Peter slowly looked up from the card and actually looked at the stranger’s face. At first glance, there was nothing wrong, the man had a nose, lips, eyes, eyebrows, a normal-looking chin and an Adam’s apple. But now he saw the unhealing and non-bleeding tear on his lip, the marks on the eyelid that looked like it was being slowly torn apart by something small and savage, the rotted teeth and gums that would have caused pain to a living man (or at least discomfort and/or shame). He swallowed, cleared his throat, and made an attempt to speak but only a squeak came out. “I... Uh... I don’t... Have you... Did someone... Scientists have... Do- do you know... Other side?”
The zombie stared at him for a moment and then made a motion to turn the card around. “Call.”
Peter saw the number on the back, a spidery scrawl in bright red ink that looked like it had been traced over a few times. “I’ll... I’ll be right back.” He ran into the house, almost tripping over a rock and then the step in front of his house.
He looked back as he opened the door and was somewhat reassured when he saw that the zombie was going back to whatever it had been doing when he came outside. He did not know what he would have done if it had decided to follow him -other than scream for help at the top of his lungs and run away of course.
Once inside, he locked the door and took a few calming breaths. He needed to stay in control, or his brain would get molested by the creature’s teeth. Well, maybe not... After all the creature had had plenty of opportunity to overpower him in the garden. It could have probably ripped his head off to get to his brain and-
“Stop it!” He shook his head. “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t- oh fuck it.” He ran to his bedroom and took the metal baseball bat out of his closet. He had coached a team a few years ago and had kept the bat as a momento; its weight and potential for injuring others was now reassuring. It probably would not hurt the zombie much in the long run, but it may give him a few seconds head start or be useful to bar a door.
He got the cordless phone off the stand in his room and walked over to the kitchen. The zombie was still in the garden, moving slowly like those in movies. From here, it looked like it had a limp actually. Still watching the creature in his yard just in case it started to act like it was hungry, he started dialing the number on the back of the card.
[Hello, Kurt Lewis here. Thank you for calling the zombie gardener’s union. Are you a new customer or do you have an account with us?]
“What do you mean? There’s more of them and nobody’s breathed a word of it?” His grip on the phone tightened. “Does the government know you use zombies for menial labour?”
[Of course not, the government would only seize our assets and make them into soldiers.” Kurt Lewis, whoever he was, sounded smug. “One of our associates once decided to tell an old friend about his new job and was shot to smithereens, not to mention burned after being examined. Fortunately, they could not figure out how he came back to work so the only thing that came out of it was a classified file we destroyed.
[I’m guessing you just met one of our associates and are remembering all of the old movies about zombies that feast on flesh or the like?]
[Don’t worry about the artistic portrayal of revenants,] Kurt Lewis said as calmly as if he were merely commenting that the sky was blue, [they always exaggerate things and feed on people’s unease about certain issues. Cemeteries at night have always been unnerving to humans who fear their own mortality, so they invent negative representations of creatures who have trumped it. Vampires are blood-sucking monsters who can’t survive without causing death, zombies eat the flesh of the living, so on and so forth. Our associates are peaceful creatures who just want the earth they lie in to be nice and calm. Gardens and society go back centuries, sometimes being the only peaceful place in the hubbub of life after all. This union has been in order for over two centuries and we have yet to have a rogue zombie cause harm.]
“But then where do the stories come from?” Peter listened in horrified anticipation.
[Mainly from drug-induced hallucinations and over-active imaginations of story-tellers. Zombies do not have the hormones to feel emotions like the living do, so they do not feel rage. They also don’t eat anything other than the fruit and vegetables they sometimes grow, and that’s usually only to reassure the living that they eat and are not hungry. Are you a little more calm now, or do you have more questions before we start talking business?]
[Look Mr., I am a busy man. Most of my associates have some sort of brain damage because bits of it was eaten or it decayed before they regained consciousness. Others insist on sleeping when they do not have to, and maggots get to them if they don’t move around. I’m the one who runs this business and takes care of my associates when they don’t remember how to. So, do you or do you not have any questions?]
“You’re not very good at customer service are you?”
[By the time people want to talk to me, any kind of coherent conversation is usually appreciated.] He admitted. [However, we are good at what we do.]
“I noticed that your zombie managed to resuscitate my bushes pretty quickly.”
[We believe in giving samples of our work before our clients make any deals. May I ask where you live?]
“6573 Smithdale Rd.”
[And your name?]
[That’s strange... None of my associates are supposed to be there... Just a moment while I check the GPS.]
“You track your associates.”
[Of course, they tend to get lost easily. Some have very poor vision and comprehension skills you know.]
Oddly enough, this reassured Peter more than the news that zombies were herbivores. Though the rogue zombie in his garden did make the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. “And the one in my garden is...”
[Oh, he’s one of our best gardeners. Was a landscape developer when he was alive and he only tends to gardens that he’s convinced the owners love. Which says a lot about your talents if resuscitation was necessary for bushes. They’re usually resilient in that part of the world. His name’s Earl, and he can understand you perfectly, its just that the speach-production bits of his brain have decayed a bit since he insists on sleeping in a death shroud because his relatives went against his wishes and buried him in a casket. He’s been sensitive to light since rebirth and hates coffins. Waste of materials apparently.]
[Now are you ready?]
“... I think so.”
[Very well. If you were to sign on to a contract with the company, you are to pay ten dollars a month to our account for one year. You may terminate the contract at any time and our associate will leave the premises, however, the money will still go into our account and certain conditions must be kept. If you wish to renew the contract, we will reassess your record and decide from there. If for any reason, Earl decides to quit, we will send a replacement. The most important term to the contract is the vow of silence, if breached, we will seize all your assets and tarnish your reputation until people believe you are a madman. That came into effect the moment you contacted me by the way.]
[You understand, it’s for the protection of our associates. Our associates work hard and we do not charge much. If you must talk to someone, you may talk to people in our program at meetings once a month or myself at any time. Earl chose you because of your garden, but he has also been trained to identify people who may be able to cope with the idea. Now, would you like to set up a meeting to sign the contract, or would you like a day to decide. Either way, I expect you to solemnly swear that you will not tell another about our union unless permission is granted. If you do not do so over the phone, I will come to your house and have you swear in blood.]
“Is that a threat?”
[Just a statement concerning the reality of this situation sir. I do not make threats. Your decision?]
“... I would like to set up a meeting to see the contract before I decide.”
[That is fair. How’s tomorrow evening at midnight?]
“I would prefer during the day...”
[I’m sorry sir, but the worker must also be present at the meeting so you both understand what is going on. That means after dark.]
“... How about ten o’clock then?”
[Very well. And your vow?]
“I promise not to tell anyone about the existence of your zombie gardeners union?”
[That will be good enough for now. Good night, and tell Earl I’ll see him tomorrow.]
“O-” Peter started but the man had already hung up.