I’m strapped down to a table in one of the examination rooms with my head immobilized, naked except for a pair of blue hospital booties on my feet. Sometimes they let me wear a surgical gown but more often than not I’m naked, which doesn’t do much to nurture my sense of dignity. But when you’re a lab rat being experimented on in the name of medical research, dignity isn’t a high priority.
“Was the subject disinfected?” says a lab technician, inserting a catheter into my penis.
“No,” says another one. “But I’ll take care of it when we’re done setting up.”
A couple of lab techs wearing scrubs and surgical masks are prepping me for my latest test. I’m the subject in question. And by disinfected, they mean sprayed from head to toe with Lysol. Every time I’m disinfected, it reminds me of my mother spraying me with Glade neutralizer fragrance whenever I would come into the house from the wine cellar. That was before I started to regenerate. Before I stopped decomposing. Before I ate both my mother and my father.
Sometimes zombie/parent relationships can get complicated.
The lab techs continue setting up whatever test they have planned for me today, although “today” is relative. Days don’t really have much meaning when you spend your existence in windowless rooms getting stabbed and shot and electrocuted, subjected to impact tests and toxicity tests and experiments involving tissue regeneration.
Right now I have electrodes attached to the side of my head, the wires running to a machine with gauges and meters and recording equipment on a cart next to me. Maybe if I were a doctor or a scientist or a Jeopardy! champion I would know what the contraption is called, but I was a property manager in my former existence. Before I died. Before I reanimated. Before I led a push for zombie rights that culminated in a New Year’s Eve bloodbath and eventually landed me a permanent stay at this research facility inside the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
I’m thinking it would have been a little more helpful had I been something other than a property manager, something that might come in a little handier for someone who’s been involuntarily donated to medical science and held against his will. Like a personal trainer at a gym. Or an escape artist. Or MacGyver. Then all I’d need is some baking soda, some hydrogen peroxide, and a hot water bottle, and I could get the hell out of here.
Although I don’t have any real concept of time since I never see the sunset or the moonrise or feel the changing of the seasons, I’m aware from listening to conversations and seeing the decorations in the hallways that it’s the week before Christmas, which means I’ve been here for nearly a year.
Time flies when you’re getting electrocuted and infected with syphilis.
“Goggles,” says one of the lab techs.
They both don their goggles and the next moment I’m being sprayed down with Lysol. I’d prefer they use Pine-Sol or Simple Green or something that doesn’t make me smell like a freshly cleaned toilet, but I don’t get a vote.
At least they’re not disinfecting me with Comet.
There are other zombies at the research facility with me, so I’m not the only one being poked and prodded and tested in the name of research. But I’ve been here longer than anyone else and as far as I know, none of them was ever interviewed by Oprah.
While I realize I’m no longer a celebrity, and that to the researchers and interns and handlers I’m just another nonhuman, zombie lab rat with a number instead of a name, it would be nice to know what they’re doing with me and why I haven’t been sent off to a composting facility. The only thing I’ve been able to determine is that they’re studying me and the other zombies to find out why we reanimate and how we’re able to heal and reverse the process of decomposition by consuming human flesh.
Not that they’re feeding me John and Jane Does. I haven’t tasted Breather since last New Year’s. And technically I haven’t eaten anything since they brought me here. After all, it’s kind of tough to chew when your mouth has been sewn shut with industrial-strength thread.
The only way I receive any sustenance is through a feeding tube that’s permanently inserted into my stomach. Not because I need to consume the recommended daily allowance of whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Zombies aren’t known for their omnivorous diets. But whatever they’re feeding me is keeping me from decomposing.
The lab techs just finish spraying me down when today’s zombie researcher walks into the room. He’s dressed in a white lab coat with a particle mask covering half of his face and safety goggles perched atop his head. The ID badge attached to the pocket on his lab coat identifies him as Robert Rudolph, but most everyone at the research facility calls him Bob.
Bob and I are old friends. And when I say “friends,” I mean Bob has conducted numerous experiments on me during the past twelve months, including most of the electrocutions, stabbings, and ballistic impact tests. So our friendship isn’t exactly based on a solid foundation of trust and mutual respect.
Bob speaks with the lab techs to verify that everything is all set and that I’ve been properly prepped, then he dismisses them from the room. After they leave he walks over, removes his particle mask, and looks down at me.
“So how are we feeling today, RC-1854?”
