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Third Place: Zv-City of Braindead


"Zv-City of Braindead" by Anka B Troitsky in Third Place. Blue Ballet Shoes


Zv-City of Braindead

by Anka B Troitsky

Third Place


Properties of life: nutrition, excretion, reproduction,

movement, respiration, growth and … thinking?

From a pupil’s science homework in 2009. Essex, UK


A Russian zombie! Sounds great, doesn’t it? What else can I say? I am a true patriot.

My name is Stas. I am a typical St Petersburg representative, but I have been preserved better than many. I have almost all limbs intact and a proud posture.

My neighbours and I can be seen on Nevsky, peacefully wandering among rusty cars. It may seem to outsiders that we are not very sociable, but we simply do not say what we think out loud. We are quite serious. Only those with no lips grin stupidly. Most of us hang out in the streets and squares, gossiping, picking everything and everyone apart. Sometimes literally. I personally prefer playing dominoes in the Summer Garden.

Right now, I am slowly walking towards my home address. I’m on my way to my wife. Galeena used to be a ballerina, but she currently has no legs and is waiting for me on the sofa in front of the TV, in her dressing gown and a solid lilac bra. I suspect that the bra was empty for a long time, just like my pants, but it still looks nice and shapely.

I hobble slowly along the road, not suspecting that life will soon change dramatically.

I hear a wheeze. “Hey … Stas …”

My neighbour Kimytch is standing by a Tobacco shop with a smashed window. He opens his mouth again, one cheek missing and his voice hoarse. “Trouble …” he manages to say, “Phil is dead.”

“I know …” I answer with a sigh, “Me too.”

“No … totally dead. I found him … in there … yesterday.”

Kimytch is a nice guy, but his wife walked out on him, leaving him only a TV set. Since then, he has been drinking a lot.

Almost an hour passes as we stand by the cash register, with good old Phil lying on the floor.

I don’t have many friends, and Phil was a good-natured fellow named Two-Teeth. He used to work as a guide on city tours, smoked like a chimney, and loved dogs. Phil always beat me at the game, but I hadn’t seen him much lately. And now he has a dark pool of goo where his head used to be. A smeared brick is lying nearby, and I begin to suspect.

“Murdered,” I say with conviction.

A minute passes.

“Oh, no! You cannot be serious!” Kimytch clasps his hands, and his little finger flies off into the corner. “Who … killed … him?”

“None of our citizens, for sure.”

That was an easy conclusion. Has anyone ever heard of one zombie attacking another?

“Then … an outsider!” Kimytch guesses.

I nod slowly. So, it looks like strangers have appeared again among us, and everyone needs to be warned. We have to work fast … as fast as we can without falling apart. I ask Kimytch to rush to the mayor immediately. He obediently hobbles away, and I squat next to the corpse to pick the bones … literally. It just felt like the right thing to do.

On the dirty floor, apart from Phil and the brick, I see a lot of debris, fragments of plaster, cigarette butts, chocolate bar wrappers and … a bloody palm print on the linoleum floor. A strange memory stirs in my head but fails to form a clear thought. This is definitely not a zombie’s hand. These fingers are not only a full set but are also covered with skin. There is no doubt. An outsider! I notice another print on the door frame. The killer slipped on Phil’s brain and stained his hand. I get up, walk around the crime scene, and approach the back door. What is that? There is a silver cigarette lighter on the doorstep. It belongs to Phil. I don’t know why, but I want to put the lighter not in my pocket but in a transparent bag. But I don’t have one. “Oh, Phil, I told you one day smoking will kill you once again, even without lungs. What have you been up to now?” I ask aloud, wishing Phil would reply with his usual, “The hell with you!”

After picking up this piece of evidence, I make my way back home, wondering what the outsiders need this time. We have nothing useful left. Scrap metal, maybe. I think so hard I can’t hear anything around me. I arrive home in the morning. My wife will kill me … again.

At home, Galeena turns to me on her sofa. I’m waiting.

