The obeisance of memory
A/N: This prompt is probably terribly overdone, but it's a lot of fun to write and I enjoyed experimenting with it. Hope it amuses you folks to read as much as it did me to write.
I do have more written, if anyone's interested. Please review if you are!
When he opens his eyes, he's struck by the wrongness of it all.
He's not all too clear what he means by that, exactly. The feeling just pervades all over – his legs, his arms, the tip of his nose. It's almost like a tingle, or an itch. He just knows it's there.
Whatever it is is quickly forgotten a moment later, however, when he's rather more struck by the immediate need for air.
Turns out, that need is surprisingly difficult to satisfy – although he's not sure why he feels surprised, since he hadn't been particularly expecting anything in the first place. It isn't like there was anything before.
…If there was even a before to begin with.
Somehow he knows he's supposed to fight, though; he flails his arms and they hit something hard (wood, his mind supplies helpfully); tries to shout for help, but nothing escapes his throat except for a scratchy cry that doesn't sound like him at all… he doesn't think.
Everything's black - or dark, whatever. He can't see a thing, is what it comes down to, and he's pretty sure there's no one there to hear him, so there's probably no help on that front.
By now he's starting to panic a little more, but he feels pretty entitled – lack of air just has that effect on a person, and it doesn't help that he's inside… wherever he is. His fists continue to beat against the wood instinctively, harder and harder, and then there's a sound like something cracking.
He barely has time to think hope that wasn't me before his world collapses.
Bitterness fills his mouth and nostrils when he tries to inhale.
This isn't a metaphor, by the way – the acrid taste is almost overpowering as something powdery and rough and soft all at once feels like it's trying to enter him any way possible. And fuck if that doesn't sound dirty, but that's just how it is.
From there on, it's a mindless struggle up. Some vestige of instinct flares and tugs him in what must be the right direction, because after an eternity of plowing so hard his fingers bleed and his arms ache, just as black spots invade his vision and a smartass part of him thinks distantly well, that was short-lived, his hands suddenly find nothing to fight against.
For one entire, incredibly dumb second, he actually stops; actually panics that it's over, that there's no more up, or whatever. Then his lungs remind him that hey, on short lease here, and he calls himself an idiot and gets back to the business of working his way free – otherwise known as trying to survive more than several pitiful minutes in this cruel, cruel world.
And that's actually a lot harder than it sounds. His oxygen-starved arms feel heavier than a baby boomer each, so he has to use his oxygen-starved legs to push himself up, and all the while his head is spinning frantically like a seriously amped-up Ferris wheel. But finally a breeze ruffles his hair, then brushes against his eyelids, then his nose and his mouth and for God's sake just do it already –
He breathes in; a ragged, loud gasp. The air tastes sweeter than the finest beer, the prettiest woman, the best chocolate. Not that he can remember the last time he's had any of those, but oh, the comparison is apt enough without haggling over the details.
He lets his mind blank out for a couple of seconds, then hauls himself up and out of the earth.
He stumbles to his feet and looks down at himself, squinting in the sunlight. His clothes are mussed and covered with dirt and earthworms, his skin is smeared with brown. He's standing in the middle of what looks like ground zero, trees and posts all bent out in a circle, except here and there he can see some grass and yeah, there's the little hole in the earth he must have come from... except wait a minute, that doesn't make sense.
Did he really just dig himself out of the ground?
There's a large, haphazardly-built wooden cross in the corner of his vision. He turns to stare. It takes him a moment to figure it out.
A grave. This is a grave.
...Apparently, his grave.
Holy shit, his brain says bewilderedly. I think I'm a zombie.
…He doesn't feel like a zombie. His skin – well, what he can make out under the dirt, anyway – looks a rather healthy tan slash pink, and it feels pretty attached, not sewed on or anything (although maybe he's getting his legends mixed up, but who cares). He checks his face, and everything's there that's supposed to be there, he's rather certain, eyes and nose and mouth and ears.
Maybe he's a ghost, he muses, except he doesn't think ghosts need to break open their caskets and manually dig themselves out of graves. The lucky bastards.
His stomach growls. He waits hopefully for a second, but no matter how hard he tries he can't detect any particular hunger for brains. His throat's pretty parched too, but it doesn't seem to be craving blood or cerebral spinal fluid or anything apart from maybe water.
Which comes as a bit of a relief, as he isn't really emotionally prepared to devour anything bigger than a sandwich. Though it still leaves him the slightly pressing question of what the crap am I?
