Re-imaginings: Revisiting your earlier stories through new eyes

Twilight+Tenth+Anniversary-Life+and+Death+Dual+Edition

Stephanie Meyer revisits Twilight with a gender-bend portrayal in the Tenth Anniversary dual edition.

I love how mainstream authors now acknowledge the worldwide audience for fan-fiction, parody and tribute stories by taking the time to re-invent and re-imagine their old books.

EL James recently did it with Grey, but she now looks set to be upstaged by Stephanie Meyer. Rather than simply switch POV in her new edition, Meyer has changed the sexes of her characters, in what is known as a ‘gender-bend’ version. A popular method with writers of manga and anime fan-fiction, it looks like her new version of Twilight (called ‘Life and Death’, released in this dual edition above) will take her fandom by storm.

I’m not a Twilight fan, but as a fan of creative mash-up, re-cut and re-edit culture, I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Rather than bore you all with what would otherwise be viewed as yet another critique-based post drifting around cyberspace by a grumpy indie on the ‘talents’ of such authors and whether or not they need the money, I’ll just do my usual and see what happens when I try it out on my Zombie Adventure pet projects. Urgh. I think this might be unwise to read alone… 😀

***

DO ZOMBIES DREAM OF UNDEAD SHEEP?

(the gender-bend version of THE ZOMBIE ADVENTURES OF SARAH BELLUM)

CHAPTER ONE:

I look in the mirror. I do it every day. Pretty much most people look in the mirror every day.

I see a young man. That’s a relief. A man with hair, two eyes, a nose, one mouth, and as I push the hair back as I’m shaving around my sideburns – yes, still got two ears. Phew.

My housemate, whose name escapes me most days, has forced me into this, the reason I’m awake and brushing my teeth at the godforsaken hour of ten a.m. How dare he go for his STD check today, and pack me off instead to do his media studies homework? Couldn’t he have caught chlamydia some other time?

I have to go and interview some vending-machine business mogul. The company is called Dry Goods, Inc, and the owner, Kristen Dry, supplies our University with all of its vending machines. She’s notoriously hard to get appointments with. When you ring her office, you have to press so many buttons on the phone to finally get through – only to be told that your selection is no longer available, and to choose an alternative.

Whatsisname, my housemate, says that he’s got to get this interview for the University paper. I don’t know why, they only use it to wrap take-out cartons in the refectory. Maybe it’s to promote a new drinks machine range.

So I’m having to forgo my weekly visits to the Body Farm and the morgue for my own research project. I don’t even know if I’ll be back in time for work later.

He’s going to owe me big-time for this. If I don’t get to see a corpse this week, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s one I’m rather fond of in a wheelie bin under a silver birch tree at the body farm, where I like to sit and eat my sandwiches. She’ll have changed so much the next time I see her…

I leave Whatsisface, my best friend, packing his rucksack for the clinic.

“Good luck!” says Thingummyjig, as I head out. “Make it a good interview!”

“I’ll bring you back some condoms,” I concede, and slam the front door.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s a long drive to Seaford West Industrial Estate, but luckily I have my mother’s trusty Fiat 500 in which to navigate the rain-soaked roads. I don’t think my Pizza Heaven scooter would have made it. When I put my books in the insulated top-box, it always skids over in the wet. And sometimes nasty people put other things in there, when I’m doing a delivery.

Dry Goods House is a huge monolith of connected storage containers, converted into offices on the seafront industrial park, an illegal immigrant’s dream. Mirrored glass windows inserted into the corrugated steel keep out any prying eyes.

The revolving doors swish as I enter the Customer Enquiries lobby. A brain-dead-looking blond Calvin Klein model dude is sitting at the stainless surgical steel counter.

“I’m here to see Miss Kristen Dry,” I announce. “I’m Basil Ganglia. Mr Thing from the University sent me.”

“I’ll text her,” says Brain-Dead, picking up his phone. “Have a seat.”

He eyes me as I sit down on the plastic chair between two vending machines, one for hot drinks, the other for snacks. I feel over-dressed. Maybe stealing my housemate’s Christian Louboutin studded deck shoes and YSL suit had been taking it too far. The receptionist looks cool and comfortable, in turquoise blue overalls and a neon yellow hi-visibility industrial vest.

