What to Get a Zombie For Valentine’s Day

Hello again!  Welcome to what will be the final individual story on this blog for some time.  Remember that next week I will begin serializing Old Clerks Don’t Die, They Slay Away, the sequel to The Apocalypse Shift.  If you haven’t yet, you should really check out the first book.

I hope you enjoy!

Derek J. Goodman

What to Get a Zombie For Valentine’s Day

     Phil was checking the temperatures of the hotdogs on the roller grill (and making sure they weren’t possessed by demons like they had been last night) when he heard Caleb clear his throat from behind the counter.

     “Hey Phil?  She’s coming across the parking lot.  You want to go hide?”  Caleb sounded honestly curious, even though it wasn’t really any of his damned business.  At least he had stopped giving Phil crap about this.  Just a week or two ago, Phil would have responded with a sigh and gone to hide in the back cooler until she left the store again, but he’d been starting to think about this lately.  Maybe he should be keeping an open mind here.  After all, the girl coming across the parking lot had made the trek from wherever she came from just to see him, and she did seem to be sweet.  It wasn’t her fault she was a zombie.

     “No,” Phil said.  “Maybe I’ll just hang around and see what she has to say.”

     Caleb blinked at him.  “Dude, she can’t say anything.  She doesn’t have much of a tongue anymore.”

     Phil shrugged, hoping that would be the end of the conversation, but Caleb continued to stare at him.  Caleb could be pretty cool sometimes, but other times he could just be a dickhead.  He’d been giving Phil a hard time ever since this zombie had started making return trips to the OneStop Mart, especially once it had become obvious she had a crush on Phil.  Caleb was probably unnerved that Phil was having less and less of a problem with that.

     Phil put the thermometer and temperature charts away and stood in front of the counter to look at the zombie as she shuffled toward the store.  There wasn’t a lot he knew about her, and it wasn’t like he could really ask much.  She was dressed in the same clothes as usual, an old and rotten 80’s ensemble.  So from that much he could at make a guess as to when she had died.  But otherwise she was a mystery to him. 

     The thing was, Phil couldn’t figure out when this zombie, just another one of many beasties that wandered around the Hill at night, had started to intrigue him.  She certainly wasn’t his type- his type tended to still have all their skin- and it wasn’t like he was hard pressed for companionship.  He hadn’t had a steady girlfriend for a while, but there had been a few women.  An attractive six foot black man with no visible horns, fangs, or tails had no trouble finding willing partners around here.  So why did he wonder if maybe this one was something unique?

     She made it to the door and fumbled with it, trying to get it open while her hands were full.  Phil hadn’t even realized before that she carried something.  It looked like a box, the kind someone would put shirts in, although it was pretty battered.  There was blue wrapping paper around it, but it looked like it had been wrapped by someone using only their teeth.  The paper barely even covered the box itself, and the tape on it looked like it had been put on at random, occasionally fastening the paper to the box purely by accident. 

     Phil had never held with some of the old fashioned ideas of gentlemanly conduct or chivalry.  Women these days didn’t want a man to stand up when she left the table or drape a coat across a puddle so they wouldn’t get their feet wet.  But as he saw her struggling, he couldn’t help but rush to the door and open it for her. 

     She looked up at him with her one good eye as she walked in.  She seemed surprised that he had come to help her, but then again she always looked surprised.  It was the muscle-less way her jaw tended to hang open.  Recently she’d been looking a little better (a little more recently dead, for lack of a better term), the after effects of some magic she’d been infused with, but it was starting to wear off.  Even through her pocked greenish skin and rotted features, however, Phil thought maybe she was trying to smile at him.

     “Iiiiiillll,” she said.  His name was one of the few words he ever heard out of her mouth.  She’d been dead long enough that most of the speech parts of her brain were likely gone, but she tried.  “Oooooooo.”

     “Um, Hi,” Phil said, glancing self-consciously over his shoulder at Caleb.  The other clerk did his best to go about his work without looking like he was staring at them, but Phil could see the way his eyes moved to them every so often, trying to see just what the hell was going on.  Phil wasn’t entirely sure of that himself.

     Keeping one arm around the package, the zombie reached out and touched his arm.  Before he could stop himself, Phil flinched away.  Her touch was cold, and her fingers were rough and cracked.  It didn’t feel like a hand.  More like half-thawed brown-and-serve sausages.  Briefly all those thoughts about how strange and interesting she was disappeared, replaced with a moment of primal revulsion.  Then he came back to himself enough to be embarrassed.