He walks around the disturbed earth in order to look more closely at the cross (grave marker, really, it doesn't look as if the person who built it gave a flying fuck about what a cross should look like), hoping for a clue of some kind as to who he's supposed to be. There isn't any writing or anything useful, however, not a date or even an inscription to suggest that someone gave a damn about the poor shit buried six feet under.
That's pretty sad, he thinks, running a hand through his hair. If that's the grave of the person whose body he's using, the guy must have led a pretty crappy life.
I must have led a pretty crappy life, he corrects himself, then stops, says that again aloud. Feels out the words.
…Nothing. He waits cautiously, stares intently at the cross as if that might speed things up, but not even a glimmer of that crappy life flashes before him.
This might as well be someone else's grave.
Maybe it is, he thinks distantly, except it makes even less sense to rise from someone else's grave than from your own, so he decides to stop wondering and just get on with being whatever he is, zombie or not.
He starts walking. It's hot; sweat burns tracks through the dirt on his face. When he takes off his jacket (well, someone's jacket anyway) soil falls from it to the ground as if it had been an extra lining.
The world is pretty, he supposes, but it gets old, fast – at least twenty minutes pass before he sees anything other than trees and dirt and pale blue sky. And that's just a stupid squirrel.
Bumfuck, Middle of Nowhere. Heck of a burial ground, he thinks acidly. There isn't even another grave for company - let alone another alive-but-previously-dead-person, for that matter. Someone must have really hated his guts.
Or, you know, whoever's guts he has.
Eventually he comes across what he decides more than makes up for the lousy squirrel – a way station or a fill-up joint, something like that. He doesn't really care for the details.
…He doesn't really care that it's locked, either.
Because come on, he's a frigging zombie – breaking and entering, stealing, it's all really nothing when pitted against the prospect of snacking on brains. He should be given a damn medal for not eating anyone, is what it is. Not that there's anyone around to talk to, let alone snack on - but hey, if there was, he wouldn't be eating them. He should totally get points for that.
Really, the world should be grateful.
He makes for the water bottle section like a zebra to a water hole. Or a camel to an oasis. Some kind of cool African mammal to some kind of water place. Either way, the speed he's going is almost superhuman. (Well, not literally, he doesn't think. But pretty close, he's that thirsty.)
Water, he thinks, tastes even better than air.
He snags some candy bars – so at least he knows he's had candy at some previous life/incarnation/whatever, because he instinctively knows that Three Musketeers are so-so, Crunch is all right, and Twix rocks harder than Kurt Cobain (okay, so apparently he knows who Cobain is, too) – into a plastic bag, and after a moment of consideration throws in some nuts and a couple of power bars, mostly just to appease the nagging voice that tells him sugar can only get him so far. He stops after putting in a bag of chips, because hey, he doesn't want to ransack the place. He might not have a penny to his name–or any compunction whatsoever about stealing– but he does have a heart.
...Probably has a heart. Something is pumping blood (he knows he has that, at least) through his body, and it is probably a heart.
Anyway. He makes his way to the cash register, chomping down on a Crunch, and decides that chocolate tastes better than water.
It doesn't take very long to figure out how to open the register. He takes all the fifties and twenties they have – which isn't a friggin' lot – and most of the tens. Leaves the rest, because he's such a damn softie. Although to be honest, he's pretty sure nothing will happen if he gets caught by the cops – what, are they gonna lock up a dead guy? Worst they can do is put him in a psych ward for having amnesia or Alzheimer's or whatever he has. Dead man's disease?
Things to ponder at a later time.
He's just about to close it – seriously, he is – when the loudest ringing he's ever heard (which okay, he's already established to not mean much) threatens to burst his eardrums. The sound's so high and grating it's practically physical – the door slams against the wall as it opens and closes, the windows shatter, and the little TV in the corner flickers on and off as if some damn kid is playing with the remote.
He instinctively throws himself to the floor, hands over his ears and eyes squeezed shut.
As quickly as the deluge begins, though, it ends. He stays on the ground for a couple of seconds, but nothing happens so he gets up. There's nothing outside, no matter how hard he stares out the window, ready to hit the deck in case of another cosmic freakout.
Which is the only thing he can think of to explain… whatever just happened.
The bar for weird is set pretty high when you start out life in a grave, but he's thinking that this just might take the cake.
