This one is part dirty joke, part… something else. It’s been done before, sometimes better than others, but I really like the idea of a future (or distant past) world in which fiction and reality exist together. Not always in harmony, but side by side like we live with our neighbors So there’s a little bit of that here, too.
It’s a longer short story. It also has a bit of language in it. Well, all stories have bits of language, this one just has a bit more, if you catch my drift.
A Zombie, a Vampire, and a Genie Walk Into a Bar
by Curtis A. Deeter
I was just about ready to order another Nektar of the Godz—spelled with a z because it’s hip and even in a hole-in-the-wall like Johnnie’s you gotta keep up appearances—when the door swung open and in traipsed a real-to-life, shit-you-not zombie. He stunk the place up with death and excrement and a smell I couldn’t quite place. Rotten fish, I found out later. He tried to cover it all up with off-brand cologne, but it didn’t help; it made it worse. Much, much worse.
No one else paid him any mind.
I forced myself to look away, saying to the barkeep, “You better make that drink a double,” all the while keeping my one good eye trained on the zombie.
He thrillered his way across the dance floor, grinding against a middle-aged, saggy-cheeked woman with bags under her eyes and grime mingling with her crimson hair. She wasn’t human, rather one of the humanoids who seemed to keep popping up everywhere. When you plucked one, three more rose in its place. Times were changing, I guess.
“Having troubles moving with the times?” the barkeep asked.
“Me too, buddy. Me too.” He tossed back a shot of whiskey. “But their money is just as good, so here’s to that.”
Once the thrills were gone, the zombie took the empty seat next to me. If you’ve never smelled ripe, sweaty undead flesh, I envy you. It was all I could do to keep my drink down.
“Hi,” the zombie said.
Hi? You’re a freaking zombie! I wanted to scream. You couldn’t come up with anything better than ‘Hi’? Instead, I grunted at him, turning away and doing my best to come off as disinterested.
“Four fingers?” the barkeep asked, producing a dusty bottle of molten-looking sludge from some dark recess beneath the bar.
The zombie’s lips curled and stuck that way. “Nah, I’ve already eaten. I’ll have an appletini tonight.” As he ordered his drink, a chunk of his brow flaked off and landed on the floor. He looked at me. “It’s rude, you know?”
“I’m sorry? I didn’t mean to stare.”
“I said ‘hi’. The least you could do is say ‘hi’ back. It’s only polite. And grunting? At a zombie? Sort of social faux pas don’t you think? This isn’t the 21st century anymore, pal.”
“Um, sorry. Er, hello. I mean… I meant no offense.”
“Yeah, whatever,” the zombie said, leaving my recovery feeling unsatisfactory.
We sat in silence. The zombie drank his martini; I stared into my beverage, which was looking nuclear.
I had a million things I wanted to say to him, but I couldn’t remember how to move my mouth to make words. Or what words were. I found myself not braining, probably for the best given the situation and what…er, I mean who was sitting next to me. Showing too much brain in front of a zombie might go a bit beyond “social faux pas”. More like entrapment.
Finally, he spoke. I was relieved for the reprieve from silence. Also, by the fact that I still had all my limbs.
“You’re wondering what I’m doing here, right? Why these lovely people are just accepting my presence… how we’ve come so far as a society? Your curiosity glues you to that stool, but you want to down your drink and run like hell. Afraid I might try to eat your brains or something?”
“I, uh…” I lifted my drink, brought it halfway to my lips, and set it back down. “Well, actually—”
“Don’t worry, I don’t eat brains. I’m more refined than that. What you might call a New Age zombie. I ate ‘em once in India, but those belonged to a monkey.” He fanned himself dramatically. “Dr. Jones had me fangirling pretty hard at the time. Anyway, I have way too much respect for the shreds of humanity still left in me to allow myself such primitive delights. And, besides, I’m vegan.”
Of course you are. “That’s good,” I said, distracted by a strip of bluish-gray skin hanging off his cheek. Some primal instinct urged me to peel it off like a hangnail or pop it like a pimple, but I could feel the sick rising up my esophagus so I refrained.