“She’s on her way down,” he says, after a moment. He reaches under the desk. “You’ll have to put this on.”

I get up again to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest he hands me, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. I pull it on grudgingly over my borrowed YSL.

The adjoining door creaks, and I turn, still adjusting my Velcro.

I know, the moment I see her.

The black dress. The pallor of her skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. That limp… oh, God, that limp…!

“Kristen Dry?” My voice catches in my throat.

“Mr… Ganglia,” she moans softly, extending a ring-encrusted hand.

My heart palpitates wildly, noting the ragged cuticles, and the long, blue-tinged, prehensile fingers.

“My housemate,” I begin. “Mr Shitface – he couldn’t make it today. Having his down-pipes cleaned out and serviced…”

I grasp her outstretched hand in greeting. So cold… and yet so mobile… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and I snatch my hand away quickly, scared of showing myself up. Her jet-black eyes glitter, equally cold, and her upper lip seems to curl in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Or is it my imagination?

“Were you offered a refreshment, Mr Ganglia?” She gestures towards the famous vending machines.

I shake my head, and she turns to glare at the receptionist. He cowers visibly, and I’m sure I hear her emit a long, low, guttural sound. The receptionist scrabbles in his drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.

“I’m fine, really…” I croak, although in all honesty, my throat does feel terribly dry.

“Very wellll…”

My knees feel weak as she holds the door open, and beckons, her head at a quirked angle.

“This way, Mr… Ganglia.”

How she rolls my name around her tongue makes my own feel drier than ever. I stumble hazily through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and the shuffling, shambling sound of her doe-like footfalls in my wake.

“Straight ahead, Mr Ganglia.”

Her voice is like tissue paper being unwrapped from around a stone urn. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my vertebrae. It resonates with my deepest darkest thoughts.

Things I had not even entertained notions of while eating sandwiches under the silver birch tree, beside my sweet Miss Wheelie-Bin…

Her arm extends past me to swipe her security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her poppy-like scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.

“Go through, Mr Ganglia,” she practically whispers in my ear.

The door clicks open, and I step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and I gasp. Another brain-dead blond is banging his head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.

“Kevin,” Miss Dry says. Is that a tinge of disappointment, or disapproval in her voice? “Take Mr Ganglia’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Mr Ganglia.”

Kevin turns to look at us, his flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. He holds out his arms to accept the navy-blue YSL and hi-visibility vest as I shrug them off, feeling exposed now in my Andy Warhol soup can t-shirt. Mr Brain-Dead Mk II takes my jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where his head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.

Kristen Dry takes my arm to steer me past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from me. Those long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the warm flesh of my tricep…! I trip along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with her rolling, loping stride, like that of a wounded deer.

“My office…” she hisses, swiping her security pass a second time, and ushering me through.

It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.

“You like my art, Mr Ganglia?” she murmurs, seeing my open gape at the piece.

“It’s yours?” Wow – now I’m really intimidated. The only art I see is on custom tattoo bodywork when passing the breaker’s yard, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fit female mechanic. “It’s beautiful…”

“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” she confides in a husky voice.

“It must be expensive.”

“Very,” she agrees. “Sit.”

I plant my nervous glutes onto the soft leather, and start to take out my notes. The only sound otherwise in her office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.

Kristen Dry watches me, calculatingly. She circles around the sofa opposite, not yet seated.

“Would you like something to drink, Basil Ganglia?” She moves languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.

The sound of my full name on her lips is like the opening of a beautiful white lily…

“I am a little parched,” I admit. “Yes, please, Miss Dry. Thank you.”

“What would you like?” Her hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”

Mmmm – a vending machine with everything!

“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear myself say, and my stomach grumbles in agreement, recalling the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza I ate for breakfast, many hours ago.

“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?”

“Yes please – the last one…”

I watch as her elegant fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.

I wonder what sort of businesses she supplies this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. We must be at the very bottom of their budget range.

