Noisy Mute

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As the zombie community slept, Fred spent the day trying to work out how to get out of whatever shenanigans Baz's friends' were up to. He tried to imagine the reasons they might have for wanting to pass him off as human. Amateur theatrics, culinary fraud, stalking horse, fetish....? It was either bad for him or bad for someone else, or both.

He seriously considered just leaving town. He didn't have many friends and there were plenty of communities with vacant houses who could use an able-bodied zom. But Hilldale was a peaceful place, he'd fixed his cottage up nicely, and the hospital gave him an occupation and everything he needed for his experiments. And my plan to be a man again.

There were no police to call, just civil dispute officers and township security teams that would respond to violent crimes or accidents. Wiki would have them for breakfast.

More out of habit than conviction, he got ready and went into work at dusk. Maybe I can just avoid Baz.

When Fred arrived at Hospital Building Three, their first appointment was already waiting on the bench outside. An older-looking woman sat knitting next to a young-looking man with a cable-knit woolen hat pulled down low on his head. The young man glared at Fred as he pulled out his key ring and let himself in.

"Jenny?" Fred called out. Jenny usually got in first and would let early-birds wait inside.

Jenny was unloading the autoclave

"What's with the tricoteuse?" Fred asked.

"The what?"

"The knitting woman."

"Oh." Jenny dropped the blunt probes into a metal kidney jar with a clang. "She's okay but her son's a mutie."

"You mean he can't speak?" It didn't really make sense that Jenny would be annoyed about a disability. She was a soft touch for every stray dog in town and did her best to help even their most obstreperous customers. Even if she's plenty rude about it.

Jenny gave him a look of disdain. "You seriously haven't come across the mutes yet? They're all nutjobs. Well, I guess they're not gonna come in here and you don't get out much. This I might enjoy."

She wiped her hands on the apron she wore over her Scooby-Doo scrubs and went to let them in.

Fred picked up the top file-folder in the stack and skimmed the records. Thorn Watkins had contracted near the beginning of the outbreak. That made him sixty-seven years old, or he had been seventeen for fifty years—depending on how you looked at it.

"They won't have it, Mom," Thorn pouted as he shambled in with a Romero-esque gait.

His stoic mother had stowed her knitting in a large tapestry bag. She pulled off her boy's hat and pointed at his missing left ear. Which to be fair was explanation enough. He was also missing some flesh around the margin of his left eye and along the jaw. The ablations had a distinctive scalloped edge.

Fred consulted the discharge form from Thorn's intake to the ER earlier in the year... when he also lost part of his right Achilles and some surrounding tissue.

Jenny brought over the ear tray where all the ear specimens were kept under glass.

The ER notes indicated that Thorn had got wasted on Saccharomyces and chips. Which explains why he looked a bit drunk now. He'd ended up passed out in an abandoned skate park and suffered some losses.

"So, Thorn," Fred asked. "Is it that you know where you ear is, or you're pretty sure it's inside a rat?"

"You'n in on it aren't you," Thorn said. "They always take th' left ear, an' you never get it back."

"The rats?" Fred asked.

"The aliens," Jenny muttered.

"Th'deep state!" Thorn screech-slurred.

There isn't a state anymore, deep or otherwise. Fred dropped the file in the out tray. "Well, let's just have a check, shall we? Better safe than sorry."

Thorn's mother nodded a vigorous agreement while wringing her hands.

Thorn barely looked at the merchandise. He leaned in conspiratorially. "The Vietnam vet-ner-ins always took the left ears of their kills."

"Right, I mean okay," Fred said. "So, when you passed out and lost it, were you lying on your right side?"

"Watsch that goh' to do with it?" Thorn replied.

"Nothing, apparently." Fred exchanged a sympathetic look with the mother who shrugged.

Jenny got their client to sit in a chair, measured up his remaining ear and pulled the most likely candidates for his missing pinna. There was a good score of them.

As he watched, Fred offered Thorn a little advice. "You got through the outbreak in one piece and you're in pretty good shape even now. But you should consider giving up the auto-brewery lark, or at least cut back on your carbs. And Orthotics is bound to have something to help with your ankle. Then you can find something a little more constructive to do with your time."

"Wow," Thorn replied, swaying backward on his chair. "You're not in on 'r you, zom? You're one of th' Sheeple. That's n'even worse." He pulled a crumpled flier from his back pocket.

The purple mimeographed letters at the top of the page shouted ANOMALOUS ZOMBIE MUTILATION: WHAT THEY DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW.

Jenny mouthed the word to Fred, 'mutie', and nodded to Thorn. He was moving around was making it hard to get through trying on the ears.

Fred scanned the semi-illiterate screed for something to distract their customer while making sure the joke was on Jenny. "So why does the deep state want zombie bits?"

Mom sighed heavily and went and sat over in the recovery area as if she expected to be waiting a while.

Thorn's eyes lit up. "They kin puht diff'ernt parts together like, like Frankensteen."

I wish that was true. They'd be my sort of people.

"And, and, and..." Thorn palpably searched his pickled brain for a coherent thought. "We have't from a verra good authority that they kin even yoose small bitty bits to grow an n'intire new clone of th' zom, but one wit' no person inside-a-there like a pod person, so they'll't do whatever they is told."

"So. Mindless zombies?"

"Yeah, yeah. Exactly. An army of them."

The ragged ear in Jenny's hand snapped onto Thorn's head like a magnetic letter to a refrigerator door. Thorn's eyes widened with surprise.

"Oh, you must be getting close, man," Fred goaded. "They must be trying to discredit you."

Jenny took the remaining ears back to the bench in a bowl and slammed them down. "Oh, come on," she snapped. "If the government wanted bits they'd just steal them from a place like this."

Thorn reached out and grabbed Fred by the lapel. "She'sizz right, man," he said. "They mi' be after you next. You should come in't... our meeting iz tonight. It's't the old Lumia, firs' floor, room twenny-six. You see?"

"The old hotel?"

"Yeah, and it's'n not just us. We're organ-in-izing. Twenty-six t'irteens. We're ev'rywhere. We is goin't figh' back. You just gotta join us. You gotta join us, man. They're tryin't bring out tha end times an' only week an stop them. It's, it's sake-rit geometry. You see?"

Thorn was getting kind of excited now.

Jenny jabbed the clipboard against Thorn's chest. "Sign the form."

Thorn's eyes seemed to be focused miles beyond the hospital walls around them, which made getting a hold of the pen difficult. His mother came back and fitted the biro into his trembling fingers. Thorn made a faint scribble on entirely the wrong part of the form, and Jenny took it back.

"Close enough," she said. "Next."

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