Instead, I made small talk.
“Where are you from?”
“Venice. I was a merchant, once. Sold fish. One of my rivals decided he’d had enough of my success and murdered me in my sleep with my own spoiled product. Can you imagine? What kinda man chokes another man with rancid fish? At least have the decency to give a man an honorable death. After the deed, he packed my remains on a fishing transport and franchised another stall in place of mine. Unaware of my freshly dead corpse, someone stashed some unholy relics in with me: a ceremonial knife, a couple ankhs, a backwards ticking watch, upside down crosses. You know, the works.”
The flies moved in around the time I ordered my next drink. They buzzed around his appletini, alighting on the zombie, picking at his putrid skin, and throwing it back up on the bar. Flies grossed me out, and this only made things worse. I thought I might be sick again and not from the booze. A Martian in the back corner beat me to the punch, though. Too many O2 shots, apparently. Extraterrestrials just can’t hold their basic elements…
He asked me about me. I told him all there was to tell. How I had no purpose left in life. And how, after my daughter died, my wife left me, and I spiraled into a depression which landed me in the bottom of every bottle I could find. Little by little, I lost my motivation to keep living until, finally, I lost my job, too.
“Blah, blah, nobody cares, blahdy-dah,” I concluded, slurring the best of my blahs.
“Hover parts on an assembly line, eh? Did you do carpets, too?” he said, pensively. “Then you flipped burgers?” The number one most popular food in the future, though cow meat is rare and wars are started over it. Chefs tend to just use rat. Or squirrel. Sometimes Macro-mouse, if they’re desperate. “I tried a burger, once. Too… cooked. Man, the world can be a cruel place, can’t it? Ever try fishing?”
The only fish left in the oceans were the big, nasty ones with sharp teeth and anger problems. Lurkers, skimming the bottom in packs until weaker prey gets too close. They waited down there, biding their time. One day, around the same time all the dolphins got up and walked into the deep jungles, they revolted, overthrew the epipelagic fish, and remain supreme to this day. Fishing meant certain death, even for the most experienced angler.
“Well, your problems are yours, man. Could be worse. Ever try living without a functioning nervous system?” I shook my head. “Didn’t think so.”
In hindsight, these problems of mine seem so mundane, considering I was sitting in a tavern with a zombie. Still, I felt a titch of drunken self-pity. This creature, who went by Sweet Pea, had lived for six centuries. I couldn’t imagine the things he’d seen in his time as a zombie. Yet, he remained transfixed as I dumped my pointless human problems on him. To this day, despite how the evening in question turned out, I’m thankful for his open ears, even if one did end up in my drink.
As I attempted to fish it out, a newcomer stole my attention, along with the attention of every single being in the tavern—man, woman, alien, and quadruped alike. I imagine she’d been in the spotlight her entire life.
She didn’t walk in, rather she floated in, moving too fast, too elegantly. I’d like to say she sexed or titted her way in because that’s what everyone seemed to notice, but I’m a gentleman. And it’s the 22nd Century. Get real, people. We oughta know better by now. Still, she practically oozed sex and tits and legs, refining conventions of attraction with an edge of classiness that superseded everything else.
Her midnight-black hair cascaded onto her shoulders. Deep, crimson eyes, like rubies and blood, met mine. I nearly swooned. I wanted to rub my fingers across every inch of her pale skin. I wanted to give myself to her. I knew I would in the end, just like every other man she’d ever encountered.
She stopped a ways away and flashed me a toothy, seductive smile. Her canines were unmistakably that of a vampire. Maybe it was the Nektar, maybe it was my new zombie friend, but I accepted this truth without hesitation. Zombies and vampires exist in horror stories, so why shouldn’t she be a vampire? Especially in this new, whacky world of ours.
“Well hello, handsome,” she said as she appeared next to me. I hadn’t seen her move, but smelled my blood pulsing faster as she brushed my side. “Buy me a drink?”