     The zombie, thankfully, didn’t appear to realize any of this.  She took her hand back and held out the box to him.  “Ooooooo.”

     “What are you trying to say?” he asked, staring down at the box.  “‘You?’  Are you saying this is for me?”

     That much, at least, she appeared to understand.  She nodded.  “Ooooooo.”

     Phil tentatively reached out and took the box.  It was also cold, probably from the late winter weather outside.  He had no idea how far she had come to give him this, but it must have been a long way.

     The zombie paused like she didn’t know what to do next, then turned and walked back through the door.  Phil continued to stare after her, not sure what to make of the incident.

     Caleb leaned over the counter and stared at the package.  “Dude, what was that all about?”

     “I’m not really sure,” Phil said.

     “Are you going to open it?”

     “I don’t know.  You think I should?”

     “Opening any sort of package on the Hill is dangerous.  You never know what kind of flesh-eating magic spell might pop out.”

     “Yeah, but she doesn’t look like she could come up with anything like that.  If she wanted to kill me she would just crack open my skull and scoop out the gray matter.”

     “Someone else could have put something dangerous in it and given it to her to bring to you.”

     Phil looked down at the package.  “I don’t think so.  It looks like she tried to wrap it herself.”

     “But why would she…”  Caleb trailed off, staring at the box for a moment.  “You should open it.”

     Phil shrugged.  He didn’t see why not.  He didn’t have high hopes for it, though.  If this was intended as a gift, then a zombie’s idea of an ideal gift was probably maggoty meat.  He sniffed it, but it wasn’t rancid.  There was only the faint linger of the zombie’s own putrefied flesh, which really wasn’t as bad as Phil would have suspected.

     “Okay,” Phil said.  “Wish me luck.”  He undid the wrapping paper, which was harder than he expected considering the crappy job the zombie had done, and pulled off the lid of the box.  His breath caught in his throat when he saw what was inside. 

     “Oh holy shit,” Phil said.  Caleb leaned further over the counter for a better look.

     “Let me see, let me… oh wow.  Holy Cthulhu in R’lyeh.”

     Despite the terrible state of the package, its contents had been treated with the utmost care.  A football jersey sat carefully folded in a nest of tissue paper.  That alone would have made Phil pause and think of the zombie differently.  But that wasn’t the true “holy shit” of it.

     Phil had always had a good relationship with his father, but the true moments he remembered were sitting on his dad’s lap as a young boy and staring at the television screen, cheering and screaming obscenities together as they watched his dad’s favorite team, the Cowboys.  The greatest moments of all, though, had been when Deion Sanders, Phil’s favorite player of all time, had made the perfect play at the right moment.  His dad would hug him, and Phil would hug back, and the world had seemed totally right.

     The name Sanders sat right at the top of the silver and blue jersey in the box, right above his number.  And between the name and number there was something written in Sharpie marker.  Phil had to stare at it, unable to make himself believe at first that this was indeed Sanders’ signature.

     “Is that authentic?” Caleb said.

     “I think so,” Phil said.  “I’ll have to check it against signatures on the net when I get home, but… I pretty sure that’s real.”

     “How the hell?” Caleb asked.  “Where would she get that?”

     “A better question would be how would she have known I would want this?” Phil said. 

     “Wait, don’t you remember about a month ago?” Caleb said.  “You were talking football and I was trying not to be bored out of my mind about it when she came in.  You were talking about Deion Sanders then.”

     Phil vaguely remembered that.  He hadn’t ever considered that she might actually listen to anything he said.

     “But why would she get me this anyway?” Phil asked.

     “Dude, really.  Don’t you remember what today is?”


     “It’s Valentine’s Day.”

     Phil looked up at him.  Caleb was right.  Neither of them had girlfriends right now, so neither of them had paid much attention to it. 

     “You know what?” Phil said.  “I think that is the single best, most thoughtful present anyone has ever given me in my entire life.”

     “So what are you going to do?”

     Phil put a hand on the jersey, caressing the fabric but making sure not to touch the signature.  “I’m going to have to figure out something just as thoughtful to give back, ain’t I?”

*    *    *

     For the next week and a half, Phil went back to hiding in the cooler anytime the zombie came by.  It became harder to make himself avoid her as the days went by, but he didn’t want to have a moment with her until he was completely prepared.  He thought he had the perfect present for her, but it had proved more complicated to prepare than he had thought.

