ZOMBIE SOUP by Carrie Harris
On my seventeenth birthday, I prayed.
“God?” I looked up at an old tin ad for digestive biscuits. We were gathered in the old Cracker Barrel, since it was the only building inside the walls large enough for us all. Mostly we had farmland because we wanted to, you know, eat. “I know I’ve never too big on the whole prayer thing, but I get assigned to my job today, and I really want to be a hunter. If you could make that happen, I’d…be thankful, I guess. Amen.”
And that was it. I didn’t have much experience talking with God. Dad had stopped taking me to church after Mom died. Cancer. I was ten when it happened, and now I couldn’t quite remember what her voice sounded like. That was sad, but not the kind of sad that makes you cry all the time. More like an old wound that breaks open on occasion. Usually the most inconvenient ones.
I didn’t have a whole lot of time to sit around wailing, though. Ever since the virus hit three-and-a-half years ago, everyone’s had to work hard to survive and stay sane.
Dad took the podium. “Everyone take a seat,” he said, and they did. Our conclave was the most regimented, but we also hadn’t lost any residents to the infected so people didn’t complain. I sure didn’t. My dad was in charge, after all, and I knew how much he worried about the balance between free will and collective safety. He was an ulcer waiting to happen; too bad most of the pharmaceuticals were expired because he could have used a carton of Pepto.
“Welcome, everyone,” he said. “I know you’ve all worked hard today and are itching to go home and put your feet up, so I promise not to ramble on like I usually do.” Low chuckles from the crowd.
“Today, we’re here to celebrate the seventeenth birthday of my daughter, Sadie. Happy birthday, honey.”
I couldn’t keep from smiling as everyone cheered and hooted, even though I was so nervous I might barf.
“As you know, seventeen is the age of graduation, and I’d like you all to join me in welcoming Sadie to her new profession. The Council has determined that we are in gravest need of assistance in the kitchens.”
My stomach fell. It wasn’t that I hated the kitchens. I just wanted a little…excitement, I guess. I was tired of being responsible Sadie, but I didn’t know how to be anything else.
Dad looked down at me, and his lips thinned with strain. He could tell I was disappointed, even though I didn’t even twitch. He just knew me too well. “Since Mrs. Windeman’s stroke last month, the kitchen staff has been highly overworked. I know they’ll welcome you with open arms, Sadie.”
A handful of cheers scattered around the room corroborated the point. I forced a smile as Liney Taylor, the kitchen supervisor, brought out a cake.
I got over the disappointment pretty quick, because there was no sense in dwelling on it. Besides, I told myself, the kitchen had its share of excitement. Protein was scarce; the virus had killed off most animals and didn’t preserve or animate them the way it did with people. I didn’t understand that. Neither did the scientists.
But one of them had determined that you could eat the infected as long as you cooked them long enough. And by “long enough,” I mean burnt them to a crisp. So the hunters captured the infected, and the kitchen staff butchered and cooked them. All meat preparation was centralized to avoid accidentally infecting somebody with a medium rare burger.
Actually, the more I learned about it, the more excited I got. Kitchen work was probably even more exciting than hunting. All the hunters got to do was taze and tag them. Once I finished my apprenticeship, I’d even get my own cleaver.
That was pretty exciting. I wasn’t sadistic; just that weapons were a huge commodity and being trusted with them was a big deal. Maybe someday I’d run a conclave just like my dad. That was one of my favorite dreams of all. And one day, I was in the kitchen daydreaming about my election day—my speech, what I’d wear, the look on Dad’s face—when Liney tapped me on the shoulder.
“Sadie, are you woolgathering again?” she asked.
I flushed. “I was just finishing up the soup.”
“The quality test done?”
We had to pull out three sections of meat and test them with a meat thermometer to make sure they were hot enough to kill off the virus. I looked down. I couldn’t remember doing it, but I had the thermometer in my hand, and it was dripping with broth.
“Of course,” I said.
I took the pot out to the line, where some of the younger teens waited to serve it up. Clay Bower looked at my cook’s whites and nearly fell over, he got so jealous. I didn’t much care for him because he tended to talk to my boobs instead of my face, but it still made me feel good.
Then I sat down next to my dad and waited for my food. It tasted pretty good once you got over what you were eating. And we’d run out of vitamins a while ago, so vegetarianism wasn’t an option if you wanted to stay healthy.
I tuned out the conversation. Dad was talking with some of the council members about infrastructure improvements. Not exactly stirring dinner conversation, but there weren’t any other teens my age in the conclave. When it was time for me to marry, they’d have to import somebody.
“Oh my god,” yelled Clay. “My soup just twitched!”
Immediate shrieks. If the meat wasn’t cooked enough, it reanimated. It was still infective. My father looked at me with wide, fearful eyes and spat a mouthful back into his bowl.
“It’s not my fault,” I gasped, but I wasn’t so sure. Something told me I wasn’t earning that cleaver after all.
I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I picked up my spoon and took the slurp of death.
Visit Carrie at her (super cool and amazing) website HERE.