I knew I couldn’t afford it. I honestly wasn’t sure how I would pay for any of my own drinks. Sometimes I washed dishes or took out trash. Sometimes I cleaned grease traps. Sometimes I got beat up and left in the alley to the mercy of the feral cats, an angry purveyor shaking his fist in my direction as he leaves me to the cold night.
But I agreed. It had been more of a command than a question, anyhow. Like I said, she had me the moment she walked in.
“Of course. Anything for you.” The words were mine, but sounded foreign, a ripple of heat shimmering over a distant sand dune.
She ordered a Bloody Mary.
“I order them for the irony of it. We need a lot of iron, ya know?” The joke went right over my head, but Sweet Pea yacked like one of the three stooges, his jaw popping out of place. “Get it? Get it?”
The barkeep rolled his eyes, like he’d heard that damn joke a hundred times before, but went ahead and made her a Bloody Mary.
“My name is Serena,” she said, leaving the drink untouched. “What’s yours?”
“I… don’t know,” I said, and realized it was true. I wasn’t drunk enough to forget who I was. I, in fact, hadn’t forgotten who I was at all. I never had a name to begin with. I was nobody, a lost soul, in the company of a goddess. I was a chunk of clay, waiting for her to mold me into whatever shape she desired. Who I once was, the wretched waste of space that was my former self, died when she sat next to me. Her presence left me in a drooly, babbling state.
“Just the way I like it.” She purred like a tiger, baring her fangs.
Sweet Pea, content in observing this one-sided game of seduction of ours, scratched his remaining ear. It popped off and landed in my drink. Entranced, I failed to notice this one on time. Mixed with Nektar, it tasted bitter like vinegar chips.
When I thought my night couldn’t get any weirder a man entered, wordlessly approached the bar, and slammed a bronze lamp in front of me. He smelled worse than the zombie. A mixture of jet fuel and curry. His eyes, darting this way and that, were redder than Serena’s. Something about his demeanor screamed that he had traveled a long way and still had longer to go. When I addressed him, he waved me off.
Then he was gone, heading out the way he came and letting the door slam behind him.
The lamp beckoned me, begged me to reveal my deepest and darkest secrets. I reached out and grabbed it, knowing the antiquity had to be mine. Holding it before me, I wanted to toss it on the ground or cover it up with a napkin or drink wine out of it. I wanted to dance with sultans, traverse the seven seas, and swim in a pit of cobras. I wanted to do anything but keep staring at it.
I wasn’t going to rub it. Everybody knows what happens when you rub a dusty lamp. They weren’t going to fool me…
“Go ahead,” someone said. “We all know you want to.”
“Excuse me? Go ahead and what?” I asked. It came out more like ‘shoe me? Guh-ah-head in watt’?
“Rub it. There’s a little smudge-a-roo there. Right in the center,” Sweet Pea insisted, sounding like a school boy. I half-expected him to triple-dog-dare me.
“If you rub it, I’ll let you rub me,” Serena whispered in my ear, before nibbling on the lobe.
I sat upright, the king of the night. If I didn’t have a crown, I might as well have a golden lamp. All it needed was some good old-fashioned elbow grease.
In the end, I gave up and rubbed it. The lamp, you perv… jeez.
Upon doing so, it clattered across the bar, rocking up and down on its oblong, circular base. I stepped back, wary of what might happen next. Part of me knew, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
A wisp of purple smoke curled out the spout of the lamp, followed by an ethereal woman, who I assumed was a genie. She rested a hand on one hip, the other hip cocked to the side.
The zombie elbowed me. “Heh. A zombie, a vampire, and a genie walk into a bar. Huh? Huh?!”
My spiraling life was the punchline of that particular bad joke.
The genie winked at me and turned to the barkeep. “Can I have a gin and tonic, please?” Then, she turned back to me. “What’s your story, kid?”
I told her the same thing I told the zombie. I lost my job, my wife left me, and the bank ran dry. Blah, blah, la-de-da-dum. And, like the zombie, the two women—if you could call them that—listened intently. To them, the mundanity of my mortal existence was more fascinating than any fairy tale. They were enthralled by every trivial detail of my sob story.