Four hours, three Twix and a bag of chips into his search for civilization, Not-a-Zombie's thinking very longingly of the crappy blue car parked back at the gas station. On second (third, fourth and thirtieth) thought, maybe he could have figured out how to hotwire it after all. Alarm, shmalarm. What exactly had he been thinking when he'd decided to walk?
He's still stuck in that train of thought when he walks past the sign of Pontiac, 2 miles. He thinks about it when he walks past the sign of Welcome to Pontiac!, and he continues to dwell on it even when he actually sets foot into Pontiac, Illinois itself. Because really, what's he going to do when he finds civilization – he pointedly ignores the buildings around him as well as the realization that civilization, in fact, has already been found – he can't go on stealing from abandoned gas stations forever, and dead or not, he's got no clue who he is, so even if he isn't 'officially' dead (which might be the case. Considering how out-of-the-way Bumfuck was, some hick probably shot him by accident and didn't let anyone else know), it's not like he can make use of it.
Point is. He's alive, but damn if he knows how to stay that way.
Not-a-Zombie's legs seem to know something he doesn't, though, as they lead him in the direction of what must be the dodgiest diner ever. Catching a waft of the smell from the place, he guesses that grease is probably pretty prominent on the menu, but for a cheap first meal he supposes it's a pretty decent start. Good going, he compliments his feet.
They don't reply, but he figures that's probably a good thing.
There don't seem to be many people inside, which is just fine with Not-a-Zombie. As he settles into a booth, bag of candy still in his hand, he gets a surly look from a stick of a woman wearing a short pink dress with a white apron.
"Can I get you your order?" she snipes nasally instead of greets, and he stares helplessly in fascination as she bites at the lipstick-smear that is her mouth. She looks like she's trying really hard not to breathe.
His first human interaction, and already he can tell it's not going well. "Uh, can I…" he stops, sniffs, wrinkles his nose. Ooh, something reeks.
"Actually, hold that thought. Got a bathroom?"
His walk back from the bathroom is a lot more cheerful than his walk inside. He's a handsome son of a gun really, once you got rid of the mudslinging-monkey look, and he might have gone a little crazy with the water, maybe, but feeling halfway clean is definitely worth it.
His new waitress – apparently there was a changing of the guard while he's been gone – seems to agree with him, since she's currently beaming at him over his menu with the look girls should probably just reserve for puppies. Maybe girls like the baffled look, or maybe it's just this one who enjoys it when guys squint at their greasy menu in total confusion. Either way, he's definitely going to need to step up his game in the future; being suave probably feels a lot more dignified.
For now, though, he has other worries on his mind - the main one being that he has absolutely no idea what to order.
No idea. None. It's ridiculous. He has no idea what he likes.
Cheese fries? Pancakes? The images pop up in his head like from a catalog, picture perfect, but nothing accompanies them, no disgust, no anticipation. Nothing.
He frowns, something in his gut twitching uncomfortably. He's never been at a loss before; the feeling is foreign and utterly unpleasant.
It just seems... wrong. It is wrong, right? Shouldn't there be some kind of instinct helping him out with this? Something, at least, that tells him these are your favorite or this sounds good or try this, it will definitely taste awesome in your mouth?
There shouldn't be this blankness.
"Would you like another minute?" the waitress says delicately, shifting her weight from foot to foot. She seems a bit less charmed but somewhat more sympathetic, like she can literally see his helplessness. "...Sir?"
"Sam," he tells her automatically. He blinks, surprised at himself, then says slowly, "... Jackson. Sam Jackson," all natural and suave-like, as if he hasn't come up with it just this minute.
The corner of his mouth lifts. Oh, he's good.
She grins at him. "All right, Sam Jackson," she stresses his name subtly, like its their own inside joke. He kinda likes it. "Would you like for me to help you narrow it down?"
She is rapidly becoming his favorite person in the world. "Oh please," he says in relief.
Her eyes crinkle at the corners. "Well, then. We've got plenty of lunch specials here, and obviously I'm obligated to tell you that they're all fantastic." She gestures at the menu expansively, and after a moment whispers confidentially, "They're actually not."
He finds himself enjoying this. "I'm not willing to settle for anything less than fantastic," he says seriously. "What are my options?"
Her grin widens. "Today you have two. Local favorite, our famous chicken sandwich. My favorite, spicy hot buffalo wings. Especially good if you're hungry," she adds as she looks down at him. "Whatever you choose, both are extremely fantastic."
"I, uh…" The newly-named Not-a-Zombie stares at the menu for a couple more seconds, then gives up. "All right, you convinced me." He leans back happily, decision made, and hands her the menu.
