the time he was dead!)
"Congratulations, Stanley," said Veronica. "Our accountant tells me that you're a millionaire."
"Well, let's go buy some shit!"
"Violence Erupts In Toy Store"
Collectors in Bridgewater, New Jersey awaiting the 12:01 AM sale date of the official Mr. Corpse action figure (a special limited edition of only 750,000 units), some of whom had been waiting for up to 48 hours beforehand, were less than happy when the promised shipment of figures did not arrive. Eight collectors and one employee were injured in the ensuing riot.
"Here you go," said Dr. Arnzin, handing Stanley a small plastic container. "That's one week's worth of injections. You're sure you can handle them by yourself?"
"You've watched me do them for the past three days. I think I can handle poking myself with a needle."
"Just don't forget them."
"I'm not going to forget them."
"Once a day."
"Mr. Corpse and Mrs. Sunset A Couple?"
RUMOR PATROL! It seems that Mr. Corpse and Hollywood's newest A-lister, Tamara Kato, might be an item! The Oscar-winning star of Mrs. Sunset was spotted getting snuggly with Mr. Corpse at the premiere party for the new Jennifer Aniston flick! Reps for both insist that they're "just good friends."
"Mr. Corpse! Can I get your autograph?"
Stanley glanced over at the college kid. "Can I finish peeing first?"
"Yeah, yeah, of course! I can't believe I'm actually talking to you! My friends aren't gonna believe this! Are you done?"
"Sorry, I've just never met a real celebrity! It's true what they say, I guess, about how you can't come to Los Angeles without seeing a star. This is so cool."
"What would you like me to sign?"
"Oh, um, could you sign my arm?"
"Do you have something to write with?"
"No. Don't you?"
"No. I just came in here to take a piss."
"I'm sure my girlfriend has a pen. Wait here and I'll go get it."
"How about I hang out someplace besides the men's room?"
"Oh, right, of course, of course. Do you want to meet my girlfriend? You could sign her arm, too!"
"Let's go." The kid pushed open the bathroom door and gestured for Stanley to pass. "After you."
"Did you notice that you washed your hands, but then you went ahead and touched the doorknob, which is covered with the residue of a million unwashed hands that touched a million unwashed dicks?"
"I was just kidding."
"My girlfriend's sitting over there. Tracy! Look who I met in the bathroom!"
Tracy shrieked in terror.
"Mr. Corpse Refused Service"
New York's legendary Baird's Deli apparently doesn't think The Amazing Mr. Corpse is all that amazing! He was refused service this past weekend, and though Mr. Corpse protested, apparently he went home without getting to sample one of the world-famous Baird Burgers!
"I was just concerned about disease," said Roger Baird. "In our thirty-two year history we've passed every single inspection with flying colors, and I just thought that a dead body in the restaurant might be a health code violation. It was nothing personal against Mr. Dabernath."
Mr. Corpse is reportedly planning to sue.
"Look, I'm still the #1 keyword search on Google," Stanley said, proudly.
"I was looking at some of your fan sites yesterday," said Veronica. "Maybe we should have you update your blog twice a day from now on."
"Nah, I can't type that fast. But take a look at this." Stanley typed in the URL for the new site he'd discovered, The Mr. Corpse Fraud Exposed. "It's a list of all the things that prove I'm really some dork in makeup."
"Wow, I didn't realize that your rot splotches were slightly different on Leno and Letterman."
"A website wouldn't lie."
"And legendary makeup artist Tom Savini was reportedly seen putting a box of Mr. Corpse masks in the trunk of his car."
"Kinda makes you think, doesn't it?"
"'Mr. Corpse: The Musical' An Off-Broadway Dud."
While Mr. Corpse remains the hot topic of discussion around the world, apparently theatre-goers don't want to see the musical. "Mr. Corpse: The Musical," which was licensed by Stanley Dabernath but produced without his direct involvement, had a strong opening night but faded fast as critics savaged it as perhaps the worst of the season. Critics cited weak acting, insipid songs, and the generally rushed nature of the production as reasons for its failure. The musical will close on Sunday, one week after it opened.
‹Host› Our chat guest tonight is Stanley Dabernath, the Amazing Mr. Corpse! Are you ready for some questions, Stanley?
‹MrCorpse› Bring them on!
‹CorpseFan10327› anyone here from ca
‹Iluvstanley› hi everyoe
‹Iluvstanley› everyone lol
‹JoeyTaylorIII› whats ur fav movie
‹MrCorpse› Ferris Bueller's Day Off
‹JoeyTaylorIII› whats that
‹CorpseFan10327› anyone here from ca
‹Host› Remember, if you have a question, type? and we'll get to you in order.
‹MeSoDead› Corpse my man! What's your favorite CD, dawg?
‹GothChick666› fine don't call on me
‹CorpseFan10327› ca anyone???????????
‹Iluvstanley› lol gothchick
‹MrCorpse›***has left the chat***
"Mr. Corpse Not Dead Again"
A widely circulated news story about Mr. Corpse dying again turned out to be satirical. "Mr. Corpse did not, in fact, die of a broken heart," said Tyler Williams, editor of the mock news site The Weekly Plum. "It was a joke. Readers should perhaps be a bit more discerning." Other news stories currently on the site include "Dumb-Ass Hurricane Victim Believed God Would Save Him" and "Weapons of Mass Destruction Found in Olsen Twins' Panties."
Hey you zit-laden twerp, this is Mr. Corpse himself! How's the view from your mom's basement? I'm glad you're all nice and comfy talking trash about me online (but learn to spell, dipshit) but if we met in person you'd wet yourself, then soil yourself, then start blubbering like a big fat baby, and then soil yourself once more because you're so full of shit that you could handle sixteen or seventeen defecation sessions in a manner of minutes. Go out and get laid, dude! Or at least discover the joys of self-love, if you can lift your fat gut out of the way long enough to tug your wiener. Get a fuckin' life, you pathetic reprehensible sweaty smelly grotesque appalling ignorant morbidly obese sexually confused uni-browed dullard!
"Don't post that," said Veronica.
"Why not?" asked Stanley with mock innocence. "He shouldn't have friended me on Facebook if he doesn't want to hear my opinion."
"I'll kill you if you do."
"Can I post on his wall if I lower it to twelve or thirteen defecation sessions?"
…to Mr. Corpse for his clever presentation at the MTV Movie Awards! Mr. Corpse, who gave out the award for "Best Death Scene," did his presentation while being digitally inserted into clips from classic zombie films. Our favorite moment: Mr. Corpse's hilariously out-of-step dance with the ghouls in Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
"Stop struggling, bitch!"
Henry Sweet smacked the girl across the face as hard as he could. It took a lot to make him angry these days, but her bite had done it. He raised the bloody hatchet as if he were going to bring it down upon her skull.
She cringed and whimpered.
"If I have to kill you, I'll be really annoyed, but I'll do it. Believe me, I'll do it." She'd bitten the hand he used to play guitar and drawn blood. Damn. This job just got worse and worse all the time. "Now do you want me to chop your head in half, or do you want to behave and live a while longer? Nod for the head chop and shake your head for living a while longer."
She shook her head.
"Good." He walked over to the stereo and ejected his CD. "I don't know what you're all upset about, anyway. I thought you didn't get along with your family." He gestured to her father's body. It took six separate gestures to do so. "Hey, it's not like he can complain about your bad grades now, can he?"
The girl closed her eyes and sobbed. The sound made Henry's teeth ache. He didn't enjoy his job, but he was looking forward to getting to watch this one suffer.
Four months after his return to life, Stanley relaxed in a hammock in the living room of his luxury apartment. His interior decorator had just about had a stroke when he insisted on it ("No! No! No! I won't do it! I won't!"), but Stanley liked the hammock and used it often.
He'd moved to New York City into a building where the security actually prevented gun-toting maniacs from shooting him. He had a whirlpool bath, a wide-screen television with eight trillion channels, three video game systems, enough movies to open his own rental store (but not enough to avoid being immediately put out of business by NetFlix), some paintings that Veronica assured him were fine art, and basically everything he'd ever wanted.
Stanley had not pressed charges against Charlie. Veronica had suggested that approach, saying that showing sympathy for a dying cancer patient would be good for his reputation, but Stanley hadn't wanted to press charges in the first place. Charlie was a complete whack-job, obviously, but somehow he'd gotten to Stanley. Not enough to ask him to move in and share the Jacuzzi, but enough that Stanley found himself thinking about him quite often.
Charlie's lawyer had argued that because Mr. Corpse was known to be impervious to death by shooting, his client's actions could only be considered assault, not attempted murder. Since Stanley argued for leniency on Charlie's behalf, he was indeed only found guilty of assault. He received probation and underwent outpatient psychiatric treatment.
His son was pretty darn adorable. Stanley gave him a free action figure.
The intercom buzzed. Stanley reluctantly got out of his hammock, walked over to his door, and pressed the button. "Yeah?"
"It's me," said Martin.
"I'll buzz you in."
A minute later Martin opened the door and came inside, wheeling in several boxes. "I brought your mail."
"Thanks." Stanley had a pair of secretaries who spent all day sorting hate mail from fan mail and stuffing form letters into envelopes (Stanley's first draft of the form letter response to hate mail had been, to nobody's surprise, rejected), but they didn't work on weekends. He picked up the magazines and flipped through them. "Wow, I'm not on any of the covers. How'd that happen?"
"Yeah, you are. It's the top headline on Entertainment Weekly."
"'Are People Getting Sick of Mr. Corpse?' What the hell is this?"
Stanley chuckled in disbelief. "Okay, so, their top story is about how people are sick of me being the top story. How stupid is that?"
"Well, you are kind of overexposed."
"Excuse me for being interesting."
"You have to admit, you don't really do anything."
"What do you mean, I don't do anything? I do stuff every day!"
"No, what you do is go out and promote the fact that you're The Amazing Mr. Corpse. You're famous for being famous."
"I'm famous for being a scientific phenomenon!"
"Yeah, but you don't actually do anything with it. It's not like you're out there teaching science or performing resurrections on your own."
"I was in a rap video!"
"It was stunt casting."
"I'm writing a book!"
"Your ghost writer is writing a book."
"I have more Twitter followers than 'Weird Al' Yankovic! I'm always a trending topic!"
"I did a beer commercial yesterday!"
"That's not an accomplishment. You're just cashing in on your fame. You don't even like that brand of beer."
Stanley set the magazines down on the counter. "Did you just come over here to harass me?"
"Pretty much, yeah. I've been thinking about this. I think you're wasting the gift."
"I'm a goddamn millionaire! I'm one of the most famous people in the world! How am I wasting the gift?"
"I just think that perhaps we should do something of lasting value, instead of simply exploiting your resurrection."
"Are you kidding me? Do you remember where we were before I died?"
"We were living in a run-down trailer, running a sleazy movie distribution business that didn't make a dime. We sucked. I cried every single day. Did I ever tell you that?"
"No, but I heard you through the door," Martin said. "You were kind of loud."
"We had nothing going for us! We even talked about distributing porn! Is that what you want me to do? Do you want me to become a porn actor?"
"So what the hell do you want?"
"I don't know, exactly. But I think you're squandering the gift, and I think if you continue this track you'll be washed up before you know it."
"Martin, there's no such thing as a has-been zombie!"
"There will be, if you keep this up."
Stanley couldn't believe what he was hearing. "All I'm doing is what Project Second Chance tells me to do. I'm their freakin' puppet. You know that."
"You don't have to be."
"Actually, I do. They sort of keep me alive."
"I'm not saying to run away from them. But there are things you could do on your own. I've been thinking about this idea. You're going to live forever, right?"
"In theory, maybe."
"That means that a hundred years from now, you'll still be around and everybody currently walking around will be dead."
"Except for a few babies."
"Right. You should be wandering the land, meeting people, gathering stories. You would be the only person who knows what it was really like to live in the 21st century. You could be a source of unparalleled wisdom and experience."
"What the fuck?"
"Think of how much knowledge you could gather."
Stanley plopped down on his sofa. "That's what the Internet is for! Do you really think I'm going to wander the countryside like a vagabond? What kind of drunken hippie bullshit are you babbling about?"
"I just think you should do something important. It doesn't necessarily have to be the unparalleled wisdom thing."
"What's this all about, Martin? Are you jealous? Is that it? You wish it was you who got flattened by that milk truck?"
"No, but as your friend-"
Martin froze. "What do you mean, your leech?"
"You're leeching off my success. You have been from the beginning."
"I was your employee when you were Stanley Dabernath, and now I'm your employee when you're Mr. Corpse. How is that leeching? I work for you!"
"Then if you work for me, don't try to throw a guilt trip on me! I don't have to put up with this kind of crap from you. I'm the Amazing Mr. Corpse!"
"I thought you hated that name."
"Yeah, well, I thought you were my friend."
"I am your friend! I'm just trying to keep you from becoming a flavor of the month!"
"Flavor of the month? Fuck you!"
"Fuck you back!"
"Fuck you sideways!"
"Fuck you forward!"
"I don't even know what the fuck that means! You're fired! Get the fuck out of my apartment, fucker!"
"I'm fucking leaving!"
"Then go! And you say 'fuck' like a sissy!"
Martin turned and stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him. Stanley had never seen him lose his temper. Jealousy affected people in strange ways.
What a jerk. How dare he tell Stanley that he was wasting the gift? Famous for being famous. Yeah, right. He was the first human being ever brought back to life by scientific means. Famous for being famous. Jesus Christ.
Martin could go get a job at McDonald's for all he cared. Let's see how worthless he thought Stanley's life was when he was flipping burgers for a living.
He slammed himself down into the chair in front of his computer. Martin Vines didn't have six billion websites devoted to him, now did he? Jealous bastard.
Stanley had plenty of friends now, and he didn't need to hang around with some dopey-looking green-wearing weenie.
He played around on the Internet for a few minutes, visiting new sites where he could learn new information about himself.
He read a short article.
Read it again.
Then slammed his fist against the desk hard enough to rattle the monitor. "Son of a bitch!"
Project Second Chance had set up a small New York City office, about a twenty minute drive from Stanley's apartment. He called his bodyguards, Brett and Thomas, and they met him down in the lobby and accompanied him in his limousine.
"Is it true?" Stanley demanded, bursting into Brant's office.
Brant looked up from some paperwork. "Are you going to provide a definition of 'it,' or do I have to run down a list of things that might potentially be true?"
"Is it true that you're making another Mr. Corpse?"
"Where did you hear that?"
"I read it online."
"The same site that said you were an alien?"
"It was on a legitimate site. It said that Project Second Chance is planning to resurrect somebody else."
"That's not such a bad idea. Perhaps we could create a bride for you. That would be romantic, wouldn't it?"
"Is it true?"
"You look upset. What's the matter, Stanley? Worried about competition? Worried that if there's another zombie running around, you won't be so special?"
"You haven't answered my question."
"I'm under no obligation to answer your questions."
"Tell me, damn it!"
