A roaring crowd sends a flurry of screams my way. With each of them, I can feel my skeleton vibrating between my muscles. The world around me is so loud, an ocean of unintelligible bellows and shrieks. I’m pulled and pushed around the darkness, soaking in the atmospheric water. I’m moved from point A to point B slowly, depriving my senses the instant gratification of adrenaline and movement. My ears plugged, my eyes blindfolded, both wrists locked in chains and my fingers wrapped up in plastic cable ties. The last thing I remember clear enough is the inner walls of a white transit van and the stink of freshly ground coffee.
The rich are a strange bunch but that’s nothing new, I’ve been around them for much too long to have developed a fair opinion on their life. The other half of society, the upper class, have always been revolting to other-other half, at least that is what I’ve gathered. It’s their love of being different to us, their passion for oddities like raw fish eggs and distinctive perfumes. The scents they dab onto their bodies are frightening at best. When I could smell on queue, the popular wore infused scents of rose petals and jasmine and now it’s the caffeinated stench of ground coffee beans or the ‘enticing’ aroma of fresh bread.
The stink around me means that I am surrounded by these kinds of people: the rich and the famous. A far bigger crowd than you could imagine and they’re all here for me. You see, when a crowd of this size is for something like myself, it can only mean one thing. I’m back in the city, beneath the ground for another fucking auction. I’ve experienced places like this before but nothing of this caliber. The bloodthirsty crowd chants a manta over and over, a battle cry echoes from one side of the room to another. I’m here to fight, no two ways about it.
Up until last week they’ve kept me in suspended animation. Frost coated my limbs like thick layers of steel-plated armour and I still wonder how long I’ve been frozen away. Even now, as I’m pulled around in every direction, I feel the stiffness in my core. But the audience don’t care about that, they’ll call it a handicap and shrug it off. These people only care about one thing: spending their money on me because they know I can earn them triple what they make in a week. I’m a six-foot bull terrier, psyching up for the biggest dog fight in the history of the world. Bigger than the gladiators with more internal coverage than the last great war. Spearheaded by morons in a time of travesty, the rich pit zombie against zombie for the elation of the crowd, and the profit of a few. I am one of them: a zombie.
Infected with a certain strain of a certain disease, I have been granted a newly formed, yet dead, body. Expanded muscle mass and intellect, retention of personality and perpetual existence. I’m one of a kind, they say. A generic example of the undead cannot smell, or hear. They cannot taste, they cannot feel pain. Neither can they emote or display any particular expression of free will, but I can do all of these things. I’m missing only my voice, and a few pieces of skin.
A man speaks from the darkness of my blindfold, with breath like a river of petrol he tells me I’m worth the cost of a small army, or large island. I’m a priceless artefact, a monster from another world, a mutated fuck up and I shouldn’t exist. That is why they want me so badly, that is why I can respect myself.
The crowd eventually simmers down to a hushed whisper as my innards are moved independently. I can only wince, a slight facial movement to show that it hurts. A mistake, but they’re fixing me up. Staples puncture my tight stomach flesh one by one. In a game like this, you should never expose your weaknesses. The audience won’t want to buy a flawed product.
This beneficial, five minute process manages to unearth both of my weaknesses; pain and the fear of said pain. The other zombies, they won’t even remember what pain is. As my fist slides through their rotting nervous system, they’ll simply ready their next attack. I’m no better off than them for retaining a human half. It just slows me down. I have to deal with emotional response and aeonian agony. The buyers won’t really care, not to my knowledge. They just want a fighter who can win, a creature who can understand the more delicate parts of their enemy and that much I know I can do.
I hear curtains, the day finally begins with a whoosh of unnatural light. My grotesque form silences the crowd entirely, they don’t want to miss a smidgeon of detail. My eyes are released, as are my limbs and extremities. I can hardly see anything around me through the haze of floaters and light pollution that reveals its presence. The faces of the audience look disappointed through blurred eyes. They shun my physical lack of ‘special ability’ compared to the obvious attributes of the foes who stand across from me. I have no control over my eyelids, no way to revive my vision and so I’m left momentarily blinded.
I don’t smile at them, despite my second thoughts. Instead, I grimace. I’m not human, this isn’t a beauty contest. I simply have to look threatening. My teeth, all black and gritty, leak a rotten fluid and I snap at them, perpetuating the stereotype they expect from me. The people out there, they think we’re all brainless and this is my chance to prove them wrong.
The auction doesn’t begin until the main show is over: a fifteen minute battle between three zombie contestants. Each of us are, I can believe, desperate to live on. We each hope to our own respective God that we might be able to destroy the opposing two. The less able our opponents are, the more likely we’ll leave under contract. I just need to beat them both into submission.
The auctioneer screeches his unfamiliar accent through a blisteringly loud megaphone, writhe with missing syllables and vowels. “The fight is ready to begin!”
