Creature Comfort by Rob Rosen
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Fierce Publishing (January 10, 2015)
Amazon: Creature Comfort
Amazon Kindle: Creature Comfort
Three hundred years into the apocalypse, centuries-old zombie queen, Creature Comfort, and the love of her afterlife, Dara Licked, leave their salt factory in Utah and find themselves beneath a gussied-up Lady Liberty, surrounded by a race of fabulous drag queens. Humanity (what’s left of it) is in dire trouble, attacked by unseen menacing forces, and only Creature can possibly save the day! Thus starts this hilarious tale of mystery and heart-pounding adventure, of friends old and new, of what it means to be alive and, most importantly, in love.
Do you believe in love after life? Because you certainly will after you’ve read Creature Comfort.
Feel the Burn
I can feel it, you know—the radiation, I mean—feel it snap, crackle and pop inside of me. All these years later, decades now, centuries even, it’s like a constant hum, as if I’m a forever percolating pot of coffee.
As to real coffee, sad to say but nuh-uh—water and zombies, you see, simply do not mix. Sizzle City, girlfriend. Ouch. Not that I feel pain, mind you, but I’d imagine it wouldn’t be all that delightful to suddenly go out all Wicked Witch of the West like. Nope, all I ingested back when this whole sordid tale began, once every week or so, like clockwork, was a heaping helping of iodized salt, poured down my gullet by one of my various human minions.
Sorry, not bragging here, not that being the Queen of All Humanity isn’t brag-worthy, I know, it’s just that that’s what they were and still are: my minions. Besides, humanity, really, was nothing more than a couple of hundred surviving men and women and children, as far as I was aware.
And the other zombies? Fine, there were a few billion of them, and though they did indeed heed my every command, I tended not to interact with them all that much. Kind of like talking to a toaster, if you know what I mean. And without electricity, beyond the solar power we utilized, a toaster isn’t all that much fun to chat with. Plus, it always ended up being a rather one-sided conversation: I talked, they groaned. Suffice it to say, it wore kind of thin on an undead person, like real fast.
As for that salt I regularly swallowed and continue to swallow to this very day, the one of the iodized variety, it’s the next best thing when you don’t have potassium iodide radiation pills. See, it’s the salt that keeps the radiation in check and allows for my humanity, what’s left of it, to rise to the grayish-purple surface. Which is why, for the past few centuries plus some change, I ruled the roost from a salt factory in Utah. Funny how in life I wouldn’t have been caught dead in Utah, and then I found myself trapped there, both alive and dead. Still, without my regular iodized intake, I too would’ve been just like one of those groaning toaster-like zombies, aimlessly milling about for all eternity—or at least until those infernal internal nuclear power plants of ours goes poop instead of pop. And Lord only knows how long that will take.
So that, in a rather stiff nutshell, is me, Creature Comfort, undead zombie queen.
Wait, wait, undead zombie drag queen. Mhm, such a nicer ring to it that way, don’t you think? The silver lining to my rather tarnished existence. Or maybe let’s make that lining lamé. Goes nicely with my brown hair (sans blonde wig) and brown eyes (sans the ever-present bloodshot) and cheekbones for days (too many to count), all topping my average height and fabulously slender body. Though of course nothing else is even remotely average about me. Nothing. It bears repeating.
Yep, ages-old Creature Comfort, fabulous to the bitter end. Emphasis on the bitter. As to the end, well, I think we’ve already covered that. And based on my exceedingly limited knowledge of radiation, which is slim to say the least, plus that snapping and crackling and forever popping going on, the end ain’t coming any time soon.
As to the beginning, what made me me, well here goes: one massive solar flare equaled one dead planet, minus anyone that was lucky enough (if you saw your glass as half full) to be walled up inside anything thickly metal at the time of the blast. Me, I wasn’t so lucky (glass empty, as it were), but a few of my drag sisters were. They figured out the iodized salt routine, which in and of itself was a miracle, considering that they could barely make it through a Madonna number without miserably tripping over themselves. In any case, “Creature Comfort: Drag Queen” promptly became “Creature Comfort: Zombie Drag Queen.” From life to death to undeath to, well, this, what you see standing—well, somewhat teetering—before you today.