Brant smiled. "No, we are not planning to resurrect anybody else in the near future. Rest assured that the conditions surrounding your return to life were difficult enough to recreate that you'll be a unique zombie for quite some time."
"You seem to have a rather selfish attitude. Don't you want to share your miracle with others?"
"I'm leaving now."
"Oh, don't leave. You just arrived. Is that all I am to you anymore? Somebody to yell at when you're feeling paranoid?"
"Sorry about the misunderstanding, okay?"
"I don't think you are sorry. You burst into my office like you own the place. I hope you're not getting too big for your britches again."
"I'm not scared of you."
"You should be."
"I'm not. You're the one who brought me back to life, but I'm the one who keeps the money flowing. If you got rid of me, you'd have nothing. Nobody gives a shit about Project Second Chance; they care about The Amazing Mr. Corpse."
"Is that so?"
Stanley nodded. "And you know it. You can threaten me with your Wonder Dart all you want, but I know you'll never use it. And you'll never withhold injections from me. So you, Brant, can kiss my dead ass."
"Getting a bit of an attitude, are we?"
"I'm a scientific marvel. I'm what you have to show for your life's work. So, yeah, I think I'm entitled to a bit of an attitude."
"Scientific marvel." Brant chuckled. "Right."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Seriously, what's that supposed to mean?"
"Why don't you have a seat?"
Stanley sat down in front of Brant's desk.
"I know how enamored you are with the 'scientific marvel' idea, Stanley, so what I have to tell you may be painful to hear. But I'm okay with that." He leaned forward. "You're not a miracle of science."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"I'm saying that you're a fraud."
"Oh, right, so I was never dead, huh?"
Brant smiled. "When we first spoke, you insisted that that was the case. What changed your mind?"
"How about getting shot twice and healing right up?"
"That's certainly a convincing argument. And no, I'm not saying that you were never dead. What I am saying is that science had nothing to do with it."
"Science didn't have anything to do with it. You, Stanley, are a product of black magic."
"Your injections? Virgin blood. The chemicals that the machine put into your system? Virgin blood. The science was all for show. You were brought back to life with an unholy ritual."
"Uh-huh. Give me a freakin' break."
"Do you think I'm kidding?" Brant's voice was chilling.
Stanley stared into his eyes, searching for any sign that the son of a bitch was joking. He couldn't find one.
"I…I came from witchcraft?"
"Not witchcraft, technically, but something very similar, yes. Still feel like copping an attitude, Stanley? You might as well be a voodoo zombie."
Stanley felt like tumbling out of his chair onto the floor. He felt dizzy and sick to his stomach. This couldn't be true. He was supposed to be a revolution in science, not a supernatural monster.
"You met the criteria of the ritual. You were born in the right year, had the right color of hair, and most importantly, you died in the right way."
"But I drowned in milk."
"Yes. Mother's milk. Something we need at the start of life."
Stanley braced himself against the desk, suddenly feeling as if he might pass out. "This isn't fair."
"What's the matter? Didn't like that revelation?"
"Why'd you bring me back?"
"Why do you think? We received enormous contributions from private financers that we didn't have to spend on any actual research. And you've proven to be even more lucrative than we'd anticipated. You're one profitable zombie, Stanley."
"Oh, surely you can call me something more inventive than a bastard."
"What makes you think I won't tell everyone?"
"First of all, they won't believe you. Second, if they do believe you, you'll become an outcast. You have quite an enviable lifestyle. It seems foolish to put it at risk. And don't let your inflated sense of self-importance make you think that I won't withhold your precious virgin blood if you try to rock the boat."
"Where do you get the blood?"
"Yes, Stanley, willing donations. It's taken from Red Cross supplies. Don't worry, we aren't out murdering virgins on your behalf. We perform a quick ritual on the blood, and presto, you get to live for another day."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because you're not the one in charge, and you'll do well to remember that."
"Does Veronica know?"
"No. Now please leave. Unlike you, apparently, I have important work to do."
Stanley walked out of his office. He didn't say a word to Brett and Thomas as they escorted him back to his limousine and back to his apartment.
He climbed into his hammock and stared at the ceiling for a long, long time.
That made him a creature of evil.
"He's gone." Veronica's voice on the other end of the line sounded uncharacteristically panicked.
"Who do you think? Stanley!"
Brant sat up straight. "How long has he been missing?"
"I don't know. He's supposed to be on the morning show in an hour, but when I got here to pick him up, he was gone. His bodyguards don't know where he went. I called Martin but he didn't answer his home phone or his cell. I'm scared that something happened to him."
"I'm sure he's fine," said Brant, wiping some perspiration from his forehead. He could see Stanley pulling a vanishing act just to make him sweat.
"How do you know that? He never goes anywhere without his bodyguards!"
"Have you called the police?"
"Not yet. I wanted to call you first."
"Stanley wouldn't miss a public appearance. He's probably on his way to the studio right now. Let the producers know that there may be a problem so that they can find an emergency replacement, but don't call the police yet."
"Keep me informed."
Brant hung up. It was just a prank. It had to be. Or else Stanley was going on his own little journey of self-exploration, which would come to a halt when he ran out of injections. Brant had been against the idea of providing him with a week's supply in the first place, but he'd caved in to pressure from Veronica and Dr. Arnzin. He should have known better. Should have kept Stanley on that tighter leash.
Of course, he also shouldn't have told him the truth about his origin. Well, most of the truth. But he couldn't stand for that rampaging ego-maniac zombie to think that he was the one in charge. And if Brant had put the whole cash cow at risk because of his own power trip…well, everybody had their own little quirks.
"Our Savior did not appear."
Charlie looked up from his laptop, where he was busy typing some last minute revisions to today's sermon. "I beg your pardon?"
"He was scheduled to appear on Channel 8, but he didn't show up at the studio and he was replaced by a comedian whose jokes were stale and poorly delivered." William, Charlie's sixteen-year-old volunteer assistant, fidgeted nervously.
Charlie stood up. "Did they say what the problem was?"
"Does the rest of the congregation know?"
"Then we'll hold off until we have more information. Our Savior may just have been caught in traffic. Start passing around the collection plates."
Charlie sat back down, made a few more minor corrections, and then printed out his sermon. It wasn't very good, but he always ended up departing from the script anyway. It was as if something deep inside of him took over, making the words flow easily, spreading the gospel of The Corpse as if The Corpse himself were controlling Charlie's body.
Who was to say that The Corpse didn't have the power to possess Charlie's body and tongue?
Charlie gathered his pages and walked out into the main hall of the church. It was a small, wooden, abandoned Catholic church that had been falling apart when Charlie found it. But with the help of a group of volunteers, he'd cleaned it up, replaced Jesus with Stanley Dabernath where appropriate, and now held weekly services. The benches seated about sixty people, but he was pleased to see that several others stood against the back wall.
He walked up behind the podium as William began to play haunting chords on his electronic keyboard. Charlie gazed lovingly at his flock, adoring each of them, wishing only that his wife was there to see him in action. Sadly, she'd left him shortly after he formed the church, taking his son with her.
The music stopped. Charlie cleared his throat.
"Friends, sons and daughters, we are here to give worship to our Savior, Stanley Dabernath, The Corpse. For He returned to life to spread His gospel, to share His message of love and understanding! What is that message?"
"Life is precious!" chanted the attendees.
"And life is indeed precious! I did not always know this. No, I thought life was worthless! In fact, I thought my own life held such little value that I was ready to end it!"
Though they'd heard this story before, several people in the front rows gasped.
"That's right, and I was ready to kill our Savior! Because I didn't believe. I didn't have faith. I thought He was a charlatan. A trickster. And I took my gun, and lo, I did walk into His hotel, and lo, I did wait for our Savior to emerge. And lo, He did emerge."
William emphasized this point with a musical sting.
"And I spoke to our Savior, and He did try to show me the way. But I was blinded by madness, and I did not listen to His message. My ears were clouded. I could think only of my cancer, of my own mortality, and in an act of shame I did shoot our Savior in the chest!"
A young woman in the front row crossed herself.
"Dammit, Tammy, I asked you not to do that in here," said Charlie, annoyed.
"Sorry. Just a habit."
"Knock it off. The Corpse did not die upon any cross, and to confuse Him with other saviors is blasphemy!"
Tammy's husband, Fred, raised his hand.
"What?" Charlie asked.
"I was thinkin', our Savior died from chokin' on milk, right?"
"Indeed He did. You can read all about it in the Book of the Corpse!" Charlie picked up one of the pamphlets he'd created and held it up to the crowd.
"Maybe instead of crossin' ourselves, we could do a chokin' thing. Like this." Fred placed both hands on his neck, closed his eyes, and let his tongue loll out of his mouth.
"Are you ridiculing our Savior?" Charlie demanded, furious.
"Naw, I just thought-"
"When the time of Rebirth is upon us and the Resurrections begin, I will make sure that your festering body remains lying bloated on the dirty ground swarmed by flies! Leave this house of worship immediately!"
Fred got up and sheepishly headed for the church exit, followed by Tammy. Charlie wanted to throw something at them, but all he had was the brochure and he figured that it would flutter harmlessly to the ground.
"I will not tolerate ridicule of our Savior!" Charlie announced. "I have seen Him take a bullet fired by my own gun and stand back up to live another day. And He forgave my sin! I ask, how many of you seated in this house of worship would forgive one who struck you down with a bullet? If a deer hunter mistook you for his prey and pumped a shotgun shell into your chest, would you forgive him? You would not! But my actions were no mistake, and I did indeed intend harm upon our Savior, and He forgave me, and He helped me, and He saved me! All praise The Corpse!"
"Life is precious!" shouted the congregation.
"Life is precious!"
"Who's our Savior?"
"Sing with me, people!"
Three days later, Stanley still had not returned, and Veronica was getting frantic. This definitely wasn't the kind of PR she wanted, but more importantly, she cared about him. Yeah, he was obnoxious and crude and needed a good slap every six seconds, yet underneath his obnoxious/crude/slap-needing exterior was a…well, definitely not a sweetheart, but sort of a nice guy.
She prayed that nothing had happened to him, but feared the worst. She couldn't imagine that Stanley would just take off without making some sort of effort to let her know that he was okay. And even if he did, Martin was the responsible one of the pair, and he hadn't turned up either. It wasn't like Stanley could just pop on a wig and a pair of sunglasses and fade into anonymity, and yet there had been no credible sightings.
A lot of people thought that Stanley was an abomination, and if he'd been foolish enough to wander the city unprotected…
Of course, it was all over the newspapers, radio, television, and Internet. Lots of opinions were shared; few of them were optimistic about Stanley's safe return. Brant insisted that Stanley had probably just taken some time off to think. Veronica desperately hoped that was the case, even though she'd have to kick his butt six feet into the ground when he returned if it was. But since Brant had the uncharacteristic appearance of wanting nothing more than to vomit, it was hard for Veronica to put credence in his theory.
"Where are you, Stanley?" she asked his photograph.
The photograph did not respond.
She sighed. She'd slept less than four hours in the past three days and she knew she must look like total crap. She needed to go home, pass out, and go back to being stressed out in the morning.
The phone rang, scaring the hell out of her.
"Hello? Oh, hi, honey. No, no update. Yes, I'm coming home soon. Now. That'd be great. Love you. Bye."
She hung up, gathered up her things, and left the office.
Our Savior is missing.
Oh where could have He gone?
Our Savior is missing.
Let Him be back by dawn.
The lyrics for this new hymn sucked, but Charlie had never claimed to be a songwriter. Forming a new religion wasn't as easy as it looked. Anyway, it was a catchy tune, thanks to William.
Our Savior is missing.
Please let Him come back.
Our Savior is missing.
Our lives are now off track.
One of his flock had suggested "Now let's go get a snack" as the final line of the second verse. The heretic had been banished from the church for all eternity.
"Thank you for coming to this special service," Charlie told his congregation, pleased to note that the church was so packed with people that it was a major safety hazard. He'd been featured as part of a news story in relation to Mr. Corpse's disappearance, and though he knew that most of the new folks were probably curiosity seekers rather than believers, he'd show them the path before too long.
"As you know, our Savior has gone missing. He could be hurt, He could be kidnapped, or He could be on a journey of spiritual exploration. Either way, we will find Him. We will search the streets. We will call out His name. We will not rest until our Savior, The Corpse, has returned home safely to teach us again!"
"Amen!" shouted a man near the back. There was a tittering of laughter from the people around him, but Charlie chose to ignore this.
"We will bring Him home! Let's hear it!"
"We will bring Him home!"
"So wander the streets, my friends! We will do what the police can't do! We will find The Corpse!"
"We will bring Him home!"
Margaret feared the darkness, and she feared big cities, and she feared getting lost, and now she was lost in a big city after dark.
It was her mother's fault. Margaret was going to cancel the New York City vacation after she broke up with Scott, but her mother had insisted that she go anyway. "You'll have fun without him!" she said. "It'll be an adventure!"
It had been a lot of fun. She'd gone to museums, eaten fantastic meals, and watched a taping of her favorite talk show. Then she went and took that wrong turn. Followed by another one. And another. Now she had no idea where she was, except that it was dark and scary and there was a guy walking towards her who looked like he wanted to steal her purse.
She crossed to the other side of the street and then picked up her pace.
A hand slammed over her mouth. An arm wrapped around her waist and dragged her into the alley.
"Don't scream," the man behind her said into her ear. His body was pressed tightly against hers, and she could smell his reeking breath. "You scream I cut you."
He released her waist, spun her around, and bashed her against the brick wall. She'd expected to see a toothless wino, but the man was clean-shaven, had a stylish haircut, and wore a designer shirt.
He pressed a knife against her throat. "You just be quiet and let what's gonna happen happen, and we'll get along fine." He looked down at her breasts and gave her a lecherous grin. "Can't wait to suck on these babies."
"You won't be sucking on anything," said a deep voice from the street.
Margaret and her attacker looked toward the source of the voice. It was a man dressed entirely in black leather. He wore a facemask that revealed only his mouth and eyes.
"Let her go," said the man in black.
"You just move along, stranger. This is private business."
"I'm pretty sure she's not a willing participant. Now let her go or things are going to get ugly."
The attacker removed the knife from Margaret's throat and stepped away from her. "Okay, okay, you can have her if you want. I was just playing around anyway. It's cool."
"Now let me give you a warning-"
Before she realized what he was doing, Margaret's attacker had reached under his shirt and taken out a gun. He pointed it at the man in black.
"Maybe you should think about moving on, stranger."
The man in black shook his head.
The attacker shrugged, then shot him in the chest. Margaret screamed. The man in black stumbled backwards a few steps but didn't fall. There was no blood.
"What the hell…?"
"You can't kill me," the man in black growled. "I'm already dead!"
He tore off the facemask. Margaret recognized him, it was Mr. Corpse from TV, but he looked different. He had black circles around his eyes, but the eyes themselves were completely red. He grinned, revealing fangs.
The attacker dropped his gun and wet his pants in terror as Mr. Corpse took a dramatic step forward. "Do you know who I am?" he demanded.