At that moment, I’m dropped through the floor of the cages into the bottom of a dusty pit. The hard-hitting, wood-chip lavished ground knocks my vision back into working condition and I take the chance to develop an opinion. Both of my opponents stand on opposite ends of the undead spectrum. Both males; to the left, one stands larger than life with muscles like bin bags, stuffed and angular. The right-hand zombie is shorter and skinny, not a shred of muscle on his entire body. Armed with a switchblade and a tongue reaching from his mouth to beneath his chin, forever suspended like a rope swing, he looks unsettlingly nervous. To intimidate us, his spins his knife between fingers. His dexterity and showmanship seems to awe the belligerent crowd.
My body is somewhat the average shape between the two of them but I’d be no match for the one of the left, not one-on-one. Geoff. They call his name first, then the little guy’s, forgetting me. I do not have a name. When they refuse to mention me, Geoff copies my motion. He grimaces, dripping the same black blood onto the scattered patterns below. The chips cling to his feet, slick and slimy, a veritable mulch. The auctioneer, now in the position of a referee, raises his fist.
Three digits raise.
At the sound of the klaxon, the battle between two begins. I plan to wait, as I said, I wouldn’t stand much chance in a one-on-one fight with Geoff but neither will the little guy. One-on-one-on-one could get tricky, there’s no way I can possibly concentrate on two opponents. The towering hulk, an abomination of muscle, tramples his infant-sized enemy without a shred of emotion. He wipes the undead shit-stain from his bare feet. A collection of boils shake with each motion like leaking, leather satchels, fit to burst and pulsating with a noxious substance.
With all that done and dusted, the behemoth turns to me. The first death of the night brings a smile to his face that mirrors the famous Chelsea grin. A thousand crooked teeth. Hyperdontia. Yellowed tombstones, one for each poor creature he’s crushed, dig into sticky, candle-wax gums. He charges. The thuds of large feet slapping against wood bathed concrete overpower the cheering audience.
I have a short window to take a deep breath. It tries to silence any doubts I have about my own strength and mentally lines my fist’s trajectory to meet my foe’s. Winning is not my prerogative. I don’t need to win, I just need to put on a good show. When our knuckles do meet it’s David and Goliath. For the slightest slither of a second, we’re equally matched and, after that, I’m overpowered and sent backwards into a tough, concrete wall. My stomach staples tear somewhat and my skin scrawls with pain, like it’s trying to escape.
I’m unable to consider the audience, what is it they could possibly want from me? There’s screaming but I may as well be deaf because the words don’t make sense. I can keep fighting, I can show them what the underdog has to offer but that means nothing if my body cannot handle the test of time. Blood drips from my open wound like hourglass sand. Time is running out.
The switchblade, I notice, lies in the mess Geoff made of the little guy. He’s twitching. In these fights it is almost impossible to tell whether or not a zombie has died. You have to destroy the brain, all of it. It’s not an easy feat. I wish I could remember the little guy’s name, I wish I could commend him for his effort but there’s nothing truly left to recognise. Crushed and yet, without pain or a sense of reality. If you couldn’t tell you had already lost, would there be a reason to stop trying?
The referee calls out “two minutes left, folks!” but his announcement is wasted. With only two of us left and very little action, the fight will continue until the audience is satisfied, or bored. My only option is to save them from the latter, so I lunge limply towards the pile of shuddering flesh. Rag doll. I plunge my dead hands into the filth.
The soupy mush of fused body fluids and matter slip through my hands leaving strawberry red stains on peachy flesh. With the knife firm in my grasp, Geoff is in the palm of my hand. My mind races with possibility, taking a moment to showboat my plan and twirl the blade, several times over with enough flourish to put the original owner to shame. Up, under, over, under, flip, toss, catch, under, up, over, stab, flip.
The dexterity of a gymnast; living, healthy. I can still move each and every part of my body, audience. No joint lock or decaying of ligaments and yet, I’m at least a year gone, maybe longer. The knife, like my memory, is damaged. The point is as blunt as the day is long and almost useless. To cause any damage, I would have to apply an industrial amount of force like my entire body weight.
Yes, of course. I dodge Geoff’s titanic fist, an inch away from losing my head. Now though, the blow heads straight for the hardened floor and hits hard enough to shatter both bone and concrete. The crack is deafening.
I step backwards onto the bulky back of his hand. His bulbous, bulging eyes are a typhoon of tears. The kind of tears you can’t hold back and proof of his nervous system. His eyes stick straight out, popping and squeezing out of their sockets as though his brain has grown tenfold post impact.
They are my target.
Dragging the reflective blade across them, I cause wounds like salted paper cuts. Torture. I don’t stab them, I refuse to be effective. I simply want to appear dark and ruthless. Blinding him will make sure that nobody wants to buy him. No matter what now, I will live on. At the klaxon, I breathe a sigh of relief. Both opponents, opposite ends of the spectrum, now squirm and twitch. Geoff’s clam shell eyes excrete a vile mucus, an infection waiting to happen. They don’t perform many medical routines on our kind. He won’t last a month.
I, on the other hand, will still be breathing and from today on I will be a warrior. A bare knuckle boxer, serving the people of Sydney in these illegal games. I will fight until they decide I cannot fight any longer. A piece of the rich puzzle, a bit of simple entertainment for the wealthy. Pantomimes for Generation Zed.
The applause is vicious.
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