Muriel pushed the zombie back. It kept coming towards her. “Fuck. Son of a bitch is determined.”
“Well, yeah… that’s kind of their thing,” Joel was holding a long pole with a loop on the end. It was wrapped around the zombie’s neck.
“I want this finished soon. People are going to show up tomorrow morning, and we aren’t even done putting them in place.”
“You really think people are going to come?”
“Of course. It’s part of the human experience. Curiosity. When the city banned my exhibition, they guaranteed me an audience.”
“Whatever. So long as you remember to pay me, I’ll keep showing up and shoving these things into whatever shape you want them.”
The zombie finally hit the wall. Muriel grabbed a strap and dropped it around the corpse’s arm, pinning it in place. It kept gnashing its teeth at her, trying to sink teeth that had already been pulled into her flesh. The thing was a tall man, much bigger than Muriel. At least it had been when it was still alive. Now it was a rotting, shambling mass. Flesh flaying off its face, ichor dripping from a hundred bite wounds on its bare torso. Muriel had spent weeks finding this particular one.
“Stupid bastards didn’t see my vision. Oh well, everyone will see tomorrow,” Muriel said, pinning the zombie’s other arm.
Once the zombie was in place, Muriel stripped off her helmet and gloves, heavy leather pieces. Sweat dripped from her graying blonde hair, falling over fine wrinkles and into eyes that were sharp, piercing, a gaze that was just a little bit too intense. She turned to Joel.
“Okay, we’re ready. I don’t think we need any more for the primary exhibit.”
“Spares. It doesn’t pay to have all your material out at once. What if something goes wrong? I need people to see all the pieces.”
“This is fucked up.” Joel slipped the noose from around the pinned zombie and then pulled off his gear. He was a big man; his close-cropped hair was dark over the olive of his skin. His brow sloped up; a massive head made bestial by a slight underbite. Everything about Joel was large. His size was one of the main reasons Muriel had hired him. She needed someone who could manhandle the zombies and Joel was perfect for it. It helped that he wasn’t very bright. He would do whatever she asked without too many questions.
“I came to New Hope right at the start, you know? I got here a few weeks after Jasper and Naomi.”
“Cool. I was born here. Always lived here. Still live in the house I was born in.”
“Seriously? Nobody lives where they were born. I think you are the first native-born son I’ve ever met.”
They left the exhibit and walked up to the bridge. The boat swayed gently in the breeze.
“Of course, they didn’t let me stay. Fuckers. I was sick. I don’t know what it was, but I had the shakes pretty fierce. They turned me away, sent me back to the mainland. I didn’t die, though; it was another two years before I made it back.” Muriel was pacing as she talked, her birdlike hands almost shaped into talons. “That’s what this is all about. I want to show them what the mainland was like.”
“Okay,” Joel replied, his eyes blank, unfocused. He sat his massive bulk into the chair next to the wheel, not the one in front of it. “I’m tired, ma’am.”
“Would you like a cup of coffee? You’ve earned it.”
“Thanks. Yeah, coffee would be good.”
Muriel put the kettle on the small alcohol stove and got two cups ready.
“The best part is that I only have one more zombie to place.”
“I thought we were done.”
“Don’t worry, we are. I can handle the last one myself.”
Muriel spooned brown powder into the two mugs. “Do you want sugar?”
“No, ma’am. If you have some cream, I would like it.”
“Cream. No, I have some coffee whitener. Would that do?”
Muriel grabbed a spoonful of white powder and put it into the cup with the brown. Joel didn’t notice the care she took to ensure the white powder never got near her cup.
The first boat of people showed up right on schedule. Society types, the favoured sons and daughters of New Hope. “Step aboard ladies and gentlemen. The show starts soon, but we have to wait until all the guests are aboard,” Muriel bowed, and the guests came up the ladder.
“I’ve never had to climb for an art exhibit before,” a sharply dressed man said. His suit would have been high end before the dead rose. Now it was like something from another world. A woman in an evening gown followed him up. Her heels kept catching on the ladder. Muriel let out a sigh under her breath.