She brings it to the low onyx table in front of me, and presents it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way she arranges herself laconically on the sofa opposite, makes my heart sink slightly.

Oh no. She’s so married… the way she’s fidgeting her earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroking her knee with the other hand – that’s at least fifty shades of married…

I struggle to focus on the list of questions that Knobhead has written out for me. I’m starting to worry that maybe I won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them.

“It’s very hot,” she says, in a warning tone. It startles me.

“Hmmm?” Am I always this jumpy?

“The soup, Basil.” Her mouth twitches in the corner, and her black eyes crinkle slightly. It’s as if she can see into the dark shadows at the back of my own mind.

“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” I say, brightly, batting away the shadows in my head at her curt nod. Definitely married. I look down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”

“No.” The answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”

“Right…” I scribble this down, in my best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”

“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” she assures me. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”

The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up her argument. But still…

“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” I ask.

“I am not saying anything, Mr Ganglia,” she muses, her eyes still faintly entertained, her head still quirked. “But you are, it seems. Is this some sort of empathy test?”

I stare down at the page. Twat. That last question was me, my stupid mouth running away with me. Not one of Fucktard’s questions at all. Double twat.

“Moving on,” I say swiftly, aware that her eyes are mentally dismembering me. I look at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Miss Dry?”

“With excellent book-keeping.”

I look up at her, uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. She is still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of her eyes resting on me steadily. My own eyes follow the line of her lips, and the rumpled raven mane of hair, still intact. Her square shoulders and tiny waist in that black power-dress make me feel weak. What’s wrong with you, dude? She’s still walking around and talking! You’d be bored sick of her within minutes, same as all the others…

I press on with the questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and she has a cool answer for every single one.

“Are these questions designed to determine whether I am a businesswoman… or a zombie, Mr Ganglia?” she asks in return.

My blood runs hot and cold both at once. I’m relieved to turn the page, and find the closing questions are brief.

“…Finally, Miss Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”

She indicates the décor of the office.

“Black,” she confirms. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”

Her face darkens. She looks away.

“White?” I suggest, thinking of the painting.

“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”

“You mean gr…”

She puts her finger to her lips.

“Best left unspoken.” Those black eyes burrow into my head. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”

She’s bonkers. Just what we need right now. Another married psycho cougar. I return to the final questions.

“And what music do you listen to?”

“Soul.”

“And last question. What car do you drive?”

“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR assistant soon.”

Outside the window behind her, something turquoise blue and neon yellow crashes wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Without looking around, she produces a remote control, and closes the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.

“Thank you, Miss Dry.” I’m on my feet in that instant, suddenly wary of being in an enclosed office alone with her. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of my mind, at the closing of those blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”

“Indeed?” she asks, rising out of her seat. For the first time I notice how tall and shapely she is… was, I correct myself angrily. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”

So arrogant!

I just nod, blushing fiercely, and head for the door.

“I will have to show you out,” she reminds me, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany me. “It has been a pleasure, Mr Ganglia.”

Her voice is driving me crazy. And her hand on my arm again, guiding me out of the door and into the corridor. I practically scamper ahead, snatching my coat back from Brain-Dead Blond Mk II.

“Thank you for your time, Miss Dry,” I say, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Brain-Dead Blond the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get away. “It has been very educational.”

“I’m sure it will be,” she agrees, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Mr Ganglia.”

I run to the Fiat in my shiny deck shoes, and lock myself in. I can see gulls flocking to the spot on the beach outside her office, on the far side of the building.

Those shadows in my head – I fight to control them. How dare she hijack my fantasies, my pure and innocent thoughts of the dead? How dare she make a mockery of it all by walking around in broad daylight and touching me??! There ought to be a law against that sort of thing…

As I drive home again, all I can see through the rain bouncing off the road in front of me, is her pale and amused, sardonic and angelically attractive face.