"Oh, shit, don't kill me!"
Mr. Corpse grabbed the attacker by the shoulders and slammed him against the opposite wall. "Your soul is mine, motherfucker! I should eat you alive, right now, starting with your nose."
"No! No! Don't hurt me!"
Mr. Corpse hissed at him.
"Please, I wasn't really gonna do anything! I swear!"
"Lies! But you're lucky. I'm not going to kill you. I need you to spread the word to your scumbag rapist mugger friends. The next time they look over their shoulder, I might be there. I'm the Sinister Mr. Corpse. I'm their doom. You think you can tell them that?"
The attacker nodded frantically.
"Apologize to that woman."
"Say it like you mean it, bitch!"
"Sorry I'm sorry I'm so so sorry!"
Mr. Corpse relaxed his grip. He took a stack of business cards out of his pocket and pressed them into the man's palm. "Share these. Make sure people know about me. I'm not going to tolerate your kind in this great city anymore. Do you understand?"
"Good. Now get out of here before I flay the skin from your body with your own knife."
The attacker fled.
Mr. Corpse turned toward Margaret, and she recoiled.
"Damn, these things burn!" he said, popping one of the contact lenses out of his eye. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you?"
Margaret shook her head.
"Good. You shouldn't be out here by yourself after dark."
"I know. I got lost."
"I'll take you someplace safe. You don't have to be scared walking with me. These aren't real fangs." He held out his hand to her, and reluctantly she took it.
They stepped out of the alley and onto the street. Margaret was still scared, but Mr. Corpse clearly had no intention of hurting her, so she forced herself to relax. "Where have you been?" Margaret asked, trying to make conversation.
"Thinking. Planning. Doing something good with my life. Oh, this is for you," he said, handing her a business card.
Margaret glanced at the card. It had a demonic looking picture of Mr. Corpse and the slogan Evildoers beware! Your time of reckoning is at hand! The Sinister Mr. Corpse is on the prowl! "Did you design this yourself?"
"Nah, my friend Martin did it. Looks pretty good, huh?"
"I guess so. It's kind of creepy."
"Oh, wait, I gave you the wrong one. That's for bad guys." Mr. Corpse took back the card and handed her a different one. This one had a picture of him without the makeup and fangs, and said You have been rescued by Mr. Corpse. Tell your friends!
They walked in silence for a couple of minutes. "Good, there's a cop," said Mr. Corpse, pointing to a police car parked three blocks ahead. They picked up their pace and hurried over to the car. Mr. Corpse tapped on the glass, and the police officer rolled down the window. "This woman has just gone through an extremely traumatic experience," Mr. Corpse explained. "She needs medical attention and perhaps some counseling. She'll tell you the whole story."
"You're the Amazing Mr. Corpse!" said the cop.
Mr. Corpse shook his head. "No longer. I'm the Sinister Mr. Corpse, and I will bring fear to all who deserve it. You have a new ally in your fight against crime." He returned his attention to Margaret. "You'll be safe now, ma'am."
She gave him a big hug. Mr. Corpse put his facemask back on, and then ran off into the darkness.
"How'd it go?" asked Martin as Stanley climbed into the newly christened Corpsemobile (Martin's Chevy Prizm).
"Saved a lady."
"It's not that easy to find crimes in progress! I thought that you couldn't go two blocks in this city without stumbling upon a mugging, but, jeez, I was walking all over the place without finding anything. But I did save a lady. And I helped a dog that had its leg caught in a grate. That was a pretty good night's work."
"And you're sure this is the approach you want to take? Soaking up wisdom would be a lot less dangerous."
"I'm sure. If I'm invulnerable, I should use that gift to benefit society. Oh, good call on the bulletproof vest, by the way. It's much more pleasant when bullets don't break the skin."
Brant and Veronica sat in the Project Second Chance office, watching the woman on television explain that Mr. Corpse had saved her from being raped and perhaps killed. The camera zoomed in on the business card.
They sat there for a very long time without speaking.
"So…he's a superhero now?" asked Brant.
"Looks like it."
"Is this good or bad?"
"I don't know."
They continued to stare at the television screen.
"I guess it's good," said Veronica. "He's alive, at least."
"You have a point there."
"And I guess it's better than having him go on a crime spree."
They stared at the television some more.
"So now what?" Veronica asked.
"I don't know."
"Should we have a drink?"
"Yes. Let's do that."
"I'm still not sure I like the name The Sinister Mr. Corpse," Martin admitted, as he and Stanley sat in their cheap motel room, sharing a bag of pretzels.
"It's catchy. It has a nice rhythm to it."
"I just think it's too dark. I liked Amazing."
"We've been over this. The two things I've got going for me in my fight against crime are that I can't be killed and that I'm scary looking. So I need a scary name."
"We could've focused on the not-being-killed part. You could be the Invulnerable Mr. Corpse."
"I'm not invulnerable. What do you want me to be, the Quick-Healing Mr. Corpse? Ooooh, that'll strike fear into the hearts of evil men!"
"I know, I know, but what about The Terrifying Mr. Corpse? You're not really all that sinister."
"Yes I am."
"What have you done today that was sinister?"
"It's a cool name, okay?"
"I agree, but 'sinister' implies that there's plotting going on or something like that. Scaring bad guys isn't sinister. Sinister is all about the attitude."
"Well, we've already made the business cards," said Stanley. "You should've said something sooner."
"I did! I said it eighty times! You told me to shut up about it!"
"I think you should go back to calling me 'sir.'"
"I think you should keep dreaming."
"Well, I'm the one out there making the world safe for democracy, so I get to pick the name. You can pick your own sidekick name."
"I'm not your sidekick. I'm your handler."
"How about this? The Sinister Mr. Corpse and his trusty sidekick Alive Boy?"
Stanley chuckled. "I did save a woman tonight, though. It felt good. I think I was destined to be a crime fighter. I've already got the action figures."
"What do you think Veronica and Mr. Brant are thinking right now?"
"I'm sure they're pleased."
"Uh-huh. Because Mr. Brant wouldn't happen to be a control freak or anything like that."
"Brant is welcome to smooch my superhuman buttocks."
"Until you run out of injections."
"Yeah, until then." Stanley stuffed three pretzels into his mouth. "He's not gonna withhold them from me. You don't let your meal ticket ooze away. Anyway, I'm actually making myself more marketable for him."
The idea that Brant might withhold his injections out of spite had certainly crossed Stanley's mind, but he chose not to dwell on it. He had to do this. He had to justify his existence.
He hadn't told Martin that he was a supernatural abomination. Martin would probably understand (he was pretty liberal) but still, it wasn't something he was ready to admit. Hell, Martin might not even believe him. Black magic? Witchcraft? That stuff was all supposed to be a load of crap. And being kept alive by virgin blood…that was just plain creepy.
He wondered who the virgins were.
The following evening, the criminal underworld let out a collective shudder as The Sinister Mr. Corpse prowled the streets. His rage was infinite, his mercy non-existent.
At least that's what Stanley hoped people were thinking. To tell the truth, hanging out in the shadows was pretty tedious. He had Martin researching the availability of police scanners, so that maybe they could get news about crimes in progress, but for now he was relying on his crime-seeking instincts, which apparently sucked.
Maybe he needed a Corpse Signal. A shining beacon that the mayor could use when evil was afoot. It could say "SMC" or, as Brant would no doubt suggest, "%$@* amp;!" because of his love for foul language.
He was actually sort of looking forward to calling Brant. He probably should've done it by now, but he wanted the bastard to sweat some more. Stanley could picture him now. Shirt drenched with sweat. Grey hair hanging down into his face in perspiration-soaked strands. Nervously twitching and saying "Oh dear…oh my…oh goodness…"
He desperately wanted to get in touch with Veronica, but she was a good employee and would no doubt share everything with Brant. So if Brant had to sweat, Veronica had to sweat. It could be a festival of perspiration.
He perked up as he saw activity a block ahead. Two criminals in the act. Vandals.
Yes, there were two unfortunate high school students who would learn that spray paint belonged only on authorized surfaces. A lesson brought to them by The Sinister Mr. Corpse.
He removed his facemask and strode toward them. He was getting used to the contacts and the fangs, and knew that he was truly an image of terror.
The kids, who were apparently not the most perceptive humans ever birthed, didn't notice him until he was about a hundred feet away. "Freeze!" he shouted in his scariest voice. "Drop those cans or face my wrath!"
The kids turned and ran.
Shit. Exercise time.
Stanley took off after them. He hated running. It had nothing to do with his zombie-state, but rather that he'd become something of a lazy-ass over the past couple of months. Hopefully one of the kids would trip.
One of the kids tripped. His buddy stopped and quickly looked back and forth between his fallen comrade and the fearsome predator headed his way, and then selected the "shameful cowardice" option. He ran, turned a corner, and vanished from sight.
The kid who tripped scrambled to get back up, but Stanley was upon him before he could escape. Stanley grabbed him by the collar, pulled him to his feet, and stared into his eyes, grinning with malicious intent.
"What were you doing with that spray paint?" he asked.
"Answer the question, felon!"
"Painting the wall!"
"Is that your wall?"
The kid shook his head. "I wasn't hurting anything. But, dude, I can't believe I finally get to meet you! I'm a big fan! I've got a Mr. Corpse t-shirt and everything!"
"Yeah! And my little brother, his name's Tyler, he's got posters, bed sheets, dolls…"
"They're not dolls, they're action figures."
"Sorry, dude. He's got action figures and everything. You're his hero!"
Stanley beamed as well as he could in fangs and eye makeup. "Thanks!"
"Dude, you've gotta sign an autograph for him. He'll wet himself when he finds out that I met you!"
"Sure thing. Do you have a pen?"
The kid patted his pockets. "No. Do you?"
"I've got the spray paint."
"I don't think that will work."
The kid gestured to the brick wall. "You could help me out, dude! C'mon, a collaboration with Mr. Corpse! That'd be sweet!"
Stanley looked at the artwork. It was a bizarre symbol. "What is that?"
"It's the Wheel of Dharma. It represents Buddha teachings and the way they move from country to country in accordance with changing conditions and people's karmic inclinations."
"Ah. Nice work."
"Thanks. We practice every night." The kid handed Stanley his own can of spray paint and picked up the one his partner had dropped.
"I can't help you vandalize this property," Stanley said. "I'm here to stop crime."
"But this is art! Are you trying to censor art? My history teacher says that art shouldn't be censored."
"Do you get good grades?"
"Let's do it."
Stanley walked away from the crime scene, feeling most ashamed indeed. The final product was pretty damn impressive (the kid knew how to use a can of spray paint) but Stanley wondered if he should mug an old lady to make the night complete.
He wandered around the city for the rest of the night, searching for dastardly deeds in the process of being committed, but found none. But he cleaned up some litter, which made him feel better.
"Stanley!" Brant actually sounded happy to hear him. "Where have you been?"
"Oh, you know, making the world a better place to live. It's my new hobby. Did you miss me?"
"Where are you now?"
"Right behind you."
"Seriously, where are you?"
"Did you look when I said right behind you? You looked, didn't you? It's okay if you did."
"What do you think of my new name? The Sinister Mr. Corpse sounds pretty spooky, doesn't it? I bet you'd be a little worried if I really were right behind you, huh?"
"Did you just call to annoy me?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"You'll run out of injections soon. Have you thought about that?"
"Yep. I don't suppose you'd FedEx me a few, would you?"
"No, I don't suppose so."
"Stanley, we need to talk. This type of behavior is irresponsible even for you. It's dangerous. You could get hurt."
"My pain is temporary. The lives I save are forever. Well, until they die of natural causes or something else, but you know what I mean."
"This isn't a joke."
"And yet I treat it as one. How odd."
"Do you think you have the upper hand, Stanley? Is that what this call is about? You believe that pulling a disappearing act and then behaving like a lunatic means that you have the power in our relationship?"
"Yep. You're the bottom now. Get used to it."
"This conversation is over."
Stanley blinked at the sound of the click on the other end. Wow. He wouldn't have expected Brant to be a hanger-up kind of guy. Stanley would let the uptight bastard stew in his own foul-tasting juices for a couple more days, and then he'd return to Project Second Chance and let him off the hook.
But first he pressed the "redial" button.
"Yes?" Brant asked, sounding sort of testy.
"Give Veronica love and snuggles for me, okay?"
Brant hung up again. Stanley chuckled, felt briefly guilty about chuckling, then quickly got over it and chuckled some more.
Stanley continued to prowl the city streets. He gave a few bucks to a homeless person, but then accidentally scared the shit out of another one. He figured the two events balanced each other out.
He'd do one more night of secret nighttime security, and then he'd move on to something more dramatic. Perhaps he'd foil a bank robbery or defuse a hostage situation. They could bring him back as a creature of evil, but they couldn't make him behave like one.
A pair of thugs, who looked to be in their forties, were sitting on some steps. A shivering man stood in front of them, looking desperate. The thugs laughed at something that probably wasn't all that funny out of context, and then handed him a small packet.
Drug dealers were not welcome in the Sinister Mr. Corpse's city. Stanley walked over to them to share his dissatisfaction with their business transaction.
"What's that you're doing, gentlemen?" he asked.
"Who the fuck are you?" one of the thugs asked. He had long, stringy hair and wore a Band-Aid on his neck.
Stanley pulled off his facemask. "I'm Stanley Dabernath, the Sinister Mr. Corpse. Your kind isn't wanted around here. Flush your mind-killers down the toilet and don't make me devour your flesh."
"Fuck you, bitch." The thug pulled out a pistol and shot Stanley in the forehead.
He dropped to his knees. His eyes rolled up in his head.
Everything went black.
And stayed that way for a long time.
He woke up in a dark room that smelled of mold, piss, and moldy piss. His head hurt. He wanted to reach up and touch the hole in his forehead, but his hands were cuffed behind his back. His feet were tied together as well. He rolled over on his side and immediately had a dizzy spell so severe that he thought the room was spinning.
Or maybe the room was spinning. You could never tell with rooms these days. Rooms got all spinny sometimes.
"Spinny, spinny, spinny," Stanley whispered, because he liked the sound. "Spinny minny. That's what I'd name my daughter. Spinny Minnie."
I am calm. I'm entertaining myself by naming my potential daughter.
The bullet is still lodged in your brain.
It could be making you insane.
Wasn't I already insane?
You have to get out of here.
Why? I'll get used to the smell in time.
You have to escape.
Who are you?
Who am I?
You don't think the bullet is laying eggs in my brain, do you?
"Open your eyes."
Was that you?
Who was it?
Open your eyes and find out.
Why don't you open your eyes? Why do I have to do all the work?
Stanley opened his eyes. He was staring at a camera.
A talking camera? How odd.
A flash went off. The camera moved, revealing that it was not in fact a talking camera at all, but rather a camera held by one of the thugs. The thug grinned, revealing yellow, gunky teeth. "Can't believe you're still kicking. Guess you weren't a fake after all."
"Nope. Not me."