     Finally, on a slower night where Caleb could man the store by himself and Phil could take a day off, Phil waited outside the store with a folder in hand until the zombie showed up.  She was later than usual, and he was afraid she wasn’t going to come at all that night.  Maybe she had realized he was avoiding her and taken the wrong hint from it.  He hoped that wasn’t the case.  Now more than ever, with everything he had learned, he wanted to see her.

       She didn’t show up at the OneStop until three in the morning.  That was a long time for Phil to have to wait outside, but he hadn’t wanted to wait in the store with Caleb.  Caleb had been somewhat supportive of Phil’s plan and had helped him find some contacts to help, but the guy still seemed a little squeamish.  He thought Phil might actually be considering a relationship with this zombie, and he didn’t appear completely comfortable with it.  Phil wasn’t sure if this was really going to go as far as a relationship, but he was willing to find out.

     He saw the zombie shuffle down the street and cross into the OneStop’s parking lot, but she didn’t see him until she was twenty feet away.  As soon as she did, however, her shuffle became more of a lurch.  No matter how much was still left of her brain, she at least could still feel excitement at seeing him. 

     She stopped a few feet away from him.  She made no attempt to touch him like she had last time.


     “Um, hi,” Phil said.  “Er, how you doing tonight?”


     “Right.  Um, would you care to take a walk with me?”  He gestured back in the direction she had come from.  He had never realized she always came from the same direction before, but he supposed that made sense.  Even a zombie had to have something resembling a home.  And now, thanks to the folder in his hand, he knew where that home was.

     The zombie did her best approximation to a smile, which really wasn’t much of a smile at all, and turned to shuffle back the way she had come.  Phil followed, staying close to her side.

     They walked in silence for several minutes before Phil got his thoughts together enough to speak.  “I wanted to thank you for the jersey.  It’s awesome.”

     The zombie looked at him.  The expression on her face either meant she was pleased or she was trying to pass gas.  It was kind of hard to tell.

     “I’m sorry I’ve been avoiding you.  But I wanted to do something special in return.  It’s taken a while, but I’ve got it now.” Phil held up the folder for her to see.  She looked at it.  Was she really curious what was inside, or was she just staring because she had nothing else to look at?  He wished he could tell for sure, but he really wanted to believe she was still capable of curiosity.  If she could still feel one emotion, then she could probably feel all of them, which in turn made her not much different than him or any other human.  She was only different on the outside.

     “Sue?” he said.  Her head moved with a speed he didn’t know she had, going from looking at the folder to looking him in the eyes.  “That is your name, isn’t it?  Susan?”

     She stopped walking, and Phil stopped with her.  They were only about a third of the way back to her home, but it didn’t really matter to him whether they got there or not.  Her home now was Leechman Park.  That damned park held many secrets, including the secret that was Sue herself, but no secret stayed hidden for long on the Hill.  There were plenty of ways to find out, if you had the connections and the money, and Phil had spent all of his savings to get the folder’s contents.  He just hoped there was enough of Sue left to appreciate them. 

     “Uuuuuueee?” Sue said.  She pointed at herself.  “Uuuuueee.”

     “That’s you,” Phil said with a nod of his head.  “Did you remember that before?”

     Sue moved her mouth but didn’t actually speak.  Maybe she had a lot to say about that, or maybe she didn’t.  Either way, Phil didn’t think she had to capacity to really discuss it.

     “It’s okay,” Phil said.  “I think I understand.  Do you remember how you died?”

     Sue paused, then nodded her head slowly.  She didn’t seem too sure. 

     “If you don’t, it’s all here,” Phil said, holding up the folder again.  “Any answers to questions you might have.  You’re death was covered up so that no one would know about…”  Sue started walking again, much faster than before, and Phil had to jog to catch up.

     “Okay, okay.  Don’t run away.  We don’t have to talk about it if it upsets you.”  Sue slowed down and looked at him again.  “That’s not really the gift, anyway,” Phil said.  “You see, I wanted to find something that would be special to you.  But I didn’t really know who you were, so first I had to find out.”  He opened the folder and read some of the information on the first page.  “Susan Emily Buchowski, born April 18th, 1960.  Died in the mid-Eighties.  And when you died, you left behind a mother and a brother.”

