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Putrefaction: An Homage by C. Rye

I think about zombies. With a clean white sheet of paper before me, waiting to be filled, I imagine zombies crawling, slime-covered, out of a pit, driving cars to work, lining up for their morning coffee, streaming into offices across the country, parking themselves at computers, trying to focus on work that uses only a small part of their brains, which is good, because most of their brains have been left behind in the muck. They screw their drooping eyeballs back in after staring at computer screens for hours. My eyes ooze as I write this, and my paper is no longer clean. Instead, it is filled with messy, decaying, once-human parts.

Then I think, “Don’t write about zombies. Write about a friend, a good character.” I have one named Hector. He’s my coffee buddy at work. He is into the occult. His version of occult is a mash-up of Rosicrucianism and Hermeticism laced with Thomas Paine. He likes to draw unexpected connections to throw you. Yesterday morning, over breakfast, he shook his vegetarian head in dismay at sausage on my plate. “To purify what is corporeal, you must first free yourself from corpses.” He smiled at his own pun.

I grunted and adjusted my eyeball.

Later over lunch, assorted cooked vegetables and fowl carcasses, he cataloged famous persons who lost body parts to followers and detractors. He started with the bones of saints as talismans, the singed heart of William Blake kept by a lover in a book, moved on to Einstein’s pickled brain stored a household freezer and ended with Napoleons privates, soldiers’ mementos. “Memento mori!” he laughed at me.

“You made that up,” I said.

He grinned, “I don’t have to make up this kind of thing.”

In the afternoon, we left the building for a walk to a coffee shop. He wanted to continue our discussion from lunch. He asked, steaming cup in hand, “Do you know how Francis Bacon died, or supposedly died?”

I shook my head, careful to keep an eye from flying out.

“He wanted to test a hypothesis. You see, he believed one might preserve meat by freezing it.” I raised an eyebrow, intrigued. He continued, “They didn’t have refrigeration in those days, of course, so he took a disemboweled fowl out into the snow, and tried to freeze it. He caught the flu.” Hector shook his head, “Poor chap died of the flu. Some view Bacon as a martyr for science because of this,” he added.

I nodded. Clearly Bacon was no friend to vegetarians, but I didn’t mention it to Hector.  Deep in his vegetarian heart, I know he loves Bacon.

Hector paused, stopped, then leaned down to me and spoke conspiratorially. “Actually, Bacon didn’t really die, not then. He faked his own death, fled to France, and wrote there. He was a leader of the Rosicrosse, and  his followers hid him. He continued to study and write, but under pen names.” Hector straightened and winked.

I blinked, caught my eyeball, and slipped it back in. “But he’s dead now,” I said, just to make sure.

“Yes, of course, but his teachings are alive and well. Along with the Rosicrucians.”

After work, a traffic jam formed in the company garage as everyone tried to leave at once. Hector and I walked around the grounds, waiting for traffic to die. He started again, “The spirit cleanses the putrid body, and makes it fit soil for cultivating a soul.”

“What’s the difference between spirit and soul?” I asked. “Aren’t they the same?”

“No. Spirit animates and purifies the body, to make way for the soul. Body, spirit and soul are like a car with fuel and a driver. You need all three to move.” He tucked a stray clump of sandy hair, streaked with silver, behind his ear. “Or winemaking: artful fermentation produces wine from grapes. You want to become wine.”

“Well, I’m approaching a good vintage,” I smiled. “Children age you, but in a good way. Before I had kids, my life was about me. Now it’s about them.”

Hector grew animated, “You are rotting compost nourishing the tender garden. You are the dying phoenix, whose ashes bring forth an egg.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Don’t mention it,” said Hector.

Now sitting at my desk, dirty paper before me, my eyes decaying, I recall the things Hector and I discussed. I remember one more conversation. Earlier today, over lunch, he glanced at my meaty plate. “Ghouls eat cadavers,” he said. I shrugged. He added, “Your body is a graveyard.” Here we go again, I thought. He waxed poetic, “According to Leonardo da Vinci, the body of a carnivore, being formed from cadavers, is a tomb for other animals, a haven for the dead. That’s you.” He pointed a fork at me.

I smiled and said, “May they rest in peace. I don’t want indigestion.” I took another bite.

“Let’s hope so,” he answered. “You don’t want any zombies in that graveyard of yours.”

So there you have it, the answer to the question: why think and write about zombies. I blame Hector. He keeps me on my toes, and forces me to keep at least one eyeball screwed in during breaks. Okay, sometimes he’s a bit pushy with the vegetarian bit, but conversations with him are the highlight of my working day. I have to keep most of my brain locked in my skull just to survive those. He’s pungent and fruity, like compost, or fine wine.

C. Rye works as a digital artist in Los Angeles in the visual effects industry. She received Master’s Degrees in Comparative and German Literature from Michigan State University. Her first novel, “Sibling Moons,” will appear in serial form on JukePop Serials.