"Well, you're gonna be our ticket out of this shithole. They're gonna be paying out the ass to get you back."
Stanley frowned. His memory was fuzzy, but he seemed to recall greatly annoying somebody who he probably shouldn't have annoyed if large sums of money were going to be required for his safe return.
"What if nobody pays out the ass?" he inquired.
"Then we see if you keep living in pieces."
As he lay in the stinking room, his entire body aching, wavering between sanity and insanity, Stanley had to admit that everybody had been right when they suggested that the whole crime fighter thing had been a poorly conceived idea. But he was a zombie! He couldn't follow the beaten path! What was he supposed to do with his abilities, rent himself out at a shooting range?
He briefly went insane again and daydreamed about being rented out at a shooting range. It was not a fun daydream.
He wasn't sure how long he'd been in the room, but he did know that he hadn't brought any injections with him on patrol. He'd taken one right before leaving, so he had until tomorrow evening (assuming it wasn't already tomorrow evening), but the need for escape was pretty substantial.
The second thug, the one who wasn't wearing a Band-Aid on his neck and hadn't shot him in the head, walked into the room. He held a small opaque cup, which he held to Stanley's mouth as he crouched down.
"Here, drink this."
"What is it?"
"How do I know that?"
The thug shrugged and poured the liquid out onto the floor. "Guess you don't. Try not to get too thirsty." He stood up and headed for the doorway.
"No, wait, I need your help!"
"Is that so?"
"I need injections every twenty-four hours. You've got to let me go or I'll miss my next one and die."
"We'll let you go when we get our money."
"We haven't decided on a deadline yet."
"If I don't get my injection, there won't be anything left to ransom off."
"I'm serious! At the very least, let me call my friend Martin. He can leave one for me, and you can pick it up."
"Martin a cop?"
"No. He's just a friend."
"What's in the injection? We've got all kinds of stuff we could stick in you. You into crystal meth?"
"It's not drugs. It's…it's just not drugs."
"When we get our money, you can get your fix."
"They won't pay if I'm dead!"
"They might. I bet your remains are pretty valuable to a museum or something."
It was obvious that this wasn't going to work, so Stanley decided to focus on the second problem. "Listen to me, I got shot in the head-"
"I'm a fast healer. The bullet, it's really screwing with my mind, and I'm scared that my skull will heal around it and seal it in there. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"That's one fucked up problem, man."
"I know. I'm okay for the moment, but any second now I could start seeing chickens in the walls, so I need to get the bullet out. You've got to get me a mirror and some big tweezers."
"I ain't getting you shit."
"Listen, Project Second Chance will pay much less for an insane zombie! What if they want to talk to me on the phone before they drop off the ransom? If I'm babbling incoherently, they won't believe it's me."
"We don't have any tweezers."
"I'll give you the money to buy some. They're cheap. But, see, the bullet is messing with my mind so bad that I didn't even realize something important. I can pay the ransom myself. I'm rich! Get me to an ATM and I'll get you all the money you need!"
"There's a limit on ATM withdrawals."
"We'll go to multiple ATMs."
"I've tried that before. It retained the dude's card."
"Then let me withdraw the money from my account. We can try a drive-through teller or something. How much are you asking?"
"Twenty million dollars."
"That's…generous. Look, I really got screwed on the contract, you know how those things go, and I don't have that much available, but Project Second Chance can come up with that, I'm sure."
"No shit. That's why we're holding you for ransom."
"Oh. That's right. Bullet in my brain, remember?"
"So what's your name?"
"None of your business."
"Well, Chauncey, all I'm asking for are some tweezers and a mirror so that I can get this bullet out of my brain. I'm a living corpse who dresses up in Halloween gear and goes after bad guys; do you really want my sanity slipping even further?"
"I'll have to ask Tom."
"Are you Tom's bitch?"
"You sure? It sounds to me like we might have a bitch situation going on here."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"Is he cruel when you make love?"
The thug kicked Stanley in the face. "Your dead ass can just sit in here alone."
"No, no! Let's be reasonable about this. We're both entrepreneurs, right? You need to protect your investment. If you leave the bullet in here I'll…oh, fudge, here come the chickens…"
When Stanley's mind returned to functionality, there were three rats chewing on his feet. They'd burrowed through his shoes and were going at his toes with great enthusiasm. This was rather disturbing, although less disturbing than the rat that was chewing on Stanley's face.
He shook his head violently and kicked his feet to get rid of the vermin, then decided that maybe a good old fashioned sob session was in order.
No. He'd be strong. He was no longer Stanley Dabernath, that pathetic failed movie distributor crying in his trailer. He was the Sinister Mr. Corpse, that pathetic failed superhero being held for ransom by drug dealers. If you discounted the rats, it was an improvement.
His cheek really hurt, but by testing the inside with his tongue it didn't appear that the rat had gotten all the way through.
If he got out of this, he'd definitely figure out another way to use his abilities for good. Martin's "soaking up wisdom" idea was sounding good. He could be a traveling bard, sharing stories of the ages ("This one time these drug dealers tied me up and let rats chew me.").
The door opened and both thugs entered. Chauncey held a small mirror and a long pair of metal tweezers.
"We're gonna let you get the bullet out," Chauncey explained. "But don't try using it on us or anything."
"Thank you," Stanley said, forcing himself not to say any of the 18,719 smart-ass comments that ricocheted through his mind.
"We're going to untie your hands," said Tom. "But we'll have a gun on you. If you try anything, I'll shoot you in the head again and drive that bullet in even deeper. You understand?"
Tom pointed the pistol at Stanley while Chauncey bent down and unlocked the handcuffs. He quickly jumped back as if Stanley was going to attack, but Stanley remained calm. He pushed himself to a sitting position and then scooted back against the wall. Though the wall was sticky, he didn't complain.
He picked up the mirror, which was an extremely girly one with a pink flowered frame. He took a moment to brace himself for what he might see, and then looked at his reflection.
It wasn't so bad. Yeah, there was a disgusting gash in his right cheek, but the bullet hole in his forehead wasn't as big as he would've expected. The lack of blood probably helped with the aesthetics.
He picked up the tweezers, wondering if he should use them for a daring escape attempt. He could fling them at Tom. They'd lodge into his left eye, and in a blind panic Tom would fire the pistol, shooting his partner in the heart. Tom would pluck out the tweezers but then be so overcome by grief that he'd turn the pistol on himself.
Stanley decided not to try it.
"I don't suppose I could call my doctor, could I?" he asked. "He's a cool guy. You'd like him."
"Just get the bullet out and shut up."
Stanley checked out the bullet hole closely in the mirror. "Any chance you've got a flashlight? I know I should've asked sooner, but I wasn't thinking."
"Figures. Okay, here we go."
A long silence.
"So go," Tom urged.
"I'm about to stick a pair of tweezers in my brain! A bit of lollygagging is to be expected!"
"You need to do it quick, man," said Chauncey. "Like when you're tearing off a bandage or having a chest wax."
"This isn't like a chest wax. This is surgery."
"Do you want me to do it?"
"Oh, sure, brain surgery by a twitchy-fingered drug addict. Sign me right the fuck up."
"Hey, that was a gesture, man!"
"How about you two give me some privacy?"
Tom shook his head. "No way. You'd try to escape."
"What am I gonna do? Scrape through the wall with a pair of tweezers?"
"You might! Did you see that movie with Tim Robbins? The Shawshank Redemption?"
"It was a rock hammer, and it took him, like, thirty years! The only way I'm gonna escape is to tie a message to a rat!"
Chauncey nervously looked around for rats. Tom smacked him in the shoulder.
"No privacy," said Tom. "You do it now or the bullet stays."
"Fine." Stanley angled the mirror just right, and then very, very slowly began to insert the tweezers into the bullet hole.
"Oh, man, that is nasty!"
"Shut up! You're disrupting my concentration!" Stanley shoved the tweezers in deeper.
"Did you get it?"
"I said shut up!"
"We should be taking pictures," said Tom.
"I mean it, be quiet so I can focus." He shoved the tweezers in even deeper. "Okay, I've got something. No, wait, that's just brain."
Tom and Chauncey both crouched down to get a closer look.
"What does it feel like?" Tom asked.
"It doesn't feel like anything. You don't have pain receptors in your brain."
"But it feels weird, right?"
"Enough with the questions! I'll give you a full report when it's done!"
Chauncey poked at his own forehead with his index finger. "I dunno, man, I don't think I could do something like that."
"Nobody's asking you to."
"I didn't say that anybody was asking me to, but if I were in that situation, I think I'd just leave the bullet where it was."
Stanley frowned and jiggled the tweezers a bit.
"Do you have it?" asked Tom.
"I'm not sure. I think so. I can't tell."
"Maybe you should lean your head down and shake it."
Stanley started to tell him to shut up again, but then decided that the advice was sound and took it.
"Do you see any bullets dropping out of my head?"
"Then it's not doing anything!"
"Don't be so goddamn testy, man. We got you the tweezers and mirror like you wanted!"
Stanley raised his head, let go of the tweezers, and pointed at both of them. "If you don't stop talking, I swear to God, I'll beat the crap out of you."
Neither of the thugs looked intimidated. Their lack of fear was probably directly related to the pair of tweezers protruding from Stanley's forehead.
Stanley fished around for a few more moments in blissful silence. "Oops, there went high school Algebra."
"No big loss," said Tom.
Stanley pulled out the tweezers and shook his head. "No good, I can't get it. I'll need a medical professional to do the brain surgery."
"That bites, man."
And then Stanley realized that this was his big chance. Tom had lowered the gun, and both men were still staring at the hole in his forehead.
He slammed the tweezers into Tom's chest. Tom screamed in pain as Stanley grabbed for the gun. He missed. Tom swung it toward his face, but Stanley threw a punch that struck the inside of his wrist. The gun fell to the floor.
Stanley got Tom with a devastating head-butt that he was pretty damn sure hurt himself a lot more than the thug, considering that he already had a hole in his skull.
Chauncey tackled him. They struggled on the floor, Man against Zombie.
Zombie was getting his ass kicked.
Chauncey bashed Stanley against the floor four, five, then six times until Stanley had to admit that he probably wasn't going to emerge as the victor.
"Cuff him!" said Tom, groaning in pain.
Chauncey rolled Stanley over onto his stomach and refastened the handcuffs. Then he bashed Stanley's face against the floor a couple more times.
"What do we do with him?" Chauncey asked.
"I'll tell you what we're gonna do. We're gonna make sure that the folks paying his ransom know good and well that this is the real Mr. Corpse. Go get a knife. Biggest one we've got."
"Okay, that idea is really unnecessary," Stanley insisted, rolling over onto his back as Chauncey left the room. "I'm very recognizable."
Tom plucked the tweezers out of his chest. "You can fake pictures. You can't fake an arm."
"Aw, shit, c'mon, Tom-"
"Did you just say my name? Did he tell you my name?"
"No, no, you just look like a Tom."
"This ain't good."
"What difference does it make if I know your name? I know what you look like, too!"
Hey, Stanley, how about you not say anything else that stupid for the rest of the day?
Chauncey returned to the room, holding a butcher knife. "Did you tell him my name?" Tom demanded.
"How'd he know it was Tom?"
"So, Hugh, how's it going, Hugh, did you get the knife like I asked, Hugh?"
"What's the big deal? He's already seen our faces, and Tom is a very common name."
Tom considered that. "Yeah, you're right. Give me the knife and hold him down."
"Guys, you don't need to do this," Stanley said, not even trying to be manly and keep the terror out of his voice. "They'll pay the ransom. They've got too much invested in me. I'll tell the press that you were kind, generous captors and that we experienced that weird bonding thing that you hear people talk about."
Tom shook his head. "You're losing an arm."
"At least just take a thumb. My thumbs are distinctive. They'll know it's mine."
"Arm. It'll grow back, right?"
"No! I heal, but I don't regenerate body parts!" Or did he? After all, he was a supernatural being…
Nope, the arm wouldn't grow back.
Hugh/Chauncey shoved a dirty tube sock into Stanley's mouth. It tasted like foot. Then he tied a gag around his mouth. Stanley screamed a few times to test it out.
"Roll him on his stomach and hold him down," said Tom.
Hugh rolled Stanley on his stomach. He struggled with all of his might, figuring that his situation wasn't going to get much worse for misbehavior, but within moments Hugh was kneeling on his back and holding him down firmly.
Tom placed the butcher knife against Stanley's upper arm.
And began to saw.
It was a long, involved process, but fortunately for Stanley, he was insane for most of it.
Stanley sat in the darkness, hurting and miserable.
He missed his arm already.
They'd taken it away, laughing, and then packaged it up and mailed it off.
He'd be okay. He was still alive, and Brant would pay the ransom. Maybe with an extra splash of virgin blood they could reattach his arm. Hopefully the thugs packed it carefully.
No matter what happened, he wasn't going to get depressed. He might cry and scream and pound his fists (well, fist) against the floor, but he was going to remain upbeat. He'd get out of this. Project Second Chance knew about the injection deadline, so they wouldn't waste any time coming up with the money.
Since handcuffs were somewhat ineffective on an individual with only one hand, they'd tied his remaining arm behind his back by wrapping the rope around his chest.
He tried to think happy thoughts. After all, having only one arm wouldn't limit his lifestyle all that much. What would he miss out on? Push-ups?
That was pretty much it. Push-ups. And really, you could do one-handed push-ups if you had enough strength in your arm, so he'd be losing out on nothing.
He'd be fine.
He could make a lot of jokes about his disarming presence, and he'd have an advantage over two-armed actors if they ever cast for a remake of The Fugitive, and maybe he could even get a really cool prosthetic arm, one with superhuman crushing abilities or a telescope built into the forearm or a laser or something.
Then he'd be fighting some serious crime.
He closed his eyes and wept.
He woke up, not sure if he'd actually been asleep. He knew that Tom had come in and said something to him, but he'd understood it to be something about lemmings and trampolines, which was probably not the reality of the conversation.
He felt weak. He wasn't sure how long he'd been locked in the room, but it may well have been twenty-four hours or more.
He wondered when the oozing would begin.
He heard voices on the other side of the door. He couldn't make out the words, but one of them was definitely Tom. The other wasn't Hugh.
The door opened.
The scream had jolted Donald Mandigan out of a very nice daydream involving the new makeup girl. She'd been wearing a nurse outfit that would be unacceptable at any state-approved hospital, and she kept dropping her thermometer.
He hurried out of his office and over to the source of the scream. One of his interns was pressed against the wall, pointing at the package she'd opened.
Donald rushed over and glanced inside.
An arm. A bluish-grey arm that looked a hell of a lot like the arm that had been formerly attached to Stanley Dabernath.
"Everyone stay calm!" he announced to the other five people in the area. "Where did this come from?"
"It was in today's mail," the intern explained.
There was an envelope taped to the lid of the box. Donald pulled it free, opened it, and removed the handwritten letter inside.