“Stas, go … to …” she falls silent for a whole minute, then says “the square.” She pauses again. “The mayor … rang … the … bell.”

I blow her a kiss, then turn in the doorway.

On the way to Dvortsovaya, the main square, I see townspeople flocking along the streets. They flow through the streets like a slow grey river, grumbling and swaying. The Winter Palace is hidden in scaffolding and frayed plastic wrapping. Under the central column lies a podium with audio and video equipment.

I see Kimytch standing there with the mayor’s bald head, our dear Gleb Nikiteetch, in his hands. No one knows how our mayor lost it or what happened to his body, but we love and respect him, and we carry him around … usually inside a large cake box.

I share my thoughts with the mayor. By then, it is getting dark again, and everything is in place. We put Nikiteetch on the podium in front of the microphone to address the whole city. In a raspy and hoarse voice, he informs the audience of Phil’s fate and states that we are surrounded by enemies and must repel the attack. When signalled, one of his assistants flips a toggle switch, and montage shots appear on the whitish sheets of the scaffolding’s wrapping. Fragments of various movies show outsiders smashing zombies with baseball bats, shooting them with crossbows, burning them, and splashing them with gasoline or acid. The people of St Petersburg stare at the pocked screen, and bright reflections dance amid the remains of eyes and the wet surfaces of decomposing bodies.

“You see?” the mayor repeats from time to time. “This is what awaits us if we do not unite and fight back.”

For your information, the common view that we are dangerous is greatly exaggerated. The outsiders are convinced that all we ever do is hunt them to devour. Really? Look at us again. Well? Do we look like predators to you? We are slow and very cautious … otherwise, it would be easy to drop a rib or two. Why do you think we have lost so much weight? We are skin and bone … literally. Although we love a good drink, we sustain ourselves almost exclusively on aesthetic nourishment. We have books, a cinema, and a theatre. The TV is constantly broadcasting all we need to know. Most of us regularly visit churches and museums … The Hermitage is only one of many.

Stop!

I turn to the mayor. “Nikiteetch … what if they are here for our artwork?”

“What? Gosh, you are right! Outsiders covet our cultural heritage.”

“Besides that, we have nothing else,” someone shouts from the crowd, “Let’s stand together to defend our precious values!”

“Some of us can’t even walk,” I remind them, thinking of my wife.

“We’ll hide them all in a shelter,” says Kimytch, holding his jaw with his hand.

“Women and elders?” I ask.

“No … our precious values.”

“Get to work, all of you!” orders Nikiteetch. “Everyone, save everything valuable you can by hiding it in the deepest metro station. The outsiders will not find it there.”

The townspeople turn as one and hobble away, advising each other and complaining about strangers. They disperse to evacuate priceless things, but I hurry home. I will save Galeena from the merciless outsiders.

I once more experience a peculiar feeling that something is off as I walk. People are dragging paintings, porcelain, gold, silver, and marble all around and crawling to the Admiralty Station like ants with a heavy load. We seem to be not thinking straight and talking about the wrong stuff. We have not been doing what we should. But this sensation goes almost instantly.

At home, I explain to Galeena that I want to hide her at our dacha, our country cottage, in Koltooshi. She remembers our cat and refuses to leave without Basted, so I step out into the stairwell.

“Hey, kitty kitty! Bassie?”

“Ekekekkekkek …” I hear from a nearby empty apartment.

I enter through an unlocked door, hear a short whistling noise, and the kitchen knife of a former neighbour pierces the wall two inches from my temple. A young teenage outsider trembles in front of me. He is thin and red-haired, with freckles all over his face. He’s wearing a tracksuit and a baseball cap, and has blue eyes filled with fear. I’m also scared and would have trembled too, but my ears would have fallen off.

I raise my hands and slowly nod at him. The stranger stops shaking and looks surprised.

I don’t speak outsiders’ languages, not even sign language. Nevertheless, I try to signal with my hands to the boy that I won’t attack him, as I’m just looking for my zombie cat.

Show others if you have the slightest idea of how this can be done.