A few minutes later, they were all aboard, and the next group arrived. The process repeated several times until finally, the deck was crowded. “Thank you all for coming. This exhibit is the culmination of my life’s work. I was an artist before, so it’s got a lot of history behind it.”
“Is it true you’ve used live zombies in the exhibits?”
“Yes, absolutely. The sense of the piece required it.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“No, they are all restrained, and I’ve pulled the teeth out of the ones who pose the most risk. There’s no chance of them doing anything I don’t want them to.”
“That doesn’t feel all that safe to me.” The woman in the evening gown was speaking.
“Of course not Janet, it’s not supposed to make you feel safe. Great art has to challenge, has to push your limits. This exhibit is designed to do just that. Trust me, you will see. Everything is planned out perfectly.”
Joel stood just inside the door. Muriel opened it, revealing the giant man. His lower jaw had been removed, so he was unable to bite. It should have detracted from his beastlike look, but the exposed sinew and muscle throughout his cheeks brought it back and more. His olive skin was now gray, and his dark, beetle-like eyes were pure white, sightless. He wore a suit, looking like a doorman. The crowd walked in, barely beyond the giant man’s reach with his hands bound as they were.
Muriel said, “Sorry Joel, couldn’t have you telling anyone what the exhibit was about,” her voice barely a whisper.
As the group went below decks, they saw the full exhibit in front of them. A dozen zombies were bound in various poses throughout the small space, naked other than Joel. Pieces of their flesh had been flayed out, revealing gleaming muscle, intestines, bone. All were intact enough to move, but all had been transformed from the dead everyone was used to something somehow even worse.
Muriel shut the door behind them, slamming the pin down. The man in the suit turned to her and said, “What is this?”
“Art should be experienced. If I have to explain it, you won’t fully experience it.”
The high and mighty of New Hope looked around at the zombies, chained to the walls, posed in a macabre tableau. For each zombie, there was an additional corpse or five, all fresh.
“This is… it’s stunning. So raw, so captivating,” the woman in the evening gown said. Her eyes shining.
“Where did you get your subject matter?”
“Mostly from the streets of New Hope. I picked people nobody would miss.”
“Wait, you killed them?”
“Yes. It was impossible to find existing zombies that matched exactly what I needed. I needed people to feel the fear I did when I was on the mainland after I was turned away.”
“So, you killed them to make them feel that fear?”
“No, I told you about it so you would.”
The man in the suit grabbed Muriel by the throat, his face turning purple with rage. He screamed in her face, “Let us the fuck out of here!”
Muriel struggled with the large man’s hands, trying to pull them off of her throat. She croaked out, “I can’t. Let go.”
He dropped his grip. Muriel said, “Of course I’m going to let you out, this is art. What’s the point of art if there’s no audience? There’s just one more piece, and then you can all leave.”
Muriel stripped off her clothes, leaving herself naked. The audience was mixed; some looked away, some looked at her with naked lust, desire despite the setting. Most seemed like they didn’t know where to settle their eyes. Muriel walked to the end of the room. There were three zombies there, tied by the ankles.
“These three are different. They still have their teeth. Please wait until the end of the show. The key to the door is hanging on a peg right behind my doorman.” Muriel stepped into reach of the three still lethal zombies. One grabbed her, pulling her into its teeth. It had been a man in life, a small one. Muriel had flayed off all the flesh from shoulders to groin and from the lower half of its face, so it had a permanent rictus of a grin on its face, white teeth amidst red and pink jaw muscles tied with white tendons. It closed the too exposed teeth around her throat, tearing flesh. Red blood sprayed across the room, soaking the guests. It covered their faces, their clothes. Muriel gurgled, a pink froth coming from her lips as blood mixed into her airway. The zombies tore into her, ripping her apart.
The woman in the evening gown grabbed the key from behind the giant doorman, dodging his hands. She quickly opened the door, crying and sobbing as she went.
The others followed her out. As they did Muriel’s last piece completed. She stood up, covered in blood, naked and dripping. Her gray eyes quested, trying to find anything living, anything she could sink her teeth into.