Donald Mandigan, we have Mr. Corpse. If you want to see him alive again, bring twenty million dollars to 313 East Arginine Blvd. at midnight tonight. Let nobody follow you. Tell nobody. If you disobey our instructions, the next package will contain his head.
"Did anybody else see this?" Donald demanded.
The intern shook her head. Donald looked around the room, and the rest of his staff shook their heads as well.
"Okay, you're all under information lockdown. There are raises for all of you if you keep quiet. Nobody is to say a word to anybody, got it?"
The members of his staff nodded their understanding.
Donald closed up the box, returned to his office, and shut the door. He had to think about this.
Donald drove to the appointed address, a briefcase resting on the car seat next to him. It did not contain twenty million dollars. He didn't have that much. He did have enough hundred dollar bills wrapped around stacks of one-dollar bills that if the contents were not carefully inspected, it would pass for twenty million dollars.
He hadn't told his producer because she would freak if she knew he was putting himself in this much danger and probably call the cops herself. Yes, it was a big risk, but the story potential was immeasurable. And he didn't think he was dealing with criminal geniuses, or else they would've mailed the arm to Project Second Chance, not him. Then again, they were the kind of sadistic bastards who would cut off somebody's arm, so he had to be careful.
He spoke into his handheld recorder as he drove. "If these are the last words I speak, I want the world to know that I died to save a truly great American…"
He pulled into the driveway of a small, decrepit home. It was about ten minutes until midnight.
A couple of minutes after midnight, a man approached the car, pointing a gun. "Come out with the money," he said.
Donald picked up the suitcase and got out of the car. "I'm unarmed," he lied.
The man grinned. "So is Mr. Corpse."
"Funny. Where is he?"
"How do I know that?"
The man gestured at him with the gun. "Put the suitcase on the car and open it, slowly."
Donald set the suitcase down and popped the lid.
"I said slowly!"
"That was slowly."
Donald very slowly opened the lid, revealing the bills inside. He picked up the stack on the upper right corner, flipped through it, and extended it to the man. "Do you want to count 'em all?"
"Damn, that's a lot of bills. Why didn't you use thousand-dollar bills?"
"Because they don't exist."
"Sure they do."
"No, actually, they don't."
The man grabbed the stack of bills from Donald, flipped through it, and handed it back. "Is that the twenty million?"
"No. Twenty million dollars would be two hundred thousand bills, which is unlikely to fit in this suitcase. This is two million. You get the rest when I see Stanley." Donald replaced the stack, one of six that was entirely made up of hundreds, and closed the suitcase.
"That wasn't the deal."
"The deal was vague."
The man seemed to be thinking about whether it might be worth it to just take the two million and run, so Donald spoke up. "You take me to get Stanley, and then the three of us can go to where the rest of the money is hidden."
"How do I know there aren't cops there?"
"If a cop shows up, you can shoot me."
The man considered that. "Fair enough."
"Should I ride with you, or just follow you?"
"You can ride in my trunk."
Donald sighed. "All right. Let's go."
Donald looked horrified as Tom shoved him into the room. "My God, Stanley, what did they do to you?"
"Shot me in the head, sawed my arm off, let rats nibble on me…but at least there was no mental torture."
"Glad to see you've kept your sense of humor."
"Enough talk," said Tom. "Hugh, get the corpse guy up and let's get them out to the car. Mandigan, you're going to help carry."
"Stop shoving," said Stanley.
"I'm not shoving, I'm being jostled. It's not my fault he can't drive."
The trunk was not built for two, even with Stanley taking up less room thanks to his missing arm. Donald had protested the arrangement, but the gun that Tom pressed against his nose had apparently convinced him that the discomfort was worth it.
"Were you awake when they did it?" Donald asked.
"What do you think? Cut off your arm."
"Sort of. The bullet is still in my brain. It makes me go kinda loopy at times. You took good care of my arm, right?"
"I'm using it as a lamp."
"Were you always this funny?"
"No. I'm just trying to distract myself from the idea that they might open the trunk and riddle us with bullet holes. Ooops, didn't work."
"Your arm is in my refrigerator. It looks about as bad as it did before it came off."
"So why'd you come to get me?"
"No bond of friendship?"
"Nah. I always thought that you were kind of a jerk, to be honest."
"I tried not to be, and look where it got me."
"At least you'll only be able to flip people off half as often."
"Yeah, there's that."
"Don't worry, Stanley. We'll be okay. I've got a plan."
"Good plan or shitty plan?"
"Shitty plan, but that's better than no plan. I've got a gun."
"You mean the one that fell out when you got in the trunk?"
Stanley couldn't see Donald, but he was pretty sure that he wasn't wearing a smile.
"Are you serious?"
"I take it you don't have the rest of the money?"
"I didn't have the money they think they've already got. There's not anywhere close to two million in that suitcase. But I've got a sniper ready and waiting."
"What if they check the money?"
"I dunno, that seems like something they might be inclined to do."
Stanley still couldn't see Donald's expression, but he was pretty sure it continued to not be a smile. "Well, I hadn't intended to be riding in a trunk. I figured I could keep them from going through the money if I were actively talking to them."
"So we're screwed."
"No. They won't be pawing through a suitcase filled with money while they're driving and somebody could see."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sixty percent sure."
The car turned, slowed, and stopped.
"We've only been driving for fifteen minutes or so," said Donald. "It should've taken us half an hour."
"Maybe they stopped for a potty break."
"Okay, I have a really bad feeling about this all of a sudden," said Donald, his voice panicked.
"Do you want to use me as a shield if they start shooting?"
"No, seriously, I don't think this is good. Aw, Christ. What the hell was I thinking?"
The lid of the trunk opened. Tom had his gun pointed at them, and did not look happy.
"Get out," he said. "Slowly."
Stanley suddenly felt like he was going to vomit. Fear had a lot to do with it, but it was something more. His skin was starting to itch and burn.
Donald climbed out of the trunk and glanced around. "This isn't where I told you to-"
The gunshot cut him off. Donald dropped to the ground.
"Shit!" cried Stanley, pushing himself tightly against the back of the trunk as if that would protect him.
"Think you can screw me over?" said Tom, looking down. Stanley couldn't see Donald's body, but he assumed that it was in poor shape. Tom fired twice more, and then pointed the gun at Stanley. "Get out."
The itching and burning was almost unbearable. He tried to push himself up…and then his arm gave way, folding underneath him.
He let out a squeal.
"I said, get out!" Tom shouted, as Hugh walked up beside him.
"I'm…I'm having a problem here…"
Tom stomped over to the trunk, reached inside, grabbed Stanley by the collar, and pulled him forward. "Your buddy just cost you, big time," he said.
Working together, Tom and Hugh dragged Stanley out of the trunk. He fell onto the ground, feeling his ass cheek flatten underneath him more than it should have. They were behind a warehouse, or at least something that looked like it might be a warehouse from behind.
Donald lay on the ground in a pool of blood, unquestionably dead.
"It wasn't my fault," Stanley insisted. "You can still get the rest of your money!"
"So you can screw us over again? I don't think so!"
"I wasn't involved in the screwing!"
"We're just gonna sell you off in parts," said Tom. "Probably worth big bucks that way. Should've kept the other arm."
"C'mon, let's be reasonable!"
"Let's not." Tom pointed the gun at Stanley.
Stanley instinctively threw his arm in front of his face to protect himself. His arm stretched out to about twice its length, smacking Tom in the face.
Tom, Hugh, and Stanley all gaped in surprise.
"What the hell was that?" Tom demanded.
Stanley threw another extended punch, this one striking Tom in the nose. It wasn't a particularly hard blow, but the second hit surprised Tom just as much as the first, and he stumbled backwards.
Stanley pulled on his right leg. It stretched like it was made of elastic and popped free of the rope.
Tom fired the gun. The bullet struck Stanley in the chest. Though he'd rather not have been shot, the pain was a welcome distraction from the itching and burning.
He threw another stretchy punch at Hugh, missing by a few inches. Hugh grabbed his hand in a panic and tugged, pulling Stanley to his extremely wobbly feet.
"He's fuckin' Plastic Man!" Hugh shouted.
Stanley got him with a stretchy kick to the groin. Hugh howled and doubled over in pain.
Stanley wanted to say something intimidating, but his jaw wasn't working right. It kind of felt like it was hanging free.
Tom shot him again.
Stanley threw a punch his way. Again, this one didn't hit with much force, but what it lacked in power it made up for with the fact that Stanley's extended index finger got Tom right in the eye and sunk deep.
Tom let out a wail that more than matched Hugh's howl.
Stanley tried to pull his finger free, but it was stuck. His legs gave way beneath him and he dropped to the ground, one of them sticking up at a strange angle.
Hugh turned and ran.
Tom fell to his knees, bellowing.
Stanley felt something slimy trickling down his cheek and realized that Tom wasn't the only one with eyeball issues. Stanley was staring at Tom with his good eye and at the ground with the eye that was slipping out of its socket. He passed out pretty quickly after that.
Stanley awoke to find himself staring into the eyes of heaven.
Well, Veronica, anyway. Close enough.
He was back in his old bed in the bunker, underneath the fluffy pink blanket. Veronica and Martin were each seated on opposite sides of the bed. Brant stood against the far wall, speaking to Dr. Arnzin.
"Stanley, can you hear me?" asked Veronica.
"Yeah." Stanley wiggled his feet. They seemed to be more or less normal. He touched his forehead and found only a small dent there, like a dimple on a golf ball.
His left arm was still gone.
"Donald, is he…?" Stanley trailed off, already knowing the answer.
Veronica nodded sadly. "The funeral was yesterday."
"It's the way he would have wanted to go, I think: Top news story."
Stanley closed his eyes. "It's all my fault."
"It's not your fault. He was stupid. At least that's what the kidnappers said."
"Did they catch them?"
"Can we cut off their arms?"
"No, probably not."
Stanley opened his eyes. "I'm so sorry about all this. I just went nutzo, I guess."
"Why?" Veronica asked. "I don't understand what made you do that."
Stanley looked over at Brant, who was eyeing him intently. He returned his attention to Veronica. "I don't know, either. Probably stress."
"You need to get some more rest," said Veronica. "They've fixed you up pretty well, but you're still not one hundred percent."
"We did get the bullets out of you, though," said Dr. Arnzin, approaching the bed. "You're a much better patient when you're unconscious."
"The one in my brain, too?"
"Good." Stanley sighed. "I don't suppose there's anything you can do about my arm, huh?"
Dr. Arnzin frowned. "No. I'm sorry. I could sew it back on, of course, but it would just flop around."
"You can't do a ritual or something?"
"Nothing. I guess I deserve this."
"We'll fit you for an artificial arm. They're actually better than the real thing." Dr. Arnzin patted Stanley's remaining arm. "I envy you this opportunity."
"Whatever." Stanley looked over at Martin. "I'm sorry. You were right. You forgive me, don't you?"
"For being a complete reckless idiot and getting an innocent man killed?"
"Uh, yeah. That."
Martin shook his head. "Not yet. Ask me later."
"All right, everyone, Stanley needs his rest," said Brant. "Please excuse us so I can have a few words with him."
"No," said Stanley.
"I beg your pardon?"
"No. I'm not going to be alone with you."
"Is that so?"
They stared at each other for a moment. Then Brant shrugged. "As you wish. Anyway, we're glad to see that you're more or less back to normal. It took a lot of special injections. I hope you appreciate it. Maybe next time you'll behave yourself, hmm?"
Stanley had every intention of behaving himself, but didn't want to give Brant the satisfaction of knowing this, so he didn't respond.
Brant left the room with Dr. Arnzin.
"What kind of special injections?" asked Stanley.
"I'm not sure," Veronica admitted. "Not my department. Oh, by the way, somehow the bunker's location got leaked, and you have a lot of fans who are worried about you. There's quite a crowd out there."
"I still have fans? This wasn't a PR disaster?"
"Stanley, this was a PR disaster beyond anything you can imagine. People think you've gone mentally ill. But don't worry about it for now. For now, get some rest."
"You know, while I was locked up in that room I thought of the rest of the states and their capitals."
"No. But I did think of you flashing me."
"I'm glad you're back, Stanley," said Veronica. "Sleep tight."
She left the room.
"You're really pissed, aren't you?" asked Stanley.
"Yes. But I'm here."
"Y'know, I'm madly in love with Veronica, but you can woo her yourself if you want. How about that?"
"That implies that I was worried about competition from a one-armed zombie."
"A rich one-armed zombie."
"Go to sleep, Stanley. I'll be here to make sure that Brant doesn't kill you. I'm sure he wants to."
"You're a good friend, Martin."
"I know. Shut up."
Stanley sat in Dr. Arnzin's office. Physically he felt fine. Mentally, he was still not up to par, and he'd woken up screaming in the middle of the night.
"Everything looks good," said Dr. Arnzin, shining his penlight into Stanley's right eye. "You know, not many people can take a bullet to the forehead and be back to normal the next week."
"Yeah, yeah, it's a gift. So what's up with my injections?"
"They keep you alive."
"Duh. What's in them?"
"A series of chemicals. Long names that I can't even pronounce. I don't synthesize them, I just put them in you."
He saw Dr. Arnzin flinch, just a bit.
"That might be part of it."
"So you know?"
"Yes. And I know that you know. But I wasn't supposed to know that you…ah, if we continue this conversation we'll get into that old joke about me knowing what you know but you're not supposed to know that I know that you know, so let's say that we both know and drop it."
"Where do you get the blood?"
"Where does Brant get the blood?"
"I don't know." Dr. Arnzin fidgeted nervously. "Listen, Stanley, you don't think less of me, right? I'm still a real doctor. I did yank bullets out of you."
"You have my utmost respect," Stanley assured him. "But I have to know what's going on."
"He's not murdering virgins, if that's what you mean."
"Then what's he doing?"
"I don't know."
"Then how do you know he's not murdering virgins?"
"Because that would be wrong."
"Doc, you've got to help me. This is important."
"No, what's important is for you to relax and not concern yourself with things like that right now. You've had a traumatic experience. Mr. Corpse needs to get all better."
Stanley decided to drop it for now, but he wasn't convinced. "Yeah, you're right. Thanks for digging the bullet out of my brain."
"Veronica, I need you to do me a huge favor," said Stanley. She sat at her desk, eating lunch while typing on her laptop. Brant had gone out, fighting his way through the crowd that Stanley had yet to face.
"I'm pretty sure you owe me a lot more favors than I owe you," said Veronica.
"I know, and I'll make them all up to you. But I have to know where my injections are coming from."
"Because I think it's something bad."
"I can't tell you that."
"I think you should."
"Okay, look, I just need to get inside the lab."
"Stanley, do you know why unauthorized personnel aren't allowed inside the lab?"
"Because it contains a dark secret."
"No, because it contains hazardous chemicals. Decontamination suit-type stuff. I'm not about to let you inside there so you can blow us all up."
"I'm not going to blow anybody up," Stanley insisted. "You've got to trust me."
"And what part of your behavior over the past couple of weeks leads you to believe that I consider you trustworthy?"