She takes it perplexedly, then prompts, "So? What do you want?"
"What you said," he says cheerfully. "I'll take it."
She frowns. "Take what?"
"Sandwich, buffalo wings," he says. "You know. What you said."
She blinks. "You mean both - both of them?"
"Both of them," he answers firmly.
She shakes her head, looking amused again. "Whatever you say," she says, making a note on her little notepad. "Would you like anything else with that?"
Curly fries are the shit, Not-a-Zombie (aka Sam Jackson) decides. And if curly fries are the shit, then barbecue sauce is definitely… okay, not going there.
Still. Curly fries are good.
"Fucking delicious," someone says in the booth behind him, and he can't see them but he's pretty sure they're agreeing with him.
Beth, the gorgeous, generous, let-me-go-order-you-an-extra-plate hot little number from before, walks up to Sam's booth and smiles prettily. "Enjoyed yourself?"
"Just a little," he answers, flashing her a contented grin.
She raises an eyebrow, gaze passing over the ravages he left of his lunch, the conquered wings and the newly-clean tub of sauce. "Wow. That... that has to be some sort of talent."
"Well, you know," he says. "First meal of the day," life, "and all that."
She gives him a chiding look. "You're going to regret that. Your stomach's probably about to explode."
"Oh no," he's quick to reassure her, patting his belly. "Trust me, plenty more room here."
Beth laughs, shaking her head, and takes out her writing pad because she's a doll. "Well then, let's work on that then, shall we? Anything else you might like?" she asks, pushing an auburn strand behind her ear. "Coffee, dessert maybe?"
Oh God. "What do you have?"
"Chocolate mousse, fruit bowl, strawberry shortcake... but you don't want any of those."
It's his turn to look amused. "I don't?"
Her eyes twinkle. "Not today, you don't. Today's a good day for homemade apple pie," she says, then pauses. "Although seeing how you're... that it's pretty hot out today, well, you might want to go with the sundae."
A nice way of saying he's sweatier than a pig. "Hmm," he says.
After just a moment of waiting – jeeze, she's getting used to him – she hints, "The sundae's pretty popular."
"I'll get that, then," Sam Jackson says immediately, relieved, and she nods before disappearing to the kitchen.
Although… this is his first meal.
"Hey, Beth?" he calls out, and when he sees her poke out her head through the door, he flashes a grin. "Bring on the pie!"
There's a loud clatter from behind him. He ignores it - although seriously people, clumsy - and just waits patiently for the rest of his meal.
It'll probably be awhile, but then, there are worse ways to spend the first day of your life.
So. Sam Jackson, huh? He considers the name from all angles, decides that he likes it. It's a good, forgettable name, and it'll let him blend in with all the normal not-previously-dead people. Plus there's just the way it rolls off the tongue. The only thing left is to decide whether he'd rather think of himself as Jackson or Sam, because he likes Sam but going by your last name's kinda cool.
It's a pleasant kind of decision to make.
"Is this supposed to be funny?"
He jumps and looks back to the seat across from him, frowning when he sees that some scowly guy with hair has settled himself in it.
"Uh…" Jesus, the guy's tall. "…No?"
"What are you? Shape shifter? Revenant?"
He blinks. "Reve-what?"
Scowly sweeps Sam's dishes off the table, resulting in a large and somewhat plastic clang. He looks furious, barely able to speak. "How dare you," he snarls, half-standing, nostrils flaring.
"Hey!" Sam protests, picking up the plates. Poor Beth is not going to like him after seeing this mess. "Dude, trying to eat lunch here!" Never mind that he is practically done, but he's pretty sure this is kinda rude.
"Your lunch can wait," the guy growls, looking dangerous and a little constipated, as if only the fact they're in a public place is preventing him from skewering the other man on the spot. "Why do you look like him?"
Sam fidgets uncomfortably. It's probably too much to hope that this is just a hey-you-look-just-like-the-guy-from-my-favorite-soap! kind of deal. "Like who?"
Angry green eyes narrow. "My brother."
He flashes his teeth. "Well, I guess I just have -"
"My dead brother."
"Listen, ah…" Scowly just glowers at him, making Sam wince. "…You. This is gonna sound a little weird, okay, but you gotta believe me when I say I'm not crazy." Not unless this entire day is a freaking hallucination.
...Which, considering this is the only day Sam Jackson remembers, could lead to some very interesting metaphysical questions.
Scowly doesn't move, although his forehead wrinkles. He's not killing him on the spot, though, so Sam takes it as a good sign.