As for my dragged-up friends, they headed for New York, while I opted for the confines of that aforementioned salt factory in Utah. Sure, I could’ve gone with them, taken a chomp out of that Big Apple core, but even then, neophyte zombie though I was, I knew that I would outlive them (to use the term loosely) by eons. And being a zombie was bad enough without being a zombie who also had to watch her friends die, one by one by one. As in really die. As opposed to what the rest of the world did. As opposed to what I did, me and those zombies I took with me back when all this began, back when one world ended and another began, all of us sustained by the salt, plus the dozen or so salt-administering humans that were with us at the time, now totaling, many generations later, that also aforementioned couple of hundred.
But what of my friends’ fates? Honestly, I hadn’t a clue what happened to them once we parted ways. After all, my ragtag little group was out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains, and if there were cell phones still working at that time, they certainly weren’t doing so in the confines of Utah. Also, Yahoo froze the minute the blast blasted, and that was my only email account. Ditto for Facebook, forever on the fritz, just like me. In any case, within fifty years, give or take, the electricity completely stopped and by then I assume so had they. Sad but true.
So there we were: New San Francisco, we called it. Or at least I did. And what the queen says, goes—because, yes, in terms of perks, it was pretty much the only one I had. The cognizant zombies in my care, all as old as me now, all friends of a sort, stayed for the salt, the humans for the protection. After all, they were surrounded by human-hungry undead monsters. And by surrounded I mean, quite literally, surrounded. Wait, to put it a better way, SURROUNDED! Yes, that’s about right. As for the protection I offered, well, at the very least, all of those monsters I mentioned obeyed my commands, what with me being a conduit, if you will, between life and death, a connection to what they once were and would never, ever be again.
In any case, the factory was well protected, the fences sturdy and tall and, thankfully, a great distance from the cement buildings we called home. Sure, we could hear them out there, forever groaning, day in and day out, eager to enter and devour the humans, but at least we couldn’t easily see them or, better still, smell them. Because a zombie tends to stink pretty awful after a few centuries. Not us, however, those lucky few with memories and feelings. No, we take dust baths, much like a rutting pig would do, aided, of course, by the humans. Because the undead are many things, but limber, unfortunately, is simply not one of them. Picture, if you will, the Tin Man minus his oil can, and you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
Anyway, in return, like I said, we gave my human minions protection. They had ample shelter, seeing as the factory is huge, and plenty of food and water to sustain them. Though none of that was easy to come by, at least not at first. Took a generation or two before New San Francisco was properly up and running, you see.
Fortunately, a generation or two is also how long it took after the solar flare for the rains to return to good old Mother Earth, for the dust storms to die down, for the incessant heat and winds to abate. Fortunately for us zombies, that is to say, because a good rain storm would’ve taken out millions of zombies within seconds. As it happened, by the time the drizzling drizzled, our flesh was waxy as the best Madame Tussauds had to offer and completely non-absorbent. Meaning, about the only thing that could rekill what was clearly already dead was a really strong blow torch or a lopping off of the head. Or so I’m speculating. Not like I’m all that eager to find out for certain. I mean, I might be dead, but I’m certainly no glutton for punishment.
Also, aside from the solar flare wiping out nearly all of humanity, plus every other living animal on the planet, the ensuing radiation, which gave us zombies, uh, life, also made fresh water undrinkable and the soil infertile. So for the first hundred years or so, the humans were forced to drink anything already bottled and to eat anything prepackaged, which meant a hell of a lot of Ramen Noodles after the cans of most everything else expired. Luckily, as humans, we (or at least they) were quite accustomed to that by then already. And so, over time, we amassed, through various forays into the city, enough potting soil and supplies to build adequate greenhouses. Plus, the rain water, once the rains resumed, was radiation-free, so, like I said, their needs were met. Sure, existence was bleak, but it was still existence nonetheless. Take what you can get, sweeties, and leave your bellyaching at the front door.