Deckard meets Rachel in ‘Blade Runner’

See the original chapter ‘Filthy Shavings of Gray Matter’ in The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum:

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Available on Amazon Kindle worldwide – click for Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

If you’d like to see ‘The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum’ featured in The Guardian…

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

If you enjoyed The Zombie Adventures… parody novel, which I blogged here chapter by chapter last year (each post written straight off the top of my crazy head) you can now nominate it to be featured in this new Guardian series

Update: Until the end of July 31st 2013, you can download the eBook from Smashwords in their sitewide promotion for free using the promo code SW100

Blade Ruster: A Zombie Parody

Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ remixed by Reaps007…

We leave the quarantine area, and Crispin heads directly for one of the computer workstations, where a number of virtual monitors display live feed from various locations on his property. A 3-D walk-through image of the house and underground bunker on a projection interface shows where each image is taken from. It looks as though there are no blind spots at all.

“How many cameras do you have in this place?” I ask, in awe.

It’s like being in the control room of an Oceana nightclub. Only tidier, without the detritus of Starbuck’s cups and McDonald’s wrappers, or stripper’s thongs pinned to the notice-board. I notice that the one solitary thing in the zombie businessman’s waste basket, is a single screwed-up ball of paper.

“Over three thousand, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin tells me, tapping quickly on his interactive screen. “As well as six thousand hidden microphones, motion and pressure sensors, temperature gauges, light-sensitive triggers, laser-interrupter switches, automatic deadbolts, emergency power back-up, automated instant police and fire control call-out, intercom, sound-system, and mood-lighting throughout. There is also a chicken-feeding station and egg-laying coop in every room, should one of my pets accidentally be shut in.”

“You have thought of everything,” I nod. I glance at the screen, where I notice the cockerel chasing one of his harem along an unknown corridor. “Do you keep any other pets, besides chickens?” I gesture back at the quarantine bay. “…And dormant zombies…?”

“I used to have homing pigeons on the estate,” he reminisces distantly. “But one day, they failed to come back. I was informed that they had landed at the nuclear power-plant, and were all shot by the Hazardous Waste-regulation snipers. I was too sad to replace them.”

“Ah,” I say, realisation dawning. “So that’s why you keep the birds indoors now…”

“Oh, no.” He shakes his head, in that attractively arrhythmic, wonky fashion. “The chickens have special… scientific significance. They are allowed anywhere they please.”

“Scientific significance?” I repeat. “What significance does a chicken have to a Zom… oh. Of course. West African witch-doctors. I suppose you’re trying to distil the essence of Voodoo, to help with your research for a cure?”

He shuffles awkwardly, in his seat at the console.

“Here,” he says, avoiding the subject, pointing to a segment of the 3-D image in the main house. One of the rooms in the interactive graphic is glowing red. “We have the location of our breach.”

He taps on the virtual model, and the camera views pop up, on a giant ether screen in front of us. The room of interest is in complete darkness.

“Initiate emergency lighting,” he orders.

The model room glows green, but nothing happens on the monitor.

“He has covered the cameras,” Crispin murmurs. “Go to heat sensor view…”

A white line of light scans back and forth over the 3-D model, but again – nothing on the screen.

“All the equipment is functioning,” Crispin murmurs. “Which means only one thing…”

“What?”

“That room,” he remarks, tapping on the screen again. “It also has significance.”

I wonder what he could mean.

“Is it a shrine?” I ask, nervously.

It hadn’t occurred to me that the enigmatic entrepreneur Crispin Dry might be religious. Or what that might entail. Never mind the wonderful world of Voodoo, it’s the other sorts of religion that scare me. The religions that come with men in long dresses, fancy headgear, and spending a lot of time on one’s knees for no useful purpose… not even a bit of ‘wax-on, wax-off’ while you’re down there…

“A shrine would indeed be one way of describing it,” he murmurs, stiffly. “Show footage from two weeks ago today, 0600 hours.”

The screen clears, and reveals what to my relief looks like a normal, ordinary – if somewhat large and elegant bedroom. Within a few seconds, something dark moves over the screen, rendering it black again.

“Run sequence again,” says Crispin. “Zoom in on reflection, upper left.”

The image reappears. The footage expands, increasing the size of a large vanity-unit mirror, on the far side of the room.

A shape moves across it swiftly, causing me to jump and gasp.