     Sue stopped again.  Phil really wished he could read her emotions better.  He couldn’t tell if she was angry that he was bringing this up, or if she was shocked he’d found this much, or what.

     “Um, did you want me to stop?” Phil asked.  “Because I haven’t gotten to the big part yet.”

     Sue stared.  It was like that was all she could ever do.  Maybe he was only imagining that there was more under the surface.  Maybe zombies really were just brain-dead monsters. 

     Then he looked at her one good eye.  He had no idea what it was that brought zombies back to life on the Hill, and he wasn’t sure how their bodily functions were supposed to work.  But he could see now that at least one function could still continue.  Her eye was watering up.

     “Ahhhhhhhm,” she said.  “Iiiiiannnn.”

     He wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean until he looked at the paper again.  “Oh, right.  Your mom, Genevieve, and your brother, Brian.”  He flipped through some more of the sheets.  He’d had some people on the Hill who were skilled in finding people get him all the info, but that still wasn’t the real gift here.  He just hoped he wasn’t going out of bounds.  He really had done all this to try pleasing her.  Suddenly he wondered if maybe he’d been wrong.  Maybe this was more like stalking.  “Do… do you want me to tell you whatever happened to them?”

     Sue nodded.

     “You mom, well, I’m really sorry.  She died of breast cancer in ’96.  Brian was by her side, I guess.”  He watched Sue to see if anything of this news affected her.  She didn’t show anything he could interpret as emotion, so he continued.  “She got to see two of her three grandchildren before she died, though.  You see, Brian’s now an engineer in San Francisco, happily married with two sons and a daughter.  I… I have pictures, if you want to see them?”

     She nodded again, this time more slowly.  Phil flipped to the last two items in the folder, the two things he had considered the real present.  He just hoped he wasn’t crossing the line here.

     He pulled out two photos and held them up for Sue to see.  With slow, shaking hands, she reached out and took them.  The person he’d hired had found both of them on the internet.  The first wasn’t just a photo but a newspaper article.  It showed a picture of Genevieve Buchowski, looking rather tired but still happy, and told about some of the charity work she had organized in the last years of her life.  Phil wasn’t sure if Sue could still read, but the article mentioned how Genevieve’s daughter had disappeared, and how the woman had taken her grief over the disappearance and turned it into something else.  She had done lots of work with missing person’s groups, doing everything she could to help people find their lost loved ones.  She had also volunteered at domestic abuse shelters and worked extensively with local food banks.  The article suggested that Genevieve had never been involved with any of this before Sue’s disappearance.

     The second item was a family photo.  Brian Buchowski sat in the middle, his arm around his smiling wife, with three children ranging from eighteen to ten sitting in front of him. 

     Sue didn’t move for a long time.  Phil didn’t want to do anything to disturb whatever she might be going through right now, but then he wasn’t sure she was actually going through anything.  Maybe the cold had simply frozen her undead body up.  After nearly two minutes of nothing, he reached out and touched her shoulder.

     “Sue?  Are you alright?  I’m sorry if I hurt you by showing this.  I just wanted to get you something.  I thought maybe if I showed you your family, what happened to them, how they turned out…”

     Sue moaned, and Phil pulled his hand back.  That hadn’t sounded like a good moan.  She turned to look at him.  The water in her eye had turned to tears.

     “I’m sorry if I hurt you or something, Sue,” Phil said.  “That wasn’t my intention at all.”

     Sue shook her head.  “Aaaaang… oooooo.”

     “Wait, what?”

     “Aaaaang… oooooo.”

     “Is that… thank you?”

     She moved again with that same surprising speed as when she had tried to get away.  Still keeping a tight grip on the photos, Sue flung her arms around him, hugging him tight.

     “Aaaaang… oooooo.”

     “Your welcome, Sue.  You’re welcome.”  He hugged her back.  It wasn’t until she let go that he realized he hadn’t shied away from her touch this time. 

     Something told him he wouldn’t be doing that ever again.

(c) 2010 Derek Goodman


3 Responses to “What to Get a Zombie For Valentine’s Day”

  1. 1 JackieH.
    February 8, 2010 at 4:25 am

    Heartwarming and tender. With a zombie. How did you do that? 😀

  2. 2 azurae
    February 10, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Wow!! That was a really awesome short story.. you made me tear up!! Found you after you pimped yourself on Scalzi’s blog. Can’t wait to check out more of your stuff!

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