My daughter, Delilah, was rather fond of them; they listened as only the dead can listen. Although their eyes were mostly empty, it was easy to see they could follow your words. They even attempted facial expressions sometimes.
It took some getting used to, having the dead shamble around the house. Some of them had been maids or servants in their former lives. They still attempted to help clean the house. Even though they usually created more of a mess, it was still rather thoughtful.
It was a whole year before I didn’t jump at seeing a half-decayed face in the mirror while I brushed my teeth, just standing over my shoulder. The dead were rather invasive like that. They liked to watch the living do things that only the living did. None of the dead brushed their teeth anymore; they didn’t have to worry about losing their teeth. I’d never seen any of the dead even attempt to eat.
Delilah seemed to draw the dead to her. When her father died, his corpse had crawled out of its grave a few days later, shuffling over to our daughter and staring. After that, they came in a trickle from cemeteries all over town, hanging around the house and causing quite a stir. It was as though they had all watched Delilah’s father, then realized they could crawl out of their graves as well. At any given time, we had about forty of them shambling over parts of the house. Most stuck around until they fell apart. My husband still hung around the courtyard, but at least his skin has fallen off enough that I don’t recognize him anymore. Having your dead spouse walk around, unable to talk to you and obviously dead, makes the grieving process a lot harder.
Sunlight spilled into my bedroom window, waking me. It was time to make sure Delilah got to school, and to sweep the floor of any new corpse pieces that had fallen off in the night. I stretched, sitting up in bed.
There was a dead woman in the corner, facing away from me, scratching at the wall. I frowned, wondering how many gooey handprints I’d have to clean up today. I dressed quickly, leaving the corpse alone in my room. I pushed a few zombies out of the way and I knocked on Delilah’s door, hoping she’d already be awake.
She grumbled from the other side of the door.
“Delilah, honey. You awake?” I knocked again. I didn’t like invading her room; it was her own personal space. One of the few places she could escape me and all her dead roommates.
Kelley sidled up behind me, bumping the dead out of the way with her wide hips. Kelley was the only maid I could keep on staff after the invasion. No one wanted to work in the House of the Dead, but nothing fazed her. I was grateful; it would have been nearly impossible to keep this place clean all on my own with all the bodies limping around.
“Ms. Delilah says she is not feeling well, so I’m bringing her some soup.” Kelley smiled, swinging the bedroom door open. I followed closely on her heels, and a couple of the dead followed to stand in the doorway. They looked uncertain, as though they were worried but didn’t know what to do about it. I ignored them the best I could.
Delilah’s room was decorated in what she called “Princess Chic.” Her bed was a giant, pink canopied thing, filled with lace and white ribbons. The walls were pale pink polka dots and the drapes were topped with what looked like tiaras. I cringed at the decor, but Delilah loved it. But it didn’t matter. It was her room, after all.
“Brought you some chicken noodle soup, my dear,” Kelley smiled, her light brown hair bouncing in its curls. My daughter lay sprawled over the bed, her face flushed and dappled in sweat.
“My poor baby; what’s wrong?”
Delilah sat up and accepted the soup with trembling fingers. “I’m okay. I think it’s just a fever.”
I pressed my hand to her forehead; her skin was cold and clammy under my fingers. “Well, you’ll just rest at home today. Should I get you anything? Dayquil? Maybe some toast and jelly?”
My daughter smiled weakly back as she sipped her soup. Kelley settled down on the corner of the bed, watching to make sure she ate every bite of it. Delilah was almost a carbon copy of me. Her hair was poker straight and dirty blonde, her eyes a deep sea-water green. The only part of her that resembled her father was her nose; it was cute and turned up at the bottom a little. I wished I had that nose. She was a pretty girl, and she was wearing a pretty little sleeping dress her best friend Molly had gotten her for her birthday last week.
“I’m okay. I’ll probably just go back to sleep in a minute,” Delilah smiled weakly, looking a little ill at the soup. “I don’t think I’ll be able to finish this as it is.”
“It’s good for you,” Kelley answered, and she gestured to her to drink up.
“I can’t finish it,” she looked a little green at the prospect.
Kelley frowned, her hands over her ample hips. “You should. It’s good for you.”
“I can’t!” Delilah screeched, suddenly upset. In a sudden rush, all the dead had surrounded Kelley, as though they were planning to protect Delilah from anyone who upset her. They stood like a wall around Kelley, and refused to budge, even when she tried to manhandle them out of the way. Shocked, I stared at the zombie wall, wondering at this new behavior.
I frowned. That’s all we needed was one more weird thing to deal with. “Delilah, dear, Kelley didn’t mean to upset you. Can you call off the zombies, please?”
“Don’t call them zombies!” Delilah cried, even more upset than before. The wall of zombies crushed a little closer on Kelley, and the woman yelled, demanding the dead move out of her way. But they didn’t move. Instead, one of the newer dead reached out and wrapped a gray hand around her throat, as if trying to silence her. I watched, unable to look away, as the zombie squeezed harder and harder, until I heard a loud popping noise. The zombie dropped Kelley immediately, turning back to look at Delilah. After a few moments of stunned silence, Kelley got back to her feet, her eyes black and lifeless.
I turned in slow horror to my daughter, who sat on the bed looking at me calmly.
“Delilah! What did you do?” I felt tears prick at the corners of my eyes. “Why would you do that?”
Delilah looked sad for a moment. “Because I can,” she answered, simply, her eyes not entirely sane. “I suppose that now you know, you’ll want to leave me too. But no one’s allowed to leave me, Mother.” Delilah stood from the bed, and I saw, for the first time, that some of the skin was missing from one of her feet. She looked a little gray around the edges as she attempted to smile. I backed away a little bit as she stepped forward in that shambling way the dead walked, and my heart thundered around in my chest.
Some of the dead began to limp up to me, closing me off from the exit. I looked around desperately for an exit or a weapon and found nothing. “No one’s allowed to leave me, Mother. Not even you.” She looked at Kelley’s corpse and all the dead next to her. One of them was a young, redheaded girl with dead black eyes; even under the loose gray skin and dead expression I still recognized Molly, Delilah’s best friend. She staggered toward me, her hands reaching out to my neck.
I screamed just as those cold, dead hands wrapped around my throat.