The contact lenses allowed him to continue his daily life for months after the bite. He returned to work as normal, a Zombie among the unwitting. He established his cover story, medical confirmation from his doctor that he had developed a rare, untreatable form of cancer that would require him to be housebound within the year. It was air-tight; his ‘doctor’ obtained legitimate paperwork to this effect, meaning my father’s employer and his life insurance providers were bound to co-operate. He continued to work for nine months before he had to come home permanently.
And not a moment too soon, either. Because despite it appearing that the disease was having little effect, my father soon noticed significant changes; a greying of the skin and general weakness in muscles and joints. He had never broken a bone in his life prior to NZ but his right arm snapped falling in the living room one day and it has never healed since. His body is, after all, decomposing, just at an incredibly slow rate.
The loss of movement he can deal with. What is altogether more difficult is how his body has begun to reject food in favour of flesh. Of all the things we’ve had to contend with, this has been the most difficult. His organs no longer function as they once did; NZ reconstitutes the digestive system into something like a wild animal; flesh, human flesh is the only ingredient he can retain and also stave off hunger.
The contents of the briefcase provided to him on that first morning held the answer. Zombies will avoid eating zombified flesh, but seem to have no issue with the deceased who have passed on through natural causes. A card was provided with the address of an organisation that provides corpses to slow-gestating NZ sufferers – can you believe such a place exists? It’s crazy to me.
One ‘feeding session’ a week is enough to sustain his being, though not always the pangs of hunger. Every Monday we travel to a shady, depressing industrial estate, my father enters a dilapidated building and then returns to the car without saying a word. He is ashamed of what he has been reduced to, and he will never speak of what is inside, for which I am eternally grateful – the images in my mind are harrowing enough without a description of the real thing.
We continued like that until about three months ago, when we had our first real crisis. My mother was cutting his hair as he relaxed in his favourite chair and my father was chatting away, discussing whatever was on the television in front of him.
I was sat on the opposite chair, observing this piece of companionship, my mother doting over her true love through his sickness. I was at the stage of my life where I was considering leaving home, finding somewhere on my own to create a sense of normalcy. Leaving my mother would be a significant bind but my father was placid, he was just sick, really, nothing more.
My mother reached around to snip a stray portion of hair just above his ear when, in mid-sentence, my father’s mouth thrust towards her face and attempted to bite. The involuntary spasm lasted for exactly one motion, teeth slamming shut mere millimetres from the surface, before my father reeled backwards in his chair, dumbfounded by what had happened. His body, and not his mind, had lusted for flesh, and tried to take control.
My mother shirked in terror, dragging herself across the floor next to me. Through the shock he mumbled an apology, and we knew that he hadn’t meant to bite. What it did mean though was that he was moving closer to Zombie than man.
Once again, the briefcase was opened. Another card removed. Another telephone number dialled. The doctor answered and arrived post-haste. He stated that he would now be required to make bi-weekly visits to maintain a handle on the progression of NZ and that a specially-designed mouth guard would be required. Teeth removal wasn’t an option, he explained, because feeding was necessary to keep the patient alive. Instead he removed a metal contraption that wrapped plastic gumshields around the teeth. He then, casually, drilled the metal prongs at either side straight through my father’s cheeks and directly onto the jaw. This made it impossible for the protection to be quickly removed, even if a spontaneous movement lasted longer than a few seconds. My father didn’t even flinch as the metal crunched through his jawbone, and not a drop of blood was spilled. The doctor packed up and confirmed that he would be back in two weeks.
As I showed him to the door, I couldn’t help but ask. ‘Excuse me, sir? Who pays for all this?’
He turned around and smiled affectionately at me. ‘Don’t worry about it.’
Naturally, speaking has become problematic for my father since. He has gotten used to it and developed a style that we can generally understand, though it would sound like nonsense to anyone else. When he needs to feed, the plastic shields can be removed by hand and then replaced afterwards. As for the doctor’s visits and my father being out of sight, it was easy to sell terminal disease to not only the neighbours but the rest of the family, too. Once the initial visits and calls of compassion were made, it wasn’t exactly like the house was alive with people paying their condolences. We didn’t have to lie or cover our tracks too much.
He is weaker, now, like caring for a patient in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He will forget that he even has NZ, and this will get worse as the end draws near. But he is still with us, and we need him. I need him.
One day, the doctor arrived for a check-up as normal and, making sure my mother was well out of earshot, I stressed to him my desire to become actively involved in the ANZ. The doctor was sceptical and tried to dismissed me, but I proved persuasive. It’s hard to retrospectively assess my feelings; it just seemed like something I had to do. Given the dysfunction I see around me, I had given up on conforming to a regular way of life. I had to be involved in any organisation that opposed the Preservation misdirection and would have left my father’s corpse floating in the Thames that night. For all the stress and strain, they would have denied me countless memorable moments; nothing spectacular or defining, just glances, conversations, even moments of silence that I am so lucky to have been given. I know that he feels the same and he also knows of my intentions, as much as he can.
I told him I felt it was my vocation. To carry on what he surely would have wanted to finish, whatever the end of this looks like. His protestations didn’t last long because he knew that I would do it anyway.