Sleep of the Dead
Rebecca King


When the virus came, it spread like butter in a hot pan, but we, we were
spared. In the chaos of those first weeks, they murdered. They raged. They ran down
the streets of our subdivision, loose-limbed and wide-eyed, like children after an ice
cream truck. They beat against the wooden planks that we used to board the
windows and doors with fists like rotten pears. Pieces of our old life were the only
barrier between us and the newly infected. Here, the coffee table we purchased last
year. This, a dresser drawer that had stuck on its runner, and there’s the headboard
for our bed which you built during that long summer.

After we barricaded the doors and blinded the windows, the television
became our porthole into the world. Humanity filmed its demise, and they stared
back. They ambled toward cameramen unsteadily, like apes on hind legs, and gazed
into the cameras with sagging maws and furrowed brows, eyes that held, not rage,
but confusion, or maybe concentration—the same look you told me I wore when I
filled out crossword puzzles—until they screamed, so guttural and broken, and
charged.

When the electricity went, we peered through the small gaps between the
boards and the broken glass of our windows, watching for the creatures of our
nightmares, the humans turned monster, hungry for their own kind. Bones, limbs,
and intestines littered the sidewalks and the gentle curves of our subdivision.
Wasteful, you said.

We could waste nothing and chewed on stale crusts for breakfast. We slept in
shifts. We slept alone. You dozed on the floor in the slivers of sunlight that pushed
through the barriers, and I watched your chest rise and fall. I ate the last can of
peaches. The water from the faucet turned red, then brown, then didn’t come at all.
The screams, the sound of flesh dragging across concrete, let us know when they
passed. We wondered about the end.

Gradually, their screams faded to moans in the night. They hovered around
our house, huffing through half-decayed esophagi. We held each other as they
scraped their knuckles against our boarded windows, not anxiously, not hungrily,
but pawing, like cats trying to get in, before eventually they shuffled away.
The radio returned first. Words broke the hiss of its breath, voices tumbling
out of the static. Safe is such a soft word.

The voice, first alone, then others across the stations joined. The zombies had
stopped. The zombies were no longer hungry. Had never in fact been hungry.

You see, after the virus took hold, after it had congealed and coagulated the
life in their veins, had silenced the hearts in their chest, they panicked. They turned
to loved ones, mauling them in their new forms with clumsy fists and swollen, soupy
brainstems. We had mistaken their chase for hunger, or passion, but desperation is a
cold thing.

Now, they come out at night, wandering into our room as if by accident. You
panic and your breaths stop, your chest stills. You squeeze my hand until the bones
shift under my skin. They crawl silently beneath the covers and pull your arms
around them, pressing their cold body into the hollow yours; the little spoon. They’ll
fall asleep that way if you let them. Curled into the heat of your body. Lulled to sleep
by the pounding of your heart. It’s something, even dead, you never forget.



Rebecca King is the founder and managing editor of Origami Zoo Press, and received her MFA from Chatham University. Her work has appeared in A-Minor Magazine, >kill author, decomP Magazine, and others. She was raised in the Midwest and recently made her way back to her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri after a brief stint to the East.