After several blissful, debaucherous hours of flirting, dancing, and laughing, the genie suddenly stopped. She had been grinding with Serena and Sweet Pea in the open space of the bar. Everyone watched them, but they only watched me.
“Well, you know the drill, mister,” Jeannie said, plopping down next to me. Her sweat glimmering like diamonds streaked across a cloudless night.
“Oh yes. Three wishes. I make your wildest dreams come true and so on. Wanna play? You did rub me out, after all.” She caressed my thigh. Her sapphire eyes rolled back as she drew out her next words. “And just right, too.”
“Well,” I said, looking back and forth between her and Serena. “I think you know what I want.”
“Ah, yes, but I need to hear you say it.”
“Go on and tell her,” Serena said. She massaged my back and shoulders. “No reason to start being shy all of a sudden.”
“Urrrgh,” Sweet Pea said out of drunkenness, not out of zombiness. It’d be racist to say it was out of zombiness. The undead have feelings, too.
So, I told her.
“I want a purpose in life. I want to be part of a family again. Most of all, I want to serve a cause greater than myself. Since I lost these things, my life has fallen to pieces, no offense Sweet Pea.”
He grunted and waved an arm at me that he was holding in his other arm. A piece of his scalp flaked off. I held my tongue. It didn’t feel like the right time to be a smartass.
“That’s it?” The genie asked.
“Absolutely,” I said, finishing my last drink of the night.
My last drink of forever.
She winked after each affirmation. Nothing changed.
“So be it,” she said.
Jeannie scrunched her forehead and blinked a fourth time, arms folded over her breasts, just like in the sixties show I Dream of Jeannie. Stereotypical as hell, but it worked. Sometimes appearances are more important than reality. A witch needs warts. A wizard needs stars on his hat and a staff in his hand. A tiger needs its stripes.
For a long, awkward moment Nothing continued to happen. I started to suspect maybe I was losing my mind. Maybe none of these beings were there. I mean, a zombie, a vampire, and a genie? What a joke.
The din of glass mugs clinking together and a dozen different conversations grew louder, while simultaneously stretching away. The vast emptiness of my life never felt heavier. The bar in front of me rushed away, spilling its contents onto the sticky floor. My stool flew back with the force of an exorcism.
I begged the barkeep like a puppy to help me. If not him, who else would save me? As I raised my hand to signal him, Sweet Pea grabbed a hold of my arm and bit off a chunk of my bicep. He stood, tossed a wad of cash on the table, and washed the taste of me down with the rest of his appletini.
“Are you kidding me?” I yelled, feeling around for a towel or something to staunch the bleeding. “What the hell, man? What about your whole New Age zombie bit?”
He grinned at me, the smug little bastard. How long had he been waiting to take a bite of me? Had the whole evening been a ruse to lull me into a false sense of security?
“You have purpose, now,” Sweet Pea said, not even bothering to look at me. He flashed a semi-toothy smile. Parts of me were stuck in between the few teeth he had left.
“You’re insane. Why d’you do that?”
“Brains,” he said, casually.
“Brains?” I folded a stack of napkins to soak up the blood oozing out of my arm. That’s the best way to describe it, but it wasn’t normal blood. Instead, it congealed as it oozed from a wound that seemed to be festering already. Nor was it the right color. More pinkish-gray, less crimson red.
“One of the most basic purposes in life is to feed. So I’ve given you brains. It’s all there is, really; one meal at a time. Just you wait. A life of freedom, living one body to the next and never worrying about anything else, is all the purpose you’ll ever need.”
Looking back at that evening, I see logic in this. Sure, hungering for brains all the time isn’t ideal, but Sweet Pea was the first “person” to do something nice—in principle at least—for me since my wife left. Looking back, I’m thankful. But I was so pissed off at the time…
I stood up, dazed. “But you’re refined.” The stool I had been sitting on fell to the ground. I braced myself on the bar, vision swirling in and out, struggling not fall flat on my face. Ravenous hunger swelled inside me. The skin on my bones seemed to tighten, imprisoning me within my body.
“It’s just a line, really. You’d be surprised by how many poor saps fall for it,” he said, disappearing into the background.