“Stop!” Crispin snaps, and I nearly swallow my poor tongue, before realising he’s still talking to the computer. “Run again, quarter-speed…”

The image of the mirror refreshes. Expecting it this time, I wait for the anticipated shape – and sure enough – the side-view of another zombie steps into view, reflected in the glass.

No wonder there was no heat signature detected…

“So…” Crispin whispers, as the frame freezes. “It is him…”

“Who?” I ask. There is a long pause.

“The zombie I revived,” he sighs, staring at the image. “He must have remained hidden in this house for the last two weeks – possibly recuperating and convalescing – until the motion sensors detected his movements in the room just now.”

“How would he know about the cameras?” I demand. “Do zombies have incredible intuition?”

Crispin shakes his head, and moves the footage forward, one frame at a time. The zombie’s head turns, with slow precision, to look directly into camera – via its reflection in the mirror.

And it grins.

“No,” Crispin says, grimly. “He knows about the cameras, because they are in his bedroom.”

“His bedroom?” My brain can’t keep up.

Is he sub-letting to zombies as well?

“It has always been his bedroom,” Crispin nods. “That is my brother… Homer N. Dry.”

I have to grip the edge of the console. My knees have handed in their notice, both at the same time.

Crispin continues to stare impassively, at the grinning image of his brother’s face on the giant screen.

He was experimenting on his own family… his own flesh and blood

“Print me a hard copy,” he says at last, and the appropriate equipment hums into life. “Right there.”

The original scene from Blade Runner above – enjoy 🙂

Buy the complete 83-chapter epic ‘The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum’ on Amazon Kindle worldwide – click for Amazon.comAmazon.ca, and Amazon.co.uk

Also available from Smashwords for all other devices and online reading

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

 

50 Shades of Gray Matter: A Zombie Parody ~ Chapter One (Extended)

I look in the mirror. I do it every day. Pretty much most people look in the mirror every day.

I see a girl. That’s a relief. A girl with hair, two eyes, a nose, one mouth, and as I push the hair back as I’m brushing it to check – yes, still got two ears. Phew.

My housemate, whose name escapes me most days, has forced me into this, the reason I’m awake and brushing my hair at the ungodly hour of ten a.m. How dare she go for her abortion today, and pack me off instead to do her media studies homework? Couldn’t she have had her termination some other time?

I have to go and interview some vending-machine business mogul. The company is called Dry Goods, Inc, and the owner, Crispin Dry, supplies our University with all of its vending machines. He’s notoriously hard to get appointments with. When you ring his office, you have to press so many buttons on the phone to finally get through – only to be told that your selection is no longer available, and to choose an alternative.

Miss Whatsername, my housemate, says that she’s got to get this interview for the University paper. I don’t know why, they only use it to wrap take-out cartons in the refectory. Maybe it’s to promote a new drinks machine range.

So I’m having to forgo my weekly visits to the body farm and the morgue for my own research project. I don’t even know if I’ll be back in time for work later.

She’s going to owe me big-time for this. If I don’t get to see a corpse this week, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s one I’m rather fond of in a wheelie bin under a silver birch tree at the body farm, where I like to sit and eat my sandwiches. He’ll have changed so much the next time I see him…

I leave Whatserface, my best friend, packing her nightdress for the clinic.

“Good luck!” says Thingummyjig, as I head out. “Make it a good interview!”

“I’ll bring you back some sanitary towels,” I concede, and slam the front door.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s a long drive to Seaford West Industrial Estate, but luckily I have my father’s trusty bullet-proof Hummer in which to navigate the rain-soaked roads. I don’t think my Pizza Heaven scooter would have made it. When I put my books in the insulated top-box, it always skids over in the wet. And sometimes nasty people put other things in there, when I’m doing a delivery.

Dry Goods House is a huge monolith of connected storage containers, converted into offices on the seafront industrial park, an illegal immigrant’s dream. Mirrored glass windows inserted into the corrugated steel keep out any prying eyes.

The revolving doors swish as I enter the Customer Enquiries lobby. A brain-dead-looking blonde is sitting at the stainless surgical steel counter.

“I’m here to see Mr. Crispin Dry,” I announce. “I’m Sarah Bellum. Miss Thing from the University sent me.”