The floorboard creaks, and we both turn. Bassie walks out of the kitchen, rumbling like a broken fan. He approaches me, stands on his hind paws and sharpens his claws on my leg. Bassie’s ears are long gone, but his tail has not yet fallen off. I pick him up, but his claws stay in the remains of my trouser leg. The boy chuckles a little and wipes sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.

The boy’s hands are smaller than the print I saw on the floor by the body. He isn’t the one who killed Phil Two-Teeth.

I poke myself in the chest, “Stas,” I say and then point to the cat, “Bassie.”

And the boy suddenly declares in Russian, “My name is Nick.”

Wow! That’s better. Maybe things will become clearer now. I don’t understand why, but I know how to take a statement from a witness for some reason. Nick doesn’t refuse, and I question him to learn his account of the events:

This boy secretly followed his uncle in search of adventure, hiding in the back of a van. His Uncle Dima once let slip that he has a new big contract and a new target, whatever that means. Now his uncle will be set for life. And what was that about? Nick does not know, but he overheard his uncle negotiating the terms with someone … very slowly.

Nick pauses and I return to the scene before me. Unpleasant suspicions crawl into my head like worms. “Who spoke very slowly?”

Nick says he didn’t see that person. At first, he thought his uncle was talking to himself because the room appeared empty.

“What room?”

“An abandoned café.” Then Nick says he eavesdropped through the broken window. Uncle Dima sat alone at the table, and in front of him stood a bottle of vodka and a colourful cardboard box. After that, Dima drove to the city centre. He locked his nephew in the car and left, and Nick got angry and escaped through the window.

“Where is he now?”

Nick says he went this morning to see if the van was still in place. His uncle was there but drunk like a skunk.

I ought to have words with that Uncle Dima.

I take the cat to my wife and tell her we are not leaving yet.

“I just called to say …” I start singing, but I don’t remember the rest. It’s strange that I even remembered how to sing. But I recall I sang this song to her before, only I was wearing some kind of uniform.

The boy and I go outside. Now I see how he is managing to walk around the city unnoticed by others! Perhaps it is natural for a teenager to stoop with his arms hanging loosely in front of him. He hunches over and walks forwards slowly, with a drunken gait. He is almost indistinguishable from the rest of us.

We reach the Mariinsky Theatre, meeting only Kimytch on the way to the station with his moonshine still. The man saves what is most precious to him.

Around the corner is an old van. I wouldn’t have noticed a foreign vehicle, but my late friend Phil would have stood here and thought for a day before saying, “Well, to hell with it!”

A bald man is sitting in the car, but he isn’t just drunk. I recognise the familiar, unmistakable symptoms almost immediately. Well, well, well! That’s right! Phil managed to bite him before dying. There are two teeth marks on the man’s wrist.

“Start talking,” I say to him, “and I will keep your nephew safe.”

Uncle Dima looks like he is about to weep. He is silent, as if he swallowed his tongue. Literally. This is also possible. He stares blankly, lifts his hand, and pulls a city map from his pocket. I see a small red cross on it. It is not far from where we are. Nick stays in the van to wait for his uncle to sober up while I head for the Annunciation Bridge.

By nightfall, I reach the Academy of Sciences. The main entrance is boarded up, and so is the back door. I try to tear off one board and find that it’s just hanging on one nail, covering a gap into which an outsider would not squeeze but a walking skeleton like me would … easily.

It’s dark inside. I hear a low growl, and teeth sink into my leg. I remember Phil’s lighter in my pocket. I click it and it illuminates a hefty Rottweiler with orange eyebrows. He releases me and sits on his tail.

“Hey, boy! Looks like you’ve seen this shiny thing before! Did you know our Two-Teeth?” I say and add, imitating Phil’s voice, “Well, to hell with you!”

The dog wags his tail and sticks out his pink tongue, which foams with saliva. This is not a zombie dog. He is alive.

“What’s your name, slobber?”

“Lamarck,” I suddenly hear. “Put out the lighter. Your finger is smoking.”