Stanley sighed. "I understand. I just think something really bad is going on, and I want to see it for myself."
"Suppose I did want to help you. I don't have access to the lab."
"I know. I thought you could get a hold of Brant's badge."
"Ummmm…maybe seduce him?"
"I don't mean sleep with him or do it against the wall or anything. I just mean to pretend to be attracted to him. Use your womanly charms."
"It won't work."
"Sure it will. If there's anybody in this world who needs a boner, it's Brant. Just bat your eyes, brush against him, maybe call him a stud muffin or something. You'll have the badge in no time."
"You really expect me to put my job at risk like that?"
"It won't work."
"Yes, it will."
"No, it won't."
"Because he knows I'm a lesbian."
Stanley started to say something, but decided that he needed a long moment to reflect upon that last comment. "You're what?"
"You heard me," said Veronica, obviously wishing that she hadn't blurted out that particular revelation.
"A practicing lesbian?"
"I don't want to talk about it. Quite frankly it's none of your business."
"So, not only am I a grotesque partially dismembered zombie, but I'm the wrong gender. That really solidly fucks up any chance of a relationship between us, doesn't it?"
"Stanley, no offense, but you could look like Jennifer Garner and I wouldn't date you."
"It was meant to."
"Wow. So, back to the badge thing. Do you think you could pretend you were cured?"
"Bad suggestion, bad suggestion, I know. So do you have a girlfriend?"
"I don't discuss my personal life with clients."
"Oh, c'mon. I'm more than a client. Is she hot?"
"Of course she's hot."
"Fingers or tongue?"
"Okay, no, we are not getting into my sex life, not even in jest."
"Why not?" Stanley protested. "Why can't I be interested in your homosexuality? I think we should share more intimate details with each other. You go first."
"Yeah, right. I'm going to share my personal life with a chauvinist pig who gets off on the idea of two women going at it."
"So you do go at it?"
"Five more minutes?"
"Enough! This is exactly why I don't share these kinds of things with you."
"There are more of those kinds of things to share?"
She smacked him on the shoulder.
"Ow! There was genuine malice behind that!"
"No, genuine malice would be to smack you on the shoulder that no longer had an arm."
"You're right. That would be mean. Okay, forget the idea about flashing your goodies at Brant. I just need to see what's in the lab. Anything you could do, whether it's distracting him or bashing him over the head with a lead pipe would be hugely appreciated."
Veronica traced her finger across her chin. "You're really serious, aren't you?"
"I'll see what I can do."
"That's all I can ask. Well, and to see videos. Can I see videos?"
She smacked him again.
Stanley sat on his bed. Though the first twenty minutes of his conversation with Martin had focused on Veronica's sexual orientation, they'd finally moved on to the subject of the lab.
"I don't get it. Why do you need to know so bad?"
"I just do," said Stanley.
"Not good enough."
Stanley hesitated. "What if I were to tell you that I'm not a scientific miracle?"
"I'd say, no kidding."
Stanley leaned forward, eyes wide with surprise. "So you know?"
"Maybe we're talking about something else. I was referring to you being a miracle. It was kind of an insult."
"Science had nothing to do with my return. It was witchcraft."
"What an odd thing to say."
"I mean it! Brant told me! I was brought back to life through rituals and virgin blood and shit like that!"
"And you believed him?"
"Yeah, I believed him!"
"That just seems like a concept you might want to take with a rather large grain of salt."
"I know it sounds far-fetched, but I have to get in there to find out for sure. Veronica is going to try to get the badge for me. At least she said she'll see what she can do. That probably meant no. In fact, I'm sure it meant no. She'd have to be a complete idiot to go along with this. I shouldn't have asked. I suck."
"Why be subtle about it?" Martin asked.
"What do you mean?"
"If you want the badge, take it. Beat the shit out of him. What's he going to do, shoot you?"
"I hadn't quite thought of that approach."
"The question is this: could you handle the awkward situation of discovering that you were completely wrong?"
"I'd get over it eventually."
"Then let's do it!"
Stanley felt extremely nervous, which he blamed on the fact that he was planning to physically threaten the man who was responsible for his well-being. Lots of ways that could turn out bad. But he had to see what was in the lab, even if it just turned out to be a shelf filled with jars labeled "Virgin Blood – Do Not Gargle."
Martin was kicking his ass at the boxing video game, but of course Stanley had other things on his mind and (even more importantly) only one arm. Hell, you practically needed four arms to manipulate the kinds of controllers they had on video games these days, so Stanley was not embarrassed by his brutal trouncing.
They were the only ones in the bunker. Veronica and Dr. Arnzin had gone home for the weekend, and Brant had gone out to take care of "extremely important matters" related to Stanley's "abhorrent behavior" and "irresponsible, reckless attitude" but that he hoped Stanley had an enjoyable time "wasting his life" playing that "crap."
But Brant would be back. And Stanley and Martin would be ready for him.
Actually, they weren't really ready at all. Having a gun would've been a really great point in their favor, but they weren't allowed to leave the bunker. Well, Martin was, with the warning that if he left, he wouldn't be allowed to return until things calmed down. And they wouldn't have been able to smuggle a gun past the metal detectors anyway, so they sat in Stanley's room, playing video games, gunless.
He did have a bottle of hair spray that could be used as a bludgeoning weapon, and a video game system that could be used as a projectile, but they'd decided to rely on their own brute strength if Brant failed to cooperate. Though neither Stanley nor Martin were exactly fearsome physical threats, Brant wasn't particularly intimidating, either. If they couldn't overpower a fifty-year-old scientist with a rod up his butt, they didn't deserve to know what was in the lab.
"I'm getting that phantom itch again," said Stanley, setting down his game controller and scratching the air where his arm used to be.
"What does it feel like?"
"It's weird. It feels like it's right in my middle finger, like my arm is bent upward and I'm flipping somebody off. What's disturbing about it is that I think maybe somebody has my arm and they're playing around with it and flipping off their buddies."
"I hope you're wrong."
"Me too." Stanley scratched at the itch again. "You don't really think Donald's death was my fault, do you?"
"You don't seem sure."
"Well, I'm not sure. I mean, he died trying to save you. It was just to further his career because he was a sleazy opportunistic bastard, but still, you put him in that situation."
"Technically, the crackheads who kidnapped me put me in that situation. They could've grabbed me while I was on my way to the store for a quart of milk."
"But you weren't buying milk."
"I was out trying to save people," Stanley said, trying not to get defensive.
"I know. That's why I'm not throwing any guilt trips on you."
"You just did!"
"You asked a question! Stop asking questions!"
There was a knock at the door.
"C'mon in," Stanley called out.
Brant opened the door. "I'm just letting you know that I'm back."
"Thanks, sweetie. Do you want me to rub your feet while you tell me about your day?"
"Your fan club has grown. I don't mind telling you that they're very frightening people. A few of them were even wearing makeup to look like you."
"That's pretty cool. Maybe I'll start a whole trend of Mr. Corpse impersonators. Then it will end in tragedy when there's a mass arm-severing. That would be an interesting fad, don't you think?"
Brant raised an eyebrow. "Are you uncomfortable about something?"
"You're babbling even more incoherently than usual."
"Nope. Just bummed about my arm."
Brant gestured to the television. "Well, I'll leave you two alone to enjoy your mental stimulation."
"Hey, Brant, can we see the lab?"
"I don't think so."
Stanley and Martin got to their feet. "Are you sure?" Stanley asked. "Because I'd really love to see what's inside there."
"It's hazardous materials, as you most certainly are aware. Why do you think we're in an underground bunker?"
"Not sure I believe you, Brant."
"I don't care if you believe me or not. I'm certainly not going to put our lives at risk to satisfy your curiosity."
Stanley and Martin took a step forward. "I'm not sure you have a choice," said Stanley.
"If I weren't an optimist who believes that there are limits to even your stupidity, I'd think that you were threatening me."
"Is that what you think?"
"No, because you couldn't possibly be that much of an idiot, even after being shot in the head."
"I want you to show me the fuckin' lab," said Stanley. "Now."
"See, Stanley, your overuse of profanity has diluted its impact. I'm not intimidated at all. Martin, I thought you were the reasonable member of your duo. That's why I've allowed you to stick around. Now, I'd advise both of you to sit back down, return to your fun little video games, and leave the intimidation tactics to people who are actually intimidating."
"Get him!" Stanley shouted.
They both rushed forward. Martin reached the doorway first, and received a punch to the jaw that knocked him all the way across the room and against Stanley's bed.
Stanley took a split second to admit to himself that while he wasn't happy to have seen it happen, it was a pretty damn impressive punch. Then he tackled Brant and both of them fell to the floor.
Brant punched him in the face so hard that Stanley swore his teeth rattled, his eyes spun in their sockets, his not-quite-a-nose bounced against the back of his head, and his hair rustled in the breeze created by Brant's mighty blow.
"Jeez! How often do you work out?" Stanley asked.
"Every day," Brant replied, delivering another punch. Stanley was glad he didn't have any blood, because it would be spraying all over.
Stanley tried to hit Brant back and was embarrassed by his own effort. Brant's third punch was even harder than the first two, and Stanley decided that he didn't want to fight anymore.
"Okay, okay! I quit!" Stanley said, climbing off of Brant. "Truce!"
Brant stood up, wiped off his shirt, and then grabbed Stanley by the neck and slammed him against the wall. "We have a real problem here, Stanley. What do you suggest we do about it?"
"Blame my head injury?"
"I don't think so." Brant shoved Stanley back into the bedroom. Stanley stumbled and then fell on his butt, landing on the video game system and almost giving himself an unwanted sexual experience.
Brant calmly shut the door, leaving Stanley and Martin inside. Stanley cursed as he heard it lock, then got up and sighed.
"That was really pathetic," Stanley admitted. "We got beat up by a shriveled old geezer."
"He's not shriveled," said Martin, sitting on the bed and massaging his cheek. "He actually looks really fit."
"Yeah, but I was out there beating up street thugs! How does somebody like Brant get the best of me?"
"You weren't beating up street thugs. You were making scary zombie faces at them and freaking them out when they shot you and you didn't die. Two of them kidnapped you and sawed off your arm."
"But still, I think something weird is going on."
"You also got beat up by that ice cream man that one time when he accused you of not paying for the drumstick."
"I did pay for it."
"I know. But he beat you up and you paid for it again."
"Still, maybe he's on steroids or something."
"Stanley? Give it up. He beat us because we suck."
"You suck more. When I conceived this plan I didn't think you were such a weenie! One punch and you were out! It took three punches for me to give up!"
Martin glared at him. "I might also point out that the plan involved things like lulling him into a false sense of security, following him out of the room, and tackling him by surprise. I'm pretty sure the plan was never to just run at him like a pair of jackass football players."
"You were nothing like a football player."
"Don't blame this on me, Stanley. I wanted to get him in a gunny sack."
"We don't have any gunny sacks! I don't think they even make gunny sacks anymore!"
"Then I said, how about a pillowcase over his head? A pillowcase would've worked. But no, you said, let's wing it. Let's wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. How did the perfect opportunity to strike suddenly become you shouting 'Get him!' when he was standing in the doorway?"
"Everything's always my fault, isn't it?"
Martin nodded vigorously.
"Well, you can sit there all night and play the blame game, but I'm going to do some forward-thinking and figure out a way out of here."
"Like what? Chew through the wall?"
"At least that would be more productive than standing around here complaining!"
"No, if you want to get technical about it, trying to chew through the wall would be equally productive to standing around here complaining."
Stanley kicked the video game system. "That's it! You're fired!"
"Everything! You're fired from everything!"
"Fine! Fire me!"
"I just did!"
"Glad you approve!"
"You know, Stanley, I've been your loyal friend for a long time. Somebody like you just cries out for fair-weather friends, but I've been your friend through every kind of weather there is. And do you know why that is? Do you know why I've stuck with you, through thick and thin, all of these years?"
"Because I'm a fuckin' idiot!" Martin smacked himself on the side of the head three times. "Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! What the hell was I thinking? You suck!"
"I don't suck."
"You do! You're, like, the devil! You're the worst thing that's ever happened to me! If I'd never met you, I'd have a real job and self-respect and occasional moments of happiness! You're this incredible moron who somehow convinced himself that he's a genius even though to be a genius you have to possess some sort of actual intelligence! You're like this…this…this cloud of foul, black evil that's ruining the world! You're the worst person who has ever lived in the entire history of mankind! You suck so much that if Carl Sagan were alive he couldn't even quantify it! Why the hell have I been hanging out with you all this time? What bugs are squirming around in my brain to mess with my thought processes so much that I thought you were a good choice of a friend?" He smacked himself twice more. "Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! Fuck you, Stanley! Fuck you with a goat! Fuck you with a…a…wide-screen television! Fuck you with a moose head!"
The door opened.
"I'm not done yet!" Martin shouted, not taking his eyes off Stanley. "Fuck you with a branding iron! With a calendar! With a beehive! With a-"
"Martin, I think Brant wants to say something."
"With a cannibal! With a goat!"
"You already used the goat," said Stanley, calmly. "How about we discuss this later, when you're feeling, uh, different?"
Martin sat down on the bed and buried his face in his hands.
"You let out a lot of interesting emotions," said Stanley. "We'll delve into them, I promise."
"Did I miss something?" Brant asked.
"No, no, he just…aw, crud." Stanley's spirits sank even further as he saw that Brant was holding the dart gun. "Are you going to execute me?"
"That all depends on you."
Martin lifted his head. "What is that?"
"The darts have an anti-Stanley formula," Stanley explained. "It'll boil my body from the inside out. If you ask nicely he'll probably let you shoot me."
Brant chuckled. "It sounds to me like we could both get a lot of pleasure out of pulling the trigger simultaneously. But, alas, the Sinister Mr. Corpse is still useful to me. So we have to figure out what to do about this little problem. If I ignore it, next you'll come after me with a gun, or at least come up with a plan that isn't completely asinine. That leaves only punishment. I've punished you before and it didn't work. So I have to try something even more extreme."
"You're going to chop off my other arm, aren't you?"
"No. I'm glad you remembered the effect that the fluid in this dart would have on you. I never explained, however, that it does quite a number on regular humans as well."
With a cruel smile, Brant pointed the dart gun at Martin and pulled the trigger.
As soon as he saw Brant's hand move, Stanley leapt in front of his friend.
The dart struck Stanley in the belly. He stared at it for a moment and then plucked it out. It stung a bit, but it wasn't too-
A burst of excruciating pain tore through Stanley's stomach. He howled in agony and doubled over.
Oh shit, oh shit, I'm really gonna die this time!
He dropped to the floor and screamed as his stomach felt like it was being stuffed into a burning garbage disposal. The pain was so intense that his vision went black and he could do nothing but flail around and shriek.
"Stanley!" Brant sounded about a million miles away, but there did seem to be genuine concern in his voice.
Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow!
"Roll him over!" he heard somebody say. He thought it was Brant, but the voice was so distorted that it could have been Martin or even Sherman Hemsley. "Stanley, stop moving! Stop it!"