That’s me. The RC stands for Reanimated Corpse. I presume the number 1854 indicates how many test subjects came before me. They never refer to any of us as zombies or by our names here at the Research Lab Hotel. And we don’t get complimentary wireless Internet or chocolate mints left on our pillows or four-hundred-thread-count, 100 percent combed cotton Frette linens.
I look at Bob without responding. I’d like to tell him how I’m feeling—which is a combination of cold, uncomfortable, and ambivalent—but with my mouth sewn shut, it kind of makes it difficult for me to share my thoughts.
Bob looks down at me with a smile plastered on his face, like he’s a game show host and I’m the contestant who’s made it to the final round. There’s something about Bob that reminds me of my old therapist, Ted, who would often sit there in his chair and stare at me with his own fake, plastic smile as I wrote down on my dry-erase board how I felt about being a zombie. That was before I decided I didn’t need his help anymore. Before I began to find my purpose. Before I ate him.
Which is one way to ensure doctor/patient confidentiality.
“Do you know what we have planned for you today?” says Bob, still wearing his disingenuous smile.
No, I think. I didn’t get the memo. Whatever it is they have planned, I’m guessing it’s not something I really want to put in my scrapbook of memories.
“We’re going to start a new type of therapy today.” Bob picks up a needle and syringe from the tray next to the examination table. “We’re all very excited.”
Yes. Excited. That’s me. I can barely keep from urinating into my catheter.
“You’re a rather unique specimen,” says Bob, prepping the needle. “The only one who has reacted to our tests in the way we’d hoped. Which is why you’re very important to our research.”
If I’m that important, you’d think they’d give me a room with a view and preferred member status. Maybe a shave and a haircut. Or some decent toilet paper.
A year ago at this time, I was in a custom ten-by-ten cage at the SPCA in Santa Cruz, doing satellite interviews with CNN and Howard Stern while reclining on my queen-sized sofa bed and drinking Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. So it’s easy to understand why my expectations might be a little out of the ordinary. But really, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in hoping for some Charmin or a package of baby wipes.
With my head held in place I have a pretty limited view of my surroundings, but I see the elevated viewing area at one end of the examination room, where a man with dark hair and a 1970s porn star mustache enters and sits down in the front row behind the Plexiglas window. Joining him is a tall, attractive woman with a bald head. I’ve seen both of them numerous times during my stay here, watching me from the viewing area or from behind splatter shields, talking to one another. I’ve never heard what they’re saying, but I’m guessing they’re not discussing my health plan.
While I’m watching the two of them, Bob sticks the needle in my shoulder. There’s no pain or any sense of discomfort. I don’t even feel the needle go into my flesh. It’s really not much more than the sensation of having a fly land on my shoulder.
That’s one of the advantages of being a zombie. You can stub your toe or get your arm torn out of its socket and you don’t really notice much of a difference. Except when you stub your toe it doesn’t impact your ability to tie your shoes or clap your hands.
Bob reaches over and pulls a flat-screen monitor into view above me. The monitor is attached to an arm, like the overhead light in a dentist’s office, only I don’t think this is covered by my dental insurance. Bob positions the monitor above me so that it’s directly in my line of sight, then he inserts a speculum into each of my eyes, forcing my eyelids open.
He was right. This is new.
“Comfy?” asks Bob.
He walks around to the cart on the other side of me, where the electrodes attached to my head are connected to the machine with all the switches and needles and gauges. I still don’t know what the contraption is, but from the looks of it, I’m guessing it doesn’t measure happy thoughts.
Bob puts his particle mask back on and tightens the straps, then he adjusts his safety goggles. “Don’t worry about these. They’re just a precaution. Standard procedure.”
That’s easy for him to say. He’s not the one strapped to a cadaver tray in an examination room with his eyes clamped open and his head hooked up to some machine. I’d like to switch places with Bob and see if he still thinks it’s just standard procedure.
While Bob fiddles with some of the knobs and levels, I glance at the mustached man and the bald woman, who are both leaning forward and watching with interest.
“Okay, it looks like we’re all set.” Bob turns and looks up at the viewing room and gives the thumbs-up. The mustached man nods his head once while the bald woman stares down at me, her eyes looking directly into mine. Under normal circumstances I’d say we were sharing a moment, but normal and I haven’t spent a lot of time together lately.
“I hope you’re a fan of the cinema,” Bob says to me.
On the monitor above me, the blue screen is replaced with a video clip, a scene from the original Night of the Living Dead, where the zombies are chowing down on barbecued Tom and Judy.
“Lights, camera, action,” says Bob.
Then he turns on a switch and white light explodes behind my eyes.