The flash of torchlight blinds me momentarily, and an unfamiliar zombie firmly approaches the dog. I don’t see any holes in her grey skin or a lack of body parts. A pair of full breasts are bulging under the thin T-shirt. They have to be silicone.

“Where did you get Philemon Ivanovich’s lighter?” she asks.

“Found it near his remains. I’m investigating his murder.”

“Are you a detective? Are you spying on us?” The woman frowns.

“No. I’m Stas. I’m Phil’s friend. We played dominoes in—”

“Stas? Follow me. Tell the professor everything.”

The guard takes Lamarck by the collar and lights the way. Most of the doors are not only boarded up but welded shut inside the building. We come to the front staircase. The wall mosaic has crumbled and been covered with a tarpaulin. The guard pulls it back at the corner where Peter the Great used to be, and now there is a hole in the wall. Through this tunnel, we reach a room that looks like a laboratory, and I see a dozen almost whole zombies in white coats. One has grey hair and looks like a professor. I tell him everything. After listening to me, the professor grins. “Phil has mentioned you a couple of times. Stas, do you remember who you worked as before your zombification?”

I am thinking. I cannot answer. Since the beginning of the investigation, images from a former life have flashed before my eyes several times, but I have always ignored them.

“When was the last time you watched TV?” the white-headed man asked.

“A few days ago.”

“And you don’t remember that after leaving school, you graduated in criminology, that you have a university degree and the rank of captain of the forensic team?”

My head spins. I suddenly remember the day I proposed to Galeena … she wore a blue dress and ballet shoes. I have a question too. “Do you remember everything? Are you new here? By the state of your—”

“No. We’re actually recovering.”

“How is this possible?”

“Science can do a lot, and zombification is a reversible process. It’s our mayor who wants to get rid of us. He does not want things to return to normal. You, Stanislav, have a choice. Either turn us in or become man again.”

His comrades look at me with both hope and doubt.

I think about Galeena again. “Can you grow people’s legs back?”

“No, but we make prostheses using the latest technology. Look at this man. Victor’s right leg fell off, and he could not get to the TV for a while. Phil collected people like him all over the city.”

A man smiles, steps forwards, and spins a brilliant fouetté in front of me. So this is what our old Phil was busy doing? Wow! Why didn’t he tell me? Of course … I watched the news with Galeena every evening and wouldn’t listen to him.

The professor keeps saying, “And this lady, Inna, had no hands—”

“What’s the first thing I would have to do?”


On this happy note, I want to finish telling you my story. I am getting really busy and have no time for stories anymore. I can only add what I hope will happen next, and you can come later and check on us if you wish. The best thing will be smashing TV sets in people’s apartments as soon as my biceps grow back.

Young Nick will return with his recovered uncle to Vitebsk, and we will prosecute the mayor for his crimes. Can you believe it? He planned to collect all the city’s valuables in his dungeon and ordered that Phil and those who found a way to cure and restore the city be killed.

Galeena will dance again. Legs are not the hardest thing in the world to fix. But if you lose your head … Well, you can’t replace that with a prosthesis. Especially if everything else is rotten.




Winning pieces are published as received.

 
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Fiction Potluck

January 2024

Third Place Winner:


Anka B Troitsky

Anka B Troitsky was born in the USSR in 1968, grew up in Kazakhstan and left for the UK in 1993. She is a Philosopher, Artist, Science Teacher, and Translator of books, police cases, court hearings, and National Health care. She reads tons of books yearly, always takes courses to learn new skills, and has no sense of humour. Being an independent author, Anka shares things she realised and discovered in her hard science fiction novels and short stories in various genres, including LGBTQ+. Her 3-part Novel, Who is Vist, is a futuristic series. The content of her most recent work is greatly influenced by the current war and political crime against the Ukrainian people. In her stories, Anka studies the nature of the people responsible for the worst and the best things happening in the world. To deliver her message she doesn’t mind breaking rules of writers, plays with languages and even frustrate her editors a little. 

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