One week after being released from Prague’s underground detention facility and Zuzu still cannot stop sneezing. Everywhere she goes, sneeze sneeze sneeze. No matter how many times she blows her nose, how much nasal spray she uses, sinus cleanses with salt water, nothing will stop the violent sneezing. Her back aches, her sides are sore, her nose red and raw like an alcoholic grandmother.
As far as Zuzu is concerned, this sneezing has come out of nowhere. Her memories of the zombie on the tram who sneezed in her mouth passing on a degenerative virus, being held in the subterranean medical bunker by Czech scientists, gone. She did not recall how, weeks later, she apparently overcame the Romero Virus, and what little she had remembered post-virus was wiped away by the last bit of useful Soviet technology possessed by the Czechs. However, the team of doctors failed to catch the clever, now well-hidden and mutated Romero Virus in Zuzu’s bloodstream, the very one that she has inadvertently spread through most of Prague.
Zuzu Zombie makes her way to the doctor, sneezing painfully, dreading what will be the pulling teeth sensation of trying to communicate in her pidgin Czech, feeling certain they won’t understand a word. People on the street move out of her way, but to no avail. Zuzu’s virus is airborne, stronger than the first. It floats in an unbreakable vessel, flying through the air like a spider on its web and does not stop until it makes contact with a mucus membrane. Boom, the vessel opens on contact and the Romero Virus is free to take over the homo sapien. Zuzu knows none of this and the news has yet to reach the cave where the other not-so-lucky contractees are in quarantine.
As Zuzu expected, the Doctor has not a clue what could be causing the sneezing and of course he has no lab to do her bloodwork in office. Dammit! Zuzu fumes. What the hell am I doing in this bass-ackwards place anyway?! The Doctor sends her nearby, along the same path she has already walked and infected. “There they will do blood. I call them for to get results.”
“Can you give me something in the meantime? I’m going to sneeze my guts out!”
“Here. Codeine. For to stop coughing but also can be for aaachoo. I must to see if infection or allergen first. You to come again after give blood.” He pronounces the last “g” of allergen like “guest”. Zuzu sighs and collects herself, feeling another sneeze coming on. Right in his face, no time to put her hand up. The virus enters through the skin near his eyes. Zuzu is mortified, he smiles and tells her “No problem. All the time is this.” What a comforting thought.
Zuzu Zombie leaves the office and makes her way to the laboratory. Communist-style boxy architecture. The sliding doors don’t work. She has to yank them open, leaving more of the virus behind, in wait like a krait in the grass. She finds the blood room, clean, well-lit, filled with hungry-looking people. The Doctor was glad she had eaten no breakfast or the bloodwork would have to wait until tomorrow. Zuzu has no appetite. She actually doesn’t know when the last time she ate was. Around her men and women with white cotton swabs on their forearms, shaky, eating bananas. The smell is intoxicating. Zuzu is hungry after all.
Nobody speaks English. The lady behind the counter hands her a bunch of vials with barcodes stuck on them, corresponding to the blood samples the Doctor requested. The woman next to her receives a cup for urine. Gross, Zuzu thinks, and then sneezes more of her virus around the room. How horrible that me and all these people have no idea what microscopic critter haunts our bodies. Sitting here, waiting for someone to pull blood from our body, give us answers. Zuzu shivers, again reconsidering this expat life she has chosen.
Zuzu’s number flashes across the board with a Ding! She realizes her legs are shaky. Food afterward. Maybe I’ll even treat myself to McDonald’s. A taste of home, why not.
The blood room contains a dozen open cubicles furnished with what could be a dentist’s chair and a leather covered stool. Zuzu sees the cubby number corresponding to her ticket. A man. Pale, eyes blue as fossilized water, luminous skin, blond hair in a meticulous upsweep from his face. He smiles, Zuzu is thankful he’s not another of these Czech assholes. Maybe he’ll speak English. He does.
“You are from America!” Zuzu nods, gasps as he rubs the alcohol swab against her vein. “I would like to go to America. Why you come in Czech Republic?”
“I’m not really sure…” Zuzu sees his name emblazoned on the cubicle wall, “…Vlado. Cool name.” He smiles. Very handsome. Probably gay with Zuzu’s recent run of luck.
“All the men in mine family are Vladimir. I am the only one prefer Vlado.”
A sharp intake of breath as he plunges the needle into her forearm and the vial fills with blood. Four more vials worth and Zuzu feels dizzy. While her eyes are closed Vlado steals a vial from his pocket and fills it too, replacing it in his smock before she or anyone else notices. Zuzu’s eyes open, unfocused. Vlado affects a concerned look.
“You not okay.”
“I haven’t eaten in a few days.”
“Moment.” Vlado up and leaves, Zuzu wants to ask him to stay with her, I’m dying, she thinks. He returns with an energy bar.
“I go to gym later, but you more need this now.”
Zuzu gobbles the bar, drinks some water. Smiles gratefully at the blood man.
“Yes. Much. Thank you so much.”
No, Vlado thinks, thank you, pretty American girl.
Zuzu sneezes, for once like a lady.
“Gesundheit.” Vlado is impatient for her to leave.
Zuzu wonders if it would be too forward to ask for his number. Better find out what I’ve got first. She tries to smile coyly but fails.
Vlado makes sure she is okay to leave on her own, informs her that the Doctor can call for her results in two days. Zuzu leaves, sneezing.
Vlado tells his boss he’ll take a smoke break.
Outside he goes, up the street and down an alley used by junkies when the nearby phone booths are occupied. He fingers the vial of blood. She is going to taste good.
Glug glug glug. He savours the taste of her sliding down his throat. Indeed, she has not eaten for a few days, the iron in her blood is weak, but tastes of California sunshine. Delicious. His tongue darts into the vial as far as it can, lapping up the edges, mustn’t waste a drop. Vlado’s body shudders in a bloodgasm as her plasma flowers inside him. The moment passes too fast, but its memory will remain, keeping him level until his next fix.
Vlado takes out a cigarette and lights it, the smoke mixing with the metallic taste in a most pleasant way. A few drags later and his stomach wrenches. He dry heaves into the alley but only strings of saliva come up. He does not know this is the sign that the Romero Virus has gone into replication.
The sneezes strike him in machine gun retorts and with them the blood urge that he controls with no problem screams at him to feed.
What does a zombie vampire crave? Veins. Veins.
On shaky legs Vlado makes his way back to the blood room, sneezing all the way. Today he isn’t going to just sneak vials. No. Today he will feed.
©2011 Sezin Koehler, portrait by Zuzu Arbus
This storywas originally posted at Red Room and received a special mention for their Vampire-themed blog competition. It is also a follow-up to my Kafka-inspired blog post, The Sneeze, also written for a Red Room weekly blog competition.