Stanley kept moving.
"Hold him down! I have to get it in the exact same spot! Stanley, goddamn it, do you want to die?"
Yes, Stanley thought. That would be lovely, thank you.
He screamed and screamed and screamed and sort of felt like he was being rolled over onto his back but he couldn't quite be certain and he screamed and screamed and screamed.
Then a gentle warmth flowed through his belly.
Ahhhhh…that must be my soul seeping out. Sweet, sweet death. This is gonna be awesome.
The warmth quickly flowed through his entire body, replacing the pain. Soon the agony was completely gone.
He opened his eyes. Brant and Martin were on top of him, staring at him.
"Hi," said Stanley.
"Antidote," Brant explained, holding up the needle. "You had me worried for a-"
Martin threw a vicious punch that struck Brant in the face, knocking him off Stanley. His head hit the floor and he lay there, unconscious.
"Wow," said Stanley. "Nice work."
"Thanks." Martin got up and extended a hand to Stanley. Stanley took it and Martin pulled him to his feet.
"Look," said Stanley, "I'm sorry that I made it so that you felt the need to say what you said before."
"You're only saying that because I jumped in front of the dart that was meant for you."
"No, I'm only saying that because I'm still a fuckin' idiot. Now let's go see what's in that lab."
They didn't have anything with which to tie Brant up, so they settled for locking him inside Stanley's bedroom. Then they hurried to the end of the hallway, turned the corner, and swiped Brant's badge in the card reader next to the door of the lab.
The reader beeped and Stanley opened the door, revealing a tile-floored room about the size of a classroom. The room was completely empty except for another door at the opposite end.
"Maybe the virgin blood's invisible," said Stanley.
They walked to the other door, which had a card reader, a keypad, and a small digital display. Stanley swiped the card. The reader beeped, and the display flashed "ENTER PASSCODE."
"Damn," said Stanley. "What do you think his favorite number is?"
"All right, I guess we'll have to beat it out of Brant. We'll take turns. Hopefully he won't tell us too quickly."
"We could try that, but I don't think I could handle the humiliation if he got the upper hand again."
"Yeah, you're right. Let's raid his office."
"Wake up, Mr. Sleepy," said Stanley, tapping the dart gun against Brant's nose.
Brant opened his eyes and groaned. "I never should've given you the antidote."
"No, probably not. Hopefully you've learned your lesson. Now tell me the code to the lab."
"Go to hell."
Stanley tapped him with the gun again. "The stuff in this dart hurt really bad. I don't know if it has the same effect on non-zombies, but you implied that it was a pretty unpleasant experience. We couldn't find any more antidote. Please tell us the code."
"You'll just have to shoot me."
"You think I'm bluffing, don't you?"
"Yes. Because if you kill me, you'll never get into the lab, and you'll never get any more of your injections, and you'll die."
Stanley thought about that. "Okay, I'll admit that you've got a pretty good theory about why I'd be bluffing. Lucky for us, we found a knife in your office."
Martin held up a blue pocketknife and snapped out the blade.
"It's not a very big one," Stanley explained, "but I think that if we stuck the blade under one of your fingernails and pushed really hard, you'd scream like a baby. Or at least a baby that was having a pocketknife blade shoved under its fingernails. Don't be that baby."
"I know that we don't trust each other," said Brant. "But please trust me when I say that you do not want to see inside the lab. I promise you, you will not be a happier person for it."
"I'll get over it."
"I doubt you will."
"Are you really going to make Martin do the fingernail thing?"
"I don't think Martin has it in him to do the fingernail thing."
"You just tried to kill Martin. He'll do the fingernail thing."
Martin gave Brant a look that indicated that he was not only willing to do the fingernail thing, but relished the opportunity.
"Very well," said Brant. "I'll take you inside."
Stanley kept the dart gun pointed at Brant's back as they walked into the empty room and over to the door of the lab. Brant typed in the code and the door clicked.
"Oh my God, you used your birthday for the passcode?" Stanley asked, incredulous. "Even I'm not that dumb!"
"That isn't my birthday."
"Oh. My bad. Did I miss your birthday?"
"Sorry. Open the door."
Brant slowly opened the door. The lab itself was slightly smaller than the room they were currently in, lit by several dozen flickering candles, and had the walls, floor, and ceiling covered with bizarre symbols.
A really bad song was playing.
A girl, perhaps eighteen or nineteen, was chained to the wall, naked except for a bra and panties. Her entire body was pale. Her eyes were open and her face was frozen in an expression of pure terror. The girl's skin had been flayed apart in several spots on her arms, legs, and stomach, and she had a couple of silver bowls at her feet to catch the blood.
A man who looked about fifty knelt on the floor, wearing only a pair of blue boxer shorts. He had some sort of weird symbol drawn in blood on his chest. He looked really annoyed to see Stanley, Brant, and Martin.
"Ferocity, ferocity, I ain't got no sanity," went the lyrics playing over the stereo.
"What the hell?" asked the man, standing up. "Rich, what the hell is this? What's he doing here?"
"Henry, just calm down," said Brant. "We have a bit of a problem here."
"Yeah, we have a problem! Dammit!" Henry walked over and shut off the stereo. He gestured to the girl. "Now she's no good to us. I've spent three days draining her for nothing. Why would you interrupt me?"
Stanley stared at the girl in horror. "Who is she?" he demanded.
"That would be the virgin."
"One of the virgins," Henry clarified.
"Be quiet!" Brant shouted. "What's the matter with you?"
"Hell, I figured you told him the whole story! Why else would you have brought him in here? I can't believe you interrupted my ritual with only five hours to go."
Stanley pointed the dart gun at Henry. "How many have there been?"
"Don't point that at me. I don't even want to be here. I could be at home with a cold beer right now."
"Just chill out, will you? I've got a headache and this last part of the ritual always makes my arm cramp up. Bug Rich with your questions, not me."
"How many?" Stanley asked Brant.
"Each victim, done properly, creates enough blood to sustain you for about a month."
"One a month? You kill one virgin a month?"
"And their families," said Henry. "The families are important."
"Oh my God."
"Plus a couple of them just didn't take."
"Enough!" Brant shouted.
"Hey, I didn't bring these guys in here. I figured the beans were already spilled."
"Let her go," said Stanley.
"Who? The chick on the wall?"
"Let her go now!"
Henry rolled his eyes. "She's not going to walk out of here humming a merry tune if I unchain her. She's pretty much dead already. It's really not a pleasant business, and by interrupting me, you made it so that it was all for nothing. Wasting virgins is not a nice thing to do."
Stanley desperately wanted to fire the dart into the back of Brant's head, and then shoot another one into that asshole Henry, but he kept himself under control. He only had one dart anyway.
"All right, both of you, put your hands behind your head and face the wall. Now!"
"Is he serious?" Henry asked Brant.
"Don't talk! And of course I'm serious! Move!"
Henry let out a deep sigh. "So are you slow or just stupid?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'll go with slow. I'm not kidnapping virgins, slaughtering their families, chaining them to walls, and draining their blood for seventy-two hours because it's how I get my kicks. I'm doing it so that the world's most famous zombie stays upright. That's how I make my living. If I quit doing this-and believe me, I've thought about it a million times, especially in moments like these-you die for good. So by preventing me from doing my job, you're essentially committing suicide. Which means that I've wasted all this time and effort, and that really annoys me."
"I said to get against the wall."
"No, you said to face the wall."
"Suicide. Su-i-cide. What makes this a difficult concept to grasp?"
Veronica's scream startled Stanley so much that he nearly pulled the trigger.
"Oh my God!" she screamed. "What is going on in here?"
"This could take a while," Stanley admitted, not looking back at her. "I'm still really stressed and won't do a good job telling it."
"Who is she?" Veronica asked, sounding as if she might hyperventilate. "Who is he? What is this?"
"Black magic ritual," said Martin, helpfully.
"Y'know, Veronica, I'm always happy to see you," said Stanley, "but this is actually pretty bad timing. If you could maybe step out of the room and find something else to do for a while, I'll get you all caught up once this is resolved."
"Brant, what's going on?" Veronica asked.
"Stanley promised to explain everything," said Brant. "I think you should leave now."
Brant turned around. "Veronica, get out!"
Brant's outburst distracted Stanley for only a second, but it was long enough. He suddenly realized that Henry had a knife (where had that come from?), and then an instant later the knife was flying toward him.
The knife slammed into Stanley's throat as his finger tightened on the trigger.
Veronica screamed as Stanley stumbled backwards, gasping for air that he didn't need. Henry stared down at the dart protruding from his right leg. "Aw, shit!"
Brant spun around and pushed Martin out of the way. He barreled past Veronica as he ran through the doorway. Martin went after him.
Stanley dropped the gun and yanked the knife out of his throat as Henry plucked the dart out of his leg. Henry let out a cry of rage, held the dart over his head like a knife, and then rushed at Stanley.
Stanley flung the knife at him. It struck Henry's shoulder and he let out a grunt of pain, dropping the dart. He wrenched it out and threw it back at Stanley, getting him in the neck a second time.
"Son of a bitch!" cried Stanley, surprised that he could still speak. He pulled out the knife, touched the twin holes in his neck, and then threw the knife at Henry, hitting him in the other shoulder.
"Bastard!" Henry pulled out the knife, and a gout of thick black blood squirted out. "Brant! Antidote! Quick!"
"He's long gone," Stanley informed him.
Henry reached down and picked up the dart. "You'd better hope there isn't any left in here!" he said, just before a high heeled shoe struck him in the side of the head. The dart fell out of his hand. "Crap!"
Stanley rushed at him. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Veronica pulling off her other shoe. Stanley's outstretched arm struck Henry's chest, sinking into the flesh just a bit and causing an additional squirt of black blood to come out of each of his shoulder wounds.
Henry punched Stanley in the face, but his fist exploded on impact and did little damage.
Veronica's other shoe struck Henry in the side of the head. The heel passed through his skull, accompanied by a geyser of black blood, and Henry dropped to his knees. Upon hitting the floor, his knees exploded much as his hand did.
Blood began to stream from his ears and nose. Henry looked up at Stanley, a pleading expression on his face. "I…I need you to do something for me…"
Henry coughed, and blood jettisoned from at least four different openings on his body. "Make sure…make sure my single gets some airplay…"
He fell over and leaked some more.
"See if you can do anything for the girl," Stanley told Veronica. "I'm going after Brant."
Martin lay on the floor in the empty room, rubbing his jaw. Stanley started to make a sarcastic comment, but decided against it and hurried out into the hallway.
"Give it up, Brant!" he shouted. "There's no escape!"
Actually, Stanley figured there were plenty of escape routes, but he hoped to diminish Brant's morale. He rushed around the corner. No sign of the lying scumbag indirect-virgin-killer.
"Listen, Brant-" said Stanley, and then he hesitated. He wasn't sure if he'd get a better response by saying that he was going to tell the world about what was really going on, or that he wasn't going to tell the world.
Actually, he hadn't quite decided if he was going to tell or not. He couldn't very well let Brant go on having people killed, but the idea of melting away into nothingness was somewhat less than appealing.
"Listen, Brant, I'm not going to tell anybody!" Stanley shouted. "There has to be an alternative!"
He stopped and listened for Brant's reaction. He assumed that it wouldn't be "Goodness! Now that you mention it, I can keep you alive simply by spraying Windex on you every couple of days!" but there had to be some other way, right?
Brant was silent.
"Yo! Brant! We need to talk this out!"
Martin stepped into the hallway, still rubbing his jaw. "Did you catch him?"
"Does it look like I caught him?"
"See, you wonder why I said all those things and yet you-"
"Not the best time, Martin. I'm gonna try the main exit, you start checking rooms."
Stanley ran down the hallway. In theory, Brant couldn't have gotten out without his badge, so hopefully he'd realize that they all needed to have a nice long chat about the current situation. Stanley really hoped that he didn't have another melt-dart stashed away somewhere.
He reached the exit door. Still locked, and no sign of Brant.
It only took about five minutes to do a quick search of the bunker. Brant was nowhere to be found. Stanley and Martin returned to the lab (which, admittedly, didn't quite fit the dictionary definition of "lab," but he wasn't quite up to calling it the "slaughterhouse" yet) where Veronica stood next to the girl.
"There's no key to the chains," Veronica explained. "She doesn't seem to understand anything I'm saying. I pulled out the tubes but I'm not sure what else to do."
"There may not be anything else to do," said Stanley, sadly. "Brant's gone. We need to get a doctor in here to take care of her, as soon as possible."
"No. He's not a real doctor. I mean, he yanked those bullets out of me, but he's not a real doctor. Call 911."
Veronica nodded and turned to leave, then hesitated. "You're sure? I mean, of course we need to do something about this, but you're sure, right?"
"I'm sure. Pretty sure. It would be wrong and evil not to be sure, right?"
"I don't know. To be honest, right now I'm very confused."
"I think we're all a little confused."
"I'm the most confused," said Martin.
"All right, here's what we'll do. Veronica, you stay here and watch over the girl. Martin, you call an ambulance. I'm going outside to see if I can catch up to Brant."
"You have a mob waiting for you," said Veronica. "I'll go after him."
"No, he could be dangerous. I'm not putting anybody else at risk. I'll be fine."
Veronica nodded and tossed him her badge.
"Not your best picture, is it?" asked Stanley.
Stanley hurried out of the lab and to the exit. He swiped Veronica's badge, opened the door, and climbed the ladder that led to the surface. He threw open the trapdoor and then very hesitantly peeked his head out, expecting Brant to perhaps try to run him over with a lawnmower or something.
Brant's car and Veronica's car were parked in the warehouse. Aside from that, it was empty.
Stanley climbed out all the way and did a quick peek in each vehicle to make sure Brant wasn't hiding there. Then he ran to the exit, swiped Veronica's badge, threw open the door and gasped.
The area around the warehouse was cordoned off with orange-and-white barriers, but there was a huge crowd right outside of them. A few of them pointed excitedly at Stanley. Those who were seated quickly got to their feet as the crowd as a whole roared to life.
There had to be at least two hundred people. None of them seemed to be carrying torches, pitchforks, or tar-and-feathering supplies, but Stanley still didn't feel that his personal safety was particularly secure.
"He is here!" somebody in the front shouted into a megaphone. "Everybody, remain calm! Do not let the sounds of our excitement drown out His words!"
Stanley couldn't believe it. It was that whacko who'd shot him! "Charlie…?"
"He remembers me! Our Savior recalls my name! Oh, I am truly blessed this day!"
"What's up with your speech patterns?"
"New speech for a new life! We await your words, Savior!"
Stanley cleared his throat. "Has anybody-?"
"We can't hear you!" shouted somebody near the back.
"Please, Savior, take my megaphone, so that it might amplify your words!" Charlie stepped past the barrier and handed the megaphone to Stanley.
"Is this better?" Stanley asked, his voice booming.
There was general murmur of assent from the crowd.