“I’ll text him,” says Miss Brain-Dead, picking up her phone. “Have a seat.”

She eyes me as I sit down on the plastic chair between two vending machines, one for hot drinks, the other for snacks. I feel over-dressed. Maybe stealing my housemate’s Christian Louboutin studded Pigalle pumps and Chanel suit had been taking it too far. The receptionist looks cool and comfortable, in turquoise blue overalls and a neon yellow hi-visibility industrial vest.

“He’s on his way down,” she says, after a moment. She reaches under the desk. “You’ll have to put this on.”

I get up again to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest she hands me, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. I pull it on grudgingly over my borrowed Chanel.

The adjoining door creaks, and I turn, still adjusting my Velcro.

I know, the moment I see him.

The black suit. The pallor of his skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. That limp… oh, God, that limp…!

“Crispin Dry?” My voice catches in my throat.

“Miss… Bellllummmm,” he moans softly, extending a dirt-encrusted hand.

My heart palpitates wildly, noting his ragged cuticles, and the long, gray, prehensile fingers.

“My housemate,” I begin. “Miss Shitface – she couldn’t make it today. Got the uterine bailiffs in…”

I grasp his outstretched hand in greeting. So cold… and yet so mobile… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and I snatch my hand away quickly, scared of showing myself up. His jet-black eyes glitter, equally cold, and his upper lip seems to curl in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Or is it my imagination?

“Were you offered a refreshment, Miss Bellumm?” He gestures towards the famous vending machines.

I shake my head, and he turns to glare at the receptionist. She cowers visibly, and I’m sure I hear him emit a long, low, guttural sound. The receptionist scrabbles in her drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.

“I’m fine, really…” I croak, although in all honesty, my throat does feel terribly dry.

“Very wellll…”

My knees feel weak as he holds the door open, and beckons, his head at a quirked angle.

“This way, Miss… Bellummm.”

How he rolls my name around his mouth makes my own feel drier than ever. I stumble hazily through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and the shuffling, shambling sound of his footfalls in my wake.

“Straight ahead, Miss Bellumm.”

His voice is like sandpaper being rasped over a headstone. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my vertebrae. It resonates with my deepest darkest thoughts.

Things I had not even entertained notions of while eating sandwiches under the silver birch tree, beside my dear Mr. Wheelie-Bin…

His arm extends past me to swipe his security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of his moss-like scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.

“Go through, Miss Bellumm,” he practically whispers in my ear.

The door clicks open, and I step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and I gasp. Another brain-dead blonde is banging her head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.

“Debbie,” Mr. Dry says. Is that a tinge of disappointment, or disapproval in his voice? “Take Miss Bellum’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Miss Bellumm.”

Debbie turns to look at us, her flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. She holds out her arms to accept the navy-blue Chanel and hi-visibility vest as I shrug them off, feeling exposed now in my Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe t-shirt. Miss Brain-Dead Mark II takes my jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where her head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.

Crispin Dry takes my arm to steer me past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from me. Those long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the soft warm flesh of my tricep…! I trip along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with his rolling, loping gait, like that of a wounded panther.

“My office…” he hisses, swiping his security pass a second time, and ushering me through.

It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.

“You like my art, Miss Bellummm?” he murmurs, seeing my open gape at the piece.

“It’s yours?” Wow – now I’m really intimidated. The only art I see is on custom car bodywork when passing the breaker’s yard, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fit mechanic. “It’s beautiful…”

“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” he confides in a husky voice. “Sit.”

I plant my quivering haunches onto the soft leather, and start to take out my notes. The only sound otherwise in his office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.

Crispin Dry watches me, calculatingly. He circles around the sofa opposite, not yet seated.

“Would you like something to drink, Sarah Bellumm?” He moves languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.

The sound of my full name on his lips is like the opening of a beautiful white lily…

“I am a little parched,” I admit. “Yes, please, Mr. Dry. Thank you.”

“What would you like?” His hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”

Mmmm – a vending machine with everything!

“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear myself say, and my stomach grumbles in agreement, recalling the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza I ate for breakfast, many hours ago.

“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?”