How could I possibly feel this hungry? I latched onto the bowl of peanuts on the bar, eating the lot shell and all. I bit into my glass, chewing until the same pink, oozy blood squelched out the corner of my mouth. No matter what I consumed, the hunger stirred, lingering like a tapeworm.
The inside of the bar grew hazy. I panicked. I growled like a caged beast, scratched at me skin and clothing.
Serena moved in close, bending towards my neck. I swelled in anticipation, felt a couple of pin pricks like shots, and panacea vampirica washed over me. You caught me; I made that one up, but it sounded nice and scientific, didn’t it? Either way, she pulled back and licked off flecks of spilled blood, leaving rivulets of it across my neck and cheek.
“Welcome to the family.”
“Yes, handsome. Everywhere you go, every breath you take, every move you make, you’ll be a part of the family. You’ll never be alone again. When you look down dark alleyways or up at the balcony seats at the opera, we’ll be there. We’ll be watching out for you. Welcome to the night.”
“I feel amazing. This power, like I could stop the world rotating if I wanted. Do you feel like this all the time?” I asked, embracing the vampirism with open arms. Could zombies be vampires? I didn’t care. I wanted it all. The world suddenly wasn’t enough.
Serena ran her fingers through my hair, despite the sweat and dirt caked in it. “Together, we can rule the world,” she whispered. The thought brought a wicked smile to my face.
The genie finished her drink, dabbing at the corners of her mouth with a napkin, and whistled to the barkeep.
“Can I have a cheeseburger? It’s been a damn long time since I’ve had a good meal.”
She seemed less ethereal than when she came out of the lamp. There was the pep in her step of someone who had worked their entire life to finally achieve an impossible goal. Her radiance filled the tavern. There wasn’t a soul in the place who could keep their eyes off her.
Serena didn’t seem jealous, so I gave the genie my undivided attention, noticing her eyes twinkled like stars. But she was crying. Diamond tears shattered on the sticky floor.
“You’re not going to bite me, too, are you?”
The genie forced a nasally laugh before wiping her tears and blowing her nose. “I’m sorry about this. I really am.”
“Sorry? Sorry for what? I’ve never felt better my entire life.”
I noticed she was holding the lamp by her side, keeping it hidden in the folds of her dress. Then it dawned on me, but it was already too late. She brought the lamp out in front of her, the tiny opening of the spout pointed directly at me. It was locked and ready to be loaded.
Tendrils of smoke rose between my legs. I looked around to see what was burning, knowing full well there was no fire. Instead, my feet were familiar wisps of purple smoke, already curling up towards the lamp.
My senses, alert from the vampirism, dulled and the world around me darkened. Everything seemed so strange, so foreign, and so hollow. I didn’t know where or who I was, or if I existed at all.
She had me and I couldn’t stop her. I’d made my three wishes, dug my own grave, and the genie granted them. She was fulfilling her immortal destiny without hate or malice. I couldn’t fault her for that.
As the last bits of me were sucked into the lamp, I heard her say, “And now you have a job. The works rather inconsistent, mind you, but count your blessings. Not everyone is as fortunate as you. You’ll have your time to shine, yet.”
And here I am, confined in the genie’s lamp. My lamp.
Don’t worry, I’m not alone in here. I am in the constant company of a hunger for brains and a consuming desire for blood and power, neither of which I have any means of securing. It’s maddening. I turn to the left and there’s a wall. To the right another. I look up to darkness, and not the invigorating darkness of night eternal, either. No clouds or sun. No stars. If I squint hard enough, I can almost see the missing chunk of my bicep, a bittersweet reminder of Sweat Pea and all the others, but it’s too dark even for that.
God only knows how many centuries have passed since that fateful night. Time no longer matters.
I tell you my story in hopes that one day you’ll find my lamp and free me from my prison. It doesn’t have to be today, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow, but eventually you will find me. Someone has to find me…
If it’s you, I’ll grant you three wishes. I’ll make your wildest dreams comes true. Just be careful not to forget the punchline. Sometimes the joke’s on you.