"Did anybody see a man come out of here? Older guy, gray hair, goatee? Walks like he has a rod up his butt?"
The crowd collectively shook its head.
"Okay, thanks." Stanley lowered the megaphone.
"Speak to us!" shouted Charlie.
"Don't shout. You're right next to me."
"I apologize, Savior! My enthusiasm for your return is-"
"Charlie, get the fuck back on the other side of the line."
"I will immediately, Savior!" Charlie hurried past the barrier.
"Listen, all of you, I really appreciate your support. Without my fans, I'm nothing. But things in my life are a little screwy these days, and I'm not completely sure what's going to happen to me, so I need to share some stuff with you."
"Yes! Share your wisdom!" Charlie shouted.
"Charlie? This is your last warning. I'll send your ass to the back. Anyway, the first thing I want to say is, don't use me as a role model. I suck. All of us celebrities suck. And try not to…" Stanley trailed off. "Have you been calling me Savior?"
Stanley took a couple of moments to fully process that piece of information. "Okay, now that is creepy and messed up!"
"You are our only hope!"
"If you say I'm part of any ancient prophecies, I'm going to knock you out with this megaphone. Look, I encourage all of you to be religious, but don't be a whack-job about it. Don't worship defective glass or stains on building, don't say dumb shit about God creating hurricanes to wipe out homosexuals, and don't worship zombies. At least not this zombie. I'm not the scientific miracle you all believe I am."
"I knew it!" shouted a woman in the front row. "It's goddamn makeup!"
"No, no, I'm a zombie!" Stanley insisted. "But Project Second Chance is doing some horrible things. They're killing people. And now that I know about it, I can't let it keep happening."
"Project Second Chance is giving the greatest gift in the history of mankind," shouted Brant, emerging from around the corner of the warehouse. "All of you here today, you're the strongest supporters of Mr. Corpse, are you not?"
The crowd cheered.
"And you're the ones most worthy of our gift, right?"
The crowd cheered again.
"Don't listen to him!" Stanley said into the megaphone. "Project Second Chance is bad! All bad!"
"Stanley Dabernath was given the gift of eternal life," said Brant. "The chemicals that we synthesized will keep his flesh alive forever. But you, the truly loyal fans, should know this: what gives him eternal life can also give you eternal life. The formula in his veins will sustain you just as it sustains him."
"What exactly are you getting at?" asked Charlie.
"Do you want eternal life? All of you?"
The crowd shouted its approval of the idea of receiving eternal life.
"Then eat Mr. Corpse!"
Stanley dropped the megaphone. This had soooooooo much potential to be unpleasant.
The crowd stared at him.
"He's lying!" Stanley shouted. "That's not the truth at all! I was brought back by witchcraft!"
There was not a lot of time available for solemn reflection, but Stanley did take a split second to consider that perhaps the whole supernatural element was something that the crowd needed to be eased into.
"Eat him!" Brant repeated.
The crowd just stood there, looking collectively baffled.
"It's a lie!" Stanley insisted. "If you eat me you'll just be a cannibal! And that's shameful! Nobody likes cannibals!"
"Eternal life!" Brant shouted.
Charlie stepped forward. "Yes, eternal life!"
The crowd surged forth, mouths open.
Stanley turned back toward the structure and fled. He didn't have far to run, but Brant intercepted him and delivered yet another one of those manly punches. Brant grabbed Stanley by the shirt collar and shoved him toward the oncoming hungry crowd.
"Fuuuuuuuuck!" he shouted.
And then he was caught in a swarm of bodies. Fingernails dug into his arm. A set of teeth bit down upon his leg.
Though the crowd was making too much noise for this to be true, Stanley was sure he heard Brant's cold, cruel laughter.
Stanley screamed and kicked and flailed around, but he couldn't get away from all these people. Charlie bit down on his arm, hard, ripping off a thin strip of flesh. A young woman grabbed it from between his teeth and shoved it into her own mouth as Charlie wailed in protest.
He kicked, getting a little kid (shit, he's not even out of elementary school!) in the face. Stanley's shirt ripped in half and within seconds had vanished from his body. He felt at least four different sets of teeth on his arm, and somebody bit down on his thumb almost, but not quite, hard enough to sever it.
"Please!" he begged.
His thumb came off.
What was going to happen to him when there was no flesh left? Would he actually become the skeleton from the posters? Would he still be alive?
An elderly woman thrust her face toward his eyeball, as if preparing to suck the orb out of its socket. Stanley gave her a head-butt and heard something crack that didn't belong to him.
"What the hell are you people doing?" a woman screamed. She'd somehow gotten hold of the megaphone. "This is insane! Leave him alone!"
The crowd's hysteria was too intense. They continued ripping at Stanley's clothing and flesh. One particularly crazed-looking gentleman had a pocketknife and was trying to saw a chunk out of Stanley's belly.
The pain became overwhelming…and then Stanley felt at peace. This wasn't happening to him. This was happening to some other poor zombie bastard. He was doing just fine.
He looked at the psychopaths trying to eat him and decided that, no, this was happening to him, but he was detached from the proceedings.
This must be what it felt like to die.
Of course, the first time hadn't been like this, but go figure.
So many things he'd never be able to do…
…tell Martin just how much he truly valued his friendship…
…meet Veronica's lesbian girlfriend and envision the oh-so-naughty things they did to each other in the privacy of their bedroom…
…reconcile with his parents…
…punch Brant again…
…smell a daffodil at dawn on Easter morning (where the fuck had that come from?)…
No, wait, he'd just heard gunshots.
He became very much re-attached to the current situation as he realized that somebody was shooting into the air. A cop. Cops ruled.
"Back off!" the cop shouted. "Everybody!"
Though nobody technically backed off, they did cease the cannibalism. Stanley scrambled away from them, trying not to look at all of the chunks missing from his body. He was shaking and absolutely terrified but knew that if he could just get back down into the bunker…
"No!" Charlie hollered. "Eternal life!"
He rushed toward Stanley. Another gunshot rang out and he pitched forward onto the ground, bleeding from the chest.
At least three women and one man screamed.
Stanley continued scooting backwards. His arm twisted at a weird angle and this time the crack definitely belonged to him.
Brant was still standing around. The sick bastard looked like he was enjoying this. He'd lost his mind.
The crowd began to move forward again.
Apparently gunshots weren't much of a deterrent when potential eternal life was available.
This may be the end of me, Stanley thought, but I'm going to make sure it's the end of Brant, too.
He jumped up (which really hurt) and ran (which hurt even more) toward Brant. He let out a screech that he hoped was intimidating but probably wasn't. The lack of intimidation value became clearly evident as Brant stepped forward to meet his attack.
The cop fired more gunshots into the air, but they had no effect.
Stanley knew that he'd need every last bit of strength to pull off what he intended to do, and though his strength was in limited reserves at the moment, he certainly had willpower. Having another arm would've been helpful along with the willpower, but he'd make do with what he had.
He grabbed Brant by the back of the head and slammed his face into the open part of his stomach. His arm cracked again, and a lovely piece of bone poked through the skin, but he held on for as long as he could. Which ended up only being another second and a half.
Brant stood up straight again and wiped off his wet mouth. "What the hell-?" He hadn't actually eaten anything, but nobody else had to know that.
The crowd tackled Stanley and brought him to the ground again. He hit arm-first and wished he hadn't.
"Listen to me!" he screamed as loud as he possibly could. "The chemicals…they transfer!" He pointed a crooked arm at Brant. "It's inside him! His body carries it now! Eat him!"
Brant's expression quickly switched from "What the hell is he talking about?" to "Oh shit!"
And then things really got out of hand.
Several people in the mob immediately turned on Brant. He tried to run but they took him down before he made it three steps. There were too many bodies involved for Stanley to see exactly what happened, but there was shrieking, spurts of blood, and disgusting smacking sounds.
Stanley actually felt a little sorry for him, even as the insane folks in the crowd bit at his own body.
One man tried unsuccessfully to push his way through to get at Stanley. Stanley saw the look of realization on his face as he decided that if Brant had the chemical from eating Stanley, so did everybody else who'd dined.
He bit into the neck of an obese woman. She cried to claw out his eyes but he got a nice big mouthful.
Two other people went after him.
And as the feast went into full swing, Stanley again detached himself from the proceedings and floated into a happy place where people rarely if ever tried to eat each other.
"And we're back with Frank and Freddy's Morning Zoo! Wow, how about that incident with Mr. Corpse, huh?"
"That was just plain wacky!"
"What did they say, five people dead? Over a hundred injured?"
"A hundred and sixteen, I think."
"Wow. That's a pretty impressive injury count. For those of you at home who've been too drunk to follow the story, apparently a crowd of people who'd formed some sort of cult around Mr. Corpse became convinced that eating his flesh would give them eternal life!"
"Heh heh heh, cuckoo is right, Frank. Police are still investigating, but word is that people in the crowd started trying to eat each other!"
"I've gotta say, if I were going to eat somebody, it sure wouldn't be Mr. Corpse."
"I agree with you there. I bet he's all gamey."
"So who would you eat?"
"Oh, I can think of about ten people off the top of my head. Cheerleaders, mostly."
"Heh heh heh. Anyway, Mr. Corpse is alive, as far as we know, but a lot of him is digesting in the bellies of some very disturbed citizens. I wonder how pissed off they'll be when they develop stomach cancer or something and realize that they don't have eternal life?"
"I bet Mr. Corpse will get hit with a lot of lawsuits."
"It could happen!"
"So, listeners, who would you eat if you had the chance? Give us a call!"
Three days after the unfortunate events, Stanley lay in bed, hurting. Many of his wounds had healed already. Others, like his missing thumb, were permanent disfigurations. A couple of the bites had gone all the way to the bone, and those didn't seem to be healing right.
The girl in the lab, Marcia Dunlan, was going to live. The FBI had a million questions and was conducting an in-depth investigation. They'd thus far been unable to tie any murders to the pool of gook on the lab floor. Stanley had cooperated without actually mentioning that he knew anything about a potential black magic connection. Let them analyze the funky symbols on the wall for themselves.
Dr. Arnzin had fled. Nobody knew where he was. Stanley still sort of liked the guy, and hoped that he was doing okay. Not great, but okay. Reasonably happy, yet not enjoying his meals as much as he should.
Stanley had three injections left. He felt a bit sick to his stomach using them, knowing how they were created, but it also didn't make sense to let them go to waste.
And he had one last big favor to ask Veronica, after he made a very important phone call.
"Yeah, it's me."
"Oh, so now you're calling? I'm finally good enough for you to talk to? Should I have a parade? What, did you decide to pay for the booze you snuck out of our house? Do you know that your father and I flew all the way to New Mexico to see you? New Mexico isn't close to Florida. Two connections, and your father hates to fly. Do you know that we were worried sick? Do you know what I've seen on the news? Do you hate us? Is that it?"
"It's not like that, Mom."
"Then what's it like? Tell me so I can become educated!"
"I was embarrassed to have you see me."
"Ohhhhhh, you were embarrassed! You know what a son should be embarrassed about? A son should be embarrassed not to call his parents! That's embarrassment! Breaks my heart. Do you know how much your father cried at your funeral? Do you?"
"Mom, my cell phone minutes are just about out…"
"He cried the entire time! Like a baby! Never a dry eye!"
"My reception is cutting out, too…"
"Your father's in the den. I could tell him that you're on the phone, but the shock would kill him. You want to kill your father? Is that why you called?"
"Gotta go. Talk to you later!"
Stanley, Veronica, and Martin stood at the edge of the volcano. The lava did not look comfy. But Stanley didn't want to just melt away, he wanted to go out with style, and he thought that this seemed like an appropriate way to sacrifice himself. Getting to the edge of a volcano was not an easy task, but fortunately he had a shitload of money and no future to spend it on.
Veronica wiped a tear from her eye. "You're sure you want to do this?"
"Not really, no. Maybe we should skip this and go to a luau."
"I'm up for that."
Stanley gazed into the mouth of the volcano. "That lava does look hot. But that's good. It should sizzle me all at once."
"Are you crying?" Stanley asked. "I thought you promised me that there wouldn't be any crying."
"I promised you no such thing."
They hugged, and Martin burst into tears. Stanley had difficulty extricating himself from his best friend's arms.
"Admit it," Stanley said to Veronica. "You'll never have another client as interesting as me."
"That's a pretty safe bet."
"Are you gonna show me your tits before I jump in there?"
"That's just wrong. I'm about to make the ultimate sacrifice. If you were going to leap into a volcano I'd whip out my dick."
"How about a hug instead?"
"Yeah, that works."
They held each other tightly, and Stanley fought to resist the urge to start crying himself. He only had to use humor as a defense mechanism for a couple more minutes.
"I want you to make me a promise," he said, glancing at Martin over Veronica's shoulder. "I want you two to shamelessly milk my fame for everything its worth. I'm dying young, so that'll boost the marketing value. Sell my clothes, make a theme park, mix recordings of my voice into current pop hits…just squeeze every drop you can out of this. Write a book, both of you."
"We will," said Martin.
Stanley pulled away from Veronica. "Well, I guess I should do this before I lose my nerve." His voice cracked a bit, and he cleared his throat. "What do you think? Feet first or head first?"
"Head first," Martin suggested. "It'll be over faster."
"Yeah, but if I mess it up I could end up doing a belly flop. Maybe this is a bad idea."
"It's entirely your choice," said Veronica.
"I know." He stared at the lava and sighed. "Okay, so, should I say something profound? I guess I can't say 'I regret that I have but one life to give.'"
"Say anything you want."
"Ah, I've got nothing. I love you guys. Don't forget to milk my fame. I don't suppose either of you want to jump in here with me to keep me company? Didn't think so. I guess this ends the tale of the Sinister Mr. Corpse."
He closed his eyes, pinched his finger over what little nose he had, and then jumped.
"You have to jump forward more," said Martin.
"I'm working my way to it. Okay, time to quit playing around. I'll miss you. Tell everybody I said something uplifting."
He took a deep breath and jumped into the volcano. He plunged into the lava, sunk beneath the surface, and was gone.
EPILOGUE AND A WARNING
Do you dare?
Do you dare to enter CorpseLand, the official theme park of Stanley Dabernath, The Sinister Mr. Corpse?
Do you dare to immerse yourself in this grisly land of the MAD and the MACABRE, the BIZARRE and the GHOULISH, the DEMENTED and the HORRIFIC?
If you do, brave voyager, use caution.
No nurses are on duty.
The fire exits have been boarded shut.
Your personal floatation device will sink like a rock.
Do you dare?
Cold sweat will trickle down your spine as you ride the Corpse Coaster. Waves of dizziness will pulsate through your skull as you spin around in the Dead Wheel. Maybe, just maybe, the beating of your heart will cease in Stanley's Snack Bar. If you are truly courageous, perhaps you will make a purchase in one of our THIRTEEN sinister gift shops.
There is still time to turn back.
But if you are a person of valor, your adventure begins right through those gates.
Do you dare…?