“Yes please – the last one…”

I watch as his clever fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.

I wonder what sort of businesses he supplies this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. We must be at the very bottom of their budget range.

He brings it to the low onyx table in front of me, and presents it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way he arranges himself laconically on the sofa opposite, makes my heart sink slightly.

Oh no. He’s so gay…the way he’s fidgeting his earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroking his knee with his other hand – that’s at least fifty shades of gay…

I struggle to focus on the list of questions that Knobhead has written out for me. I’m starting to worry that maybe I won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them.

“It’s very hot,” he says, in a warning tone. It startles me.

“Hmmm?” Am I always this jumpy?

“The soup, Miss Bellummm.” His mouth twitches in the corner, and his black eyes crinkle slightly. It’s as if he can see into the dark shadows at the back of my own mind.

“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” I say, brightly, batting away the shadows in my head at his curt nod. Definitely gay. I look down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”

“No.” The answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”

“Right…” I scribble this down, in my best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”

“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” he assures me. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”

The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up his argument. But still…

“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” I ask.

“I am not saying anything, Miss Bellumm,” he muses, his eyes still faintly entertained, his head still quirked. “But you are, it seems.”

I stare down at the page. Twat. That last question was me, my stupid mouth running away with me. Not one of Miss Fucktard’s questions at all. Double twat.

“Moving on,” I say swiftly, aware that his eyes are mentally dismembering me. I look at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Mr. Dry?”

“With excellent book-keeping.”

I look up at him, uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. He is still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of his eyes resting on me steadily. My own eyes follow the line of his jaw, and the rumpled Bohemian mane of hair, still intact. His square shoulders in that black suit make me feel weak. What’s wrong with you, girl? He’s still walking around and talking! You’d be bored sick of him within minutes, same as all the others…

I press on with the questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and he has a cool answer for every single one. I’m relieved to turn the page, and find the closing questions are brief.

“…Finally, Mr. Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”

He indicates the décor of the office.

“Black,” he confirms. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”

His face darkens. He looks away.

“White?” I suggest, thinking of the painting.

“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”

“You mean gr…”

He puts his finger to his lips.

“Best left unspoken.” Those black eyes burrow into my head. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”

He’s bonkers. Just what we need right now. Another gay eccentric. I return to the final questions.

“And what music do you listen to?”

“Soul.”

“And last question. What car do you drive?”

“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR girl soon.”

Outside the window behind him, something turquoise blue and neon yellow crashes wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Without looking around, he produces a remote control, and closes the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.

“Thank you, Mr. Dry.” I’m on my feet in that instant, suddenly wary of being in an enclosed office alone with him. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of my mind, at the closing of those blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”

“Indeed?” he asks in turn, rising out of his seat. For the first time I notice how tall and manly he is… was, I correct myself angrily. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”

So arrogant!

I just nod, blushing fiercely, and head for the door.

“I will have to show you out,” he reminds me, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany me. “It has been a pleasure, Miss Belllummm.”

His voice is driving me crazy. And his hand on my arm again, guiding me out of the door and into the corridor. I practically scamper ahead, snatching my coat back from Brain-Dead Blonde Mark II.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Dry,” I say, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Brain-Dead Blonde the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get away. “It has been very educational.”

“I’m sure it will be,” he agrees, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Miss Belllummm.”

I run to the Hummer in my pointy Pigalle pumps, and lock myself in. I can see gulls flocking to the spot on the beach outside his office, on the far side of the building.

Those shadows in my head – I fight to control them. How dare he hijack my fantasies, my pure and innocent thoughts of the dead? How dare he make a mockery of it all by walking around in broad daylight and touching me??! There ought to be a law against that sort of thing…

As I drive home again, all I can see through the rain bouncing off the road in front of me, is his gray and amused, sardonic and demonically attractive face.

See the movie ‘Secretary’ (trailer above) for the original Mr. Grey, if copyright law is what lights your candle… and you may find a few more movie tributes, amongst those in the following zombie parody… 🙂

To read on, see the opening chapter ‘Filthy Shavings of Gray Matter’ in The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum:

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Available on Amazon Kindle worldwide – click for Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

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