"So, uh, I woke up this morning," Scowly gives him this deadpan look as if to say 'and what does that have to do with me killing you dead?', so he quickly adds, "inside a grave."
...Yeah, that sounds totally normal.
"It was a couple of miles north of here," he rushes on, as if that might make it better somehow. "Pretty out of the way place."
He stops and waits for a second, but somehow Scowly's not laughing at him – or impaling him with a fork, for that matter. Which, taking into account how incredibly nuts Sam sounds, might actually mean that Scowly's the crazy one. Who's crazier, after all, the madman or the guy who believes him?
Again, things to think about later.
Still, choosing to be encouraged by the current nonviolence, he puts his hands on the table, trying the best he can to convey sincerity and also pleasedon'tkillme. "Look, I've got no idea who your brother is, but uh, I think I might be him. Just, y'know, alive."
"That's impossible," Scowly frowns.
He sighs, slumps back. "I knew you'd say that."
"You- my brother's been dead for months. Even if he did get... raised from the dead, his body would -" Scowly stops, looking like he suddenly got a bad case of indigestion.
"Oh. Maybe I'm not him, then," he says, a little disappointed, because even if Scowly is a scary sonuvabitch, it'd be pretty cool to run into his brother – anyone who knows him, really – after just a morning of wandering around aimlessly (even if it was a bitch of a wander).
Though what did he expect, really? It's probably more of a coincidence than he can hope for.
Scowly appears surprised, as if that had been the last thing in the world he'd expected Sam to say, but just then Beth comes in. "Here's your sundae," she says with a smile, putting down a bowl, "and here," she puts down another one, "is your apple pie."
Sam breathes through his nose, thinks he might die from sheer pleasure. "You're a goddess, sweetheart," he says, meaning it more than he's ever meant anything, ever. Which, all right, maybe doesn't mean much, but you know, that kind of thinking gets old after a while.
"You're welcome," she beams back, then glances at Scowly. "Oh, you two know each other?"
Scowly sends her a flat look. "Yeah," he replies shortly.
"Where's the girl you were here with?" she asks, obviously trying to make polite conversation, and Sam mentally gives her points for not running away screaming - because God knows if Scowly was glaring at him like that he'd be very seriously contemplating the option.
Strangely enough, Scowly shoots Sam an almost nervous glance before turning back to Beth. "She had to leave," he says coolly, clearly too much of an asshole to appreciate the effort.
"Oh," her smile looks forced, but when the waitress turns back to Sam the expression turns genuine. "Well, in any case, here's the receipt. Enjoy your dessert." She waits for a bit, then says in this super-casual way, "Hope to see you around, Sam."
He grins at her through a mouth full of ice cream – he's willing to bet his stolen money that there's a phone number on the back of the check. It really is too bad he doesn't have a phone. "Hope to be around," he replies playfully after a swallow, and when she leaves the booth he catches her grinning.
There's this little almost-grunt right then, and reminded of his unfriendly companion, Sam turns with a sigh, only to see Scowly look like he's just gotten hit by a truck and isn't quite sure whether to call AAA or an ambulance.
"'Sam'?" the guy repeats, voice oddly strangled.
Oh. Right. "My name," he explains, not a little proudly. "Well, my made-up name. Thought of it on the spot." He grins. "Sam Jackson, at your service."
For a long moment, the other man just stares at him like he has no idea what to make of Sam.
"Dude," he says in annoyance, after a minute rolls by and the stare still hasn't let up. "Anyone ever teach you that it's rude to stare?"
Scowly starts, but then he curls his lips and shuts his eyes and makes this noise that could maybe pass for a laugh, if you weren't too picky about what laughs should sound like.
"Only you would name yourself after Samuel Jackson," Scowly says, oddly hoarse, slumping back on the seat and covering his eyes with a huge hand.
"Hey, he's cool," Sam says defensively, helping himself to another spoon of ice cream. Then the metaphorical lightbulb lights up over his head, and his eyes snap up away from the sundae. "Wait, does that mean you believe me?"
Scowly eyes him for a minute, expression unreadable, then stands. "Get up. We're going."
Uh. Okay. "Where?"
Geeze, that was all nice and specific, Sam thinks. But it isn't like he has anywhere to go, really, so he just sighs resignedly.
"Can I at least finish the pie first?"
A/N: I confess that my sole reason for starting this venture was just to put the line 'holy shit, I think I'm a zombie' in proper context.