But what of our needs, we zombies? Well, we don’t eat and we don’t dare drink, not without dire consequences, and sleep is but a distant memory, seeing as we no longer need to recharge our batteries, so as to needs, nope, just the salt and the dust baths, thank you kindly. Well, that and the occasional mending of clothes, combing of hair and, for me, application of makeup, which, truth be told, I need quite a lot of. Really, a lot. Like spackling. Heck, my foundation could give a skyscraper’s a run for its money. Such is the price of drag-queendom though. And, trust me, if I could heavily sigh, I would.
But why bother, you might ask? Why bother to shimmy into a dress and layer on the war paint? I am, after all, quite dead, right? Or at least deadish. So why gussy up an already plucked hen? Well now, seems like my being a drag queen died a lot harder than I did. Plus, I’d given up pretty much everything else—like eating, drinking and sleeping, not to mention a last season or two of Mad Men—so why not keep one last vestige of my past, the one thing that defined me more than anything else? Also, didn’t the troops deserve a little entertainment, even if was from a rickety old (seriously old) drag queen, lip-synching to long forgotten (again, seriously long forgotten) songs played on a solar-powered CD player?
Well, we’ll go with yes on all that, because, like I said, I’m the queen, and what the queen says goes. Again, it bears repeating. And usually to my minions. Who, by and large, could’ve gone without the so-called singing skills of one Miss Britney Spears and the lesser talented (if humanly possible) J. Lo. Yes, like I said, bleak, but better than being ripped apart by the zombie hordes.
“This is what people listened to back in your time?” one of the humans always tended to ask me just after one of my shows.
“Um, well, Auto-Tune was at its peak back then,” I generally replied.
Their head would then further tilt. “Auto-what?”
At that I’d simply turn and start my encore: Cher, always Cher. And, no, no Auto-Tune for the likes of her. At least not for her first thirty years in the biz. Plus, I’m fairly certain that she ultimately survived the solar blast. Mainly because after a nuclear attack the only things left, or so it was prophesized, would be cockroaches and Cher. Though, to be fair, I hadn’t seen a cockroach in well over several hundred years. Go figure.
Anyway, at least it broke up the monotony. That and if I didn’t regularly use my muscles, rigor, with a great deal of mortis, would settle in for a long winter’s nap. Truth is, it’s hard enough to speak let alone lip-synch, but far be it from me to withhold my, um, talents from the masses, slim though said masses were.
Funny thing is, it was the zombies who really enjoyed my show. And not the New San Francisco zombies either. No, I mean the ones outside the fences. Now they were an attentive lot.
See, once I began my act, and if I so deemed fit to set up the stage up in front of them, then, wouldn’t you know it, the groaning would stop and all eyes would be on me. Or at least that’s what it seemed like. Though since they couldn’t blink and their heads were already turned my way, it might’ve only been wishful thinking on my part. But, to be honest, I truly think not.
The zombies, I figured, were simply drawn to life. Which is why they groaned when presented with a human, of which, it appeared, I had the only remaining ones left. But the undead were drawn to me as well, seeing, like I said, as I was a connection to them, to life, that I could still think and feel and communicate, that I was both like them and like the humans. It was, I assumed, why they heeded my commands and no one else’s, not even the other zombies of my cognizant ilk. It’s why they still do, in fact, but for other reasons I now well know of.
In any case, throw in a little Britney or Madonna or Pink into my repertoire, and, voila, I had one hell of a captive audience. Silent though they were. And, trust me, no drag queen worth her Jimmy Choos likes the sound of one hand clapping. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and at least they ceased groaning, if only while the music played and my lips and hips managed to swivel. No easy feat for my feet, mind you. Kudos to moi.
“They do seem to worship you,” one of my minions would, and rightly so, whisper in my ear once my set was over.
“Guess even the dead know talent when they see it.”
The minion would then nod—again, and rightly so—or face the consequences, namely the thousands of rows of yellowed teeth facing our way. Not that I was that kind of ruler, mind you, but a little bit of threat of being torn limb from limb does indeed go a long way. And since I was no longer getting tipped for my talents, nor drinking frosty libations afterward (sob), I might as well have been bathed in compliments, even if they were a tad forced. Not like I had anything else to bathe in, right?
