Now Entering Houdenville

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Episode 4
The Protest

Zombies really aren’t all that smart.


The front entrance to Houdenville Market was surrounded by two half-rings of people, the outer ring keeping a pretty good distance from the inner one. And holding various gardening implements, pieces of sports equipment, and in one case a double-barreled shotgun. The inner ring was composed of zombies holding up signs, most of them very crudely drawn and all of them looking like they’d been made out of pieces of a vandalized picket fence. The zombies were making a lot of noise, shouting out things about animal cruelty and the need for humanity to embrace veganism if they ever wanted to be at peace. The ring of non-zombies did not look impressed, and on the Market’s front porch Carl was rolling his eyes and looking bored while the store’s owner, Betty Hawkins, stood beside him and fumed. She waved at the police car when it pulled up. “Arrest them!” she called out. “They’re blocking the entrance to my store with this idiocy!”

Todd got out of the car, as did Jace. “Where’s Benny? He was supposed to be over here.”

“He took off,” Carl called over. “Heat was getting to him, I think.”

That meant his makeup had been melting off. “Yeah, it’s been getting to me all day, I feel like I’m melting,” Jace agreed. “Okay you undead assholes, I know Benny told you the other night to keep your noise out in the field. So what are you doing here?”

That got several of the signs shaken at him. “They sell meat! Meat is murder!”

Todd cocked his head. “You eat meat.”

“We’re vegans!” a zombie wearing cutoffs and the remains of a hand-embroidered-in-Guatemala cotton shirt insisted. “Meat is murder!”

The two police officers looked at each other. “It sure is when you get hungry,” Jace finally said. “Since you eat people. Alive. Are you telling me none of you have eaten since you surfaced?”

That made the zombies all look at each other. “What do you mean, we eat people?”

“You’re zombies,” Jace informed them. “Zombies eat people. Occasionally animals if you can catch them. Zombies do not, in my experience, eat kale. But we can check.” He waved. “Mrs. Hawkins, would you please bring out some kale for these protesters?”

She frowned. “I’m all out of kale, but I have spinach.” She went into the store and came back out with a dark green and leafy bunch of spinach in her hand, which she tossed to the zombies. Two of them grabbed it and started munching, passing what was left to the others to share.

Thirty seconds later only two zombies were still standing, mouths open and signs on the ground. “Hey, what is this? You poisoned them!”

“Plant matter poisoned them,” Todd corrected. “I repeat: You’re zombies, you eat meat. Live. Meat. That’s what keeps you animate.” They didn’t look like they were wanting to believe that. “Okay, then eat the rest of the spinach. Get the leaves from the inside of the bunch, those wouldn’t have been reached by any spray, right?”

One zombie bent down and retrieved the rest of the bunch of spinach from one of his former friends’ withering hands. He looked it over, sniffed it, pawed through the leaves to get to the center, then cautiously put a small leaf in his mouth and chewed. He looked at his remaining friend and shrugged, pulling out a larger leaf to eat. “Tastes like spinach – organically grown, even, no pesticides. Good stuff.”

“Let me try that.” The other zombie took a couple of leaves and chewed as well, nodding approval. “Oh shit yeah, this is the good stuff! Do you guys get your produce from local farms around here or what?” His friend fell over. “Hey, wait a minute…!”

Jace rolled his eyes when that zombie fell over too, stepping out of the way of a clawing hand that very quickly stopped moving and started to wither. “I can’t believe they fell for that, I really can’t. How much do we owe you for the spinach, Mrs. Hawkins?”

She waved it off. “Don’t worry about it – nobody’s been buying spinach this week, I was about to mark it down anyway. I’d appreciate it if you called the street cleaner for me, though.”

“We’ll radio it in from the car,” Todd agreed. “Anyone know whose fence they took apart to make the signs?” The response was a round of shrugs and sideways looks. “Okay, we’ll drive out to the field they rose in, see if it was someplace between here and there.” One of the armed watchers, a short, pudgy man clutching a baseball bat, looked somewhat upset by that, and Todd gave him a hard look. “That’s not a tally-book I see in your pocket, is it, Jerry?”

Jerry immediately went on the defensive. “Of course it isn’t! It’s just…it’s just a little notebook I carry around. For writing things down.” He indicated the store. “Like my grocery list!”

“Oh, so that’s your grocery list,” Jace said, nodding. “That’s good, because if it was a tally-book I’d have to give you a ticket, maybe even run you in. You know that, right?” Jerry nodded violently. “Good, good. Why don’t you go on in and get your groceries, Jerry. I hear spinach is about to go on sale, good time to stock up.”

“Yeah…yeah, I’ll do that.”

The pudgy man picked his way through the rapidly dessicating corpses – not without a longing look at the sunken-eyed heads closest to him – and scurried into the store. Carl saluted Jace and Todd and then strolled in after him, followed by Mrs. Hawkins, and after making sure the rest of the crowd was dispersing the two officers got back in their car and headed back to the station, calling for the street cleaner to come out and sweep up the remains. Along with a request to be notified if any of the skulls were crushed when he got there. Jerry may have been one of the more recent ones to get sucked into that game, but he wasn’t anywhere near the only one in town playing it.

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