Well, not exactly.
Like I said, I didn’t eat or drink or sleep, but there was just enough human left inside of me to enjoy life, for lack of a better word. To rephrase all that, Creature Comfort, zombie drag queen, could still pop one serious boner. And when radiation is powering your turgid tool instead of blood (mine being quite stagnant), then watch out, because if you think Three Mile Island blew her stack, you ain’t never seen a long dead zombie do the same.
I had my pick of the litter, too. After all, there were teeming masses of undead surrounding us on all sides, a sea of them, an ocean, in fact. All I needed to do was point my miraculously well-manicured fingernail (and, yes, those still grew, even in death) and issue a command, and I could’ve had a veritable harem of hunky He-Men by my side.
Though that’s not what I did, tempting as it was to do so. Because talk about your hollow victories. I mean, yes, it was nice to have my minions fawning all over me, but a lover should always be an equal—well, maybe not equal so much as one notch down. Same thing for a friend, which, after those first few decades, I sorely needed. And by friend, I mean friend of Dorothy, if you get my drift.
Sadly, there were no gay dudes among my humanized, salt-swilling brethren to choose from on that front. They were a meager lot to begin with and small town hicks at that, so, no, not an option. Which meant that I inevitably had to pick—to change, to turn, as it were, a la the salt cure—just the right one from the horde outside the fence.
Just one, though, because, though queen, I wasn’t God, and didn’t feel the need to lip-synch my way through that role either. You see, I could’ve turned dozens of them, hundreds, but to what end? What gave me the right to inflict consciousness on the unconscious, to breathe life, or at least the next best thing, into the dead? I mean, think about it: yes, they were trapped out there, trapped in their own skin, unthinking, unfeeling, but what was so great about living in a salt factory for presumably thousands of years, your friends and family all gone, life as you know it equally as kaput?
And though I could’ve easily sent a great many of them to their maker as well, to put them out of their misery, that wasn’t my job either. Plus, it’s not like shooting ducks in a barrel. These were still humans, undead zombies though they were. And killing someone, and/or rekilling, even an undead someone, was never fun and only to be done out of dire necessity. Like when a horde of them was chasing after you, eager to rip into your flesh. Gives me the chills to think about it. Or at least would if my body wasn’t already as chilly as a San Francisco summer, minus, of course, that oddly sizzling power plant of mine, which never seemed to warm the surface of things, nice as that would’ve been.
So, yes, I had to choose well. This was, after all, an important decision. And, okay, I’ll admit it, a rather selfish one, but, come on, I had been through an awful lot—emphasis on the awful—and deserved at least an iota of comradely from someone who enjoyed a little Britney from time to time. Heck, I would’ve settled for a Celine fan by then, shudder the thought.
In any case, thirty odd years into my reign, I began to circle the perimeter of the fence, seeking that special someone out. And, yes, staring into the face of death, thousands of faces of death, in fact, is enough to turn any stomach sour, even my long-still one.
The groaning would amp up as I passed, dead eyes fixed on me. The fingers and hands poking through the fence, purple from death and red from the sun, would cease gripping for nothing but the air in front of them, only to start up again as I eventually strode by. And to each of the undead I would give the once-over, eagerly looking for a tell, something, anything that would give them away.
But guess what? After thirty years or so, pretty much every zombie looked alike. Death, of course, isn’t pretty, but even less so when you’re standing in the sun for that long. Kind of like an undead Republican convention: all one color, all with the same flicked-off minds.
Still I looked, circled, one day after the next, hunting for any new face that would manage its way to the front of the line. Weeks on end went by, months, one year, two. Yes, fine, it filled the monotonous void, but also had me growing ever more despondent. What if I was forever to be alone, just me and a handful of zombie brethren and a couple of hundred somewhat-fawning humans to keep me company? It was sort of like being able to watch TV, but the only station you could get was Fox News.
And then two years, ten months and fifteen days later—fine, I was counting, so sue me (and good luck finding a lawyer)—there he finally was, at long last.
My heart would’ve stopped beating had it not done so all those years prior when the sun suddenly went kerpow on my ass. I froze in place, my eyes on his, his on mine. He was about my age—or at least the age we were when we, you know, died—my height and slim build, sandy brown hair and eyes the color of a summer sky (minus the ever-present bloodshot streaks). And then, glory be, I scanned downward.
“Britney,” I whispered, reverently, barely managing to squeak it out. A grown man wearing a Britney T-shirt, and vintage Britney at that, could only mean one thing. Unless he was merely being ironic, which I knew straight boys sometimes did, but prayed against it just the same. Plus, I felt something else, a twinge if you will.
I walked up to the fence, loud groaning enveloping us for fifty feet all around, less boisterous groans at the periphery and even more groaning, of course, beyond that. His hand had already been poked through the hole, fingers instantly coming to rest on my shoulder, a spark running through me as sure as any bolt of lightning. He was the one; I felt it, knew it down to my very soul, tamped and stomped down as that sucker might have been.
“Follow me,” I commanded, ever the queen.
I moved down the fence, heading for the main entrance. He followed, step for step, snaking through the undead horde as he did so, his face but a blur as it came in and out of sight. When I reached the gate, I bellowed, “No one is to enter! All zombies stay put!” Then I raised my hand and aimed my index finger his way. “Save for you. You, my dear, may enter.”
We hadn’t left the compound all that often over the years. Our raids into Salt Lake City were few and far between, you see. It was, after all, exhausting work to make our way through the zombies and into the city, keeping the undead at bay the entire time as the humans grabbed what they needed, occasionally meeting a horrible fate when my back was turned. Still, when I unlocked the gate this time, my spirit soared. This felt different somehow—like, well, freedom.
The zombies moved in reverse, as I’d bade them to do, all save one. I stood and stared at him; he stood and stared at me. It meant nothing, I knew, simply a robot following orders, but it was the first time in a very long while that I felt something akin to hope fill the void inside of me. “Enter,” I managed to say, my bony finger aimed his way.
Slowly, he trudged inside, while I, in turn, locked the gate behind him. I then led us away, while he obediently followed, the groaning behind us still piercing the air.
One of my minions quickly approached us. “Well now, who’s this?” asked Glenn, the eldest of the humans and my frequent right hand (and left hand) man. He eyed the newcomer suspiciously, then did the same to me. “You’ve never let one of them in before.” He said it with disdain. I couldn’t rightly blame him.
I stopped and sighed. It was and will always be a forced gesture on my part. After all, it wasn’t like I needed to inhale or exhale. Still, it felt like the right thing to do. “Guess it’s about time then, Glenn.”
He looked from me to the zombie and then back my way. The slightest of grins rose northward on his wizened face. “The T-shirt says it all, you know.” The smile widened. “My company isn’t enough for you, Creature?”
I shrugged as best I could. “Not the same, Glenn, is it?”
He closed the gap between us and placed his hand on my shoulder. Most humans never touched me, never touched one of us. Our association, for the most part, was simply out of necessity. Glenn, however, saw beyond what I’d become. He’d been a friend to me, of sorts. And that is what he was at that very moment when he told me to stay where I was, that he’d be back in a few minutes.
And so I stood in the middle of the barren parking lot staring at the undead stranger, everything silent save for the peripheral groans. His hair blew in the warm breeze, highlights catching the sun, but, apart from that, he didn’t so much as budge. It was just him and me, me and him, a swarm of undead butterflies taking wing inside my belly.
“Please forgive me for what I’m about to do,” I whispered his way. I then turned, watching as Glenn raced back to us. In his hand he held a funnel. It was how the salt was administered. One full funnel equaled a one-week’s dosage. Miss the dose and we’d quickly revert back.
“Ready?” he asked, winded but smiling just the same.
About Rob Rosen: Author of the award-winning novels Sparkle: The Queerest Book You’ll Ever Love, Divas Las Vegas, Hot Lava, Southern Fried, Queerwolf, Vamp and Queens of the Apocalypse, and editor of the anthologies Lust in Time, Men of the Manor, and Best Gay Erotica 2015.
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