by Stephanie Vance
Richard Sallington pushed his way through the undead protestors, trying to get up the steps of the Capitol building. Chants of “Brains Are For Thinking, Not For Eating!” and “Broccoli not Brains” rang in his ears. A gaunt woman wearing a tie-dye t-shirt stepped in front of him. She poked her gray, mottled finger in Richard’s face.
“YOU,” the woman shouted. “You’re the lobbyist for ‘Big Zombie,’ aren’t you?” She reeked of the halitosis zombies get from eating only vegetables.
“And you’re a ‘Zombies for Human Welfare’ protester,” said Richard. “What of it?”
The woman glowered. “WHAT OF IT? You’re behind that heinous new human brain factory farm. You and that bought and paid for human Congressman.” One of the protestors threw a cauliflower, the preferred food of the vegetarian zombie movement. It crumbled all over Richard’s favorite navy blue Armani suit. His favorite suit. The suit that brought out the gray in his undead eyes and hair, and set off the pallor of his vein-marked skin. He stepped forward, baring his teeth in a slow, hungry, shark’s grin, and flicked florets at the tie-dye wearing man.
“Ma’am, we zombies are at the top of the food chain, and we eat human brains. If you want to eat other shit, that’s fine. But don’t force your hippie, peace-and-love lifestyle on me. Now get out of my way.” He kept his voice measured, trying not to reveal his irritation as he stormed into the Congressman’s office.
A man stood in front of a window with his back to Richard. “Mr. Sallington,” he said. He didn’t turn to shake Richard’s hand or offer him a chair.
“Congressman,” Richard responded, recognizing the Congressman’s use of the “we’re-no-longer-on-a-first-name-basis” tactic. He’d played this game hundreds of times and played it better than anyone else in DC. That’s why his clients paid him $1,500 per hour – plus expenses. He decided to counter with the “pretend-nothing’s-wrong” approach, and joined the Congressman at the window.
“So, this is interesting,” Richard said, looking out at the protesters as well. “It looks like we’ll need a little help with that contract.”
“Well, yes. About that…” Congressman Benedict turned. With his tanned skin, carefully wind-swept hair, blue eyes, and sparkling teeth, he looked like a model for a high-end cruise brochure. The perfectly crafted politician. “I’ve been looking at the plan for the facility.”
“It’s beautiful right? State-of-the-Art.”
“Except that the humans you grow there can’t even turn around in their pens.”
Richard scrutinized him, trying to assess the depth of the Congressman’s new-found concern about the welfare of his fellow humans. “You’ve been listening to those protestors, haven’t you?”
“They may look like a bunch of hippies, but have you seen the most recent poll numbers? I’m not sure it’s politically expedient for me to support the cultivation of humans for slaughter right now.”
“Stan,” Richard said. He clapped his hand on Benedict’s back in a standard “we’re-all-friends-here” gesture – lobbying 101. The Congressman winced and turned away. Richard took that as a sign of weakness. “We’ve talked about this. Zombies eat brains. Humans have brains. When you think about it, we need this facility to protect your current constituents. Do you think they want to be zombie-chow? This facility will promote better human/zombie relations.”
Benedict snorted. “You didn’t mention the eight-billion dollars ‘Big Zombie’ will get from this.”
“True. Nor did I mention that we funded your entire political campaign.” Richard paused and let that sink in. He could feel the Congressman’s resolve dissolving, and stepped back, holding out his hand, ready to shake on a done deal. But the handshake didn’t come. Instead, Benedict turned toward Richard, squared his shoulders, and looked him in the eye.
“You know what? I don’t need Big Zombie’s money any more. My poll numbers will skyrocket if I stand up to you on this. Frankly, the only way you’ll get me out of this seat is to pry it out of my cold dead hands.”
Richard’s boggled mind shifted through his options. Should he try the old “Let’s talk more at your next “event” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)”? No, that would never work. How about “Let’s get together over drinks”? No, this needed to be finished now. After running through another half dozen scenarios, he realized he had one choice. The ultimate strategy. What his clients expected from their $1,500 per hour zombie lobbyist. He took a deep breath, bashed Benedict’s skull against the window, cracked it open and began to eat his brain.
It was the most disgusting thing he’d ever tasted, far worse than the brains of telemarketers or even used car salesmen. It tasted like motor oil mixed with dog shit mixed with lies. He tried to spit it out, but some of the tendrils trailed down his throat. He had no choice but to force it down. When he finished it, he staggered out of the office, picking bits of pre-frontal cortex out of his teeth.
That should put the fear of God into the rest of them.
And it did. Six months later, after a quick passage through the House and Senate, “Big Zombie” broke ground on the largest human brain factory farm in the country. Everyone congratulated Richard on his political acumen in knowing when to use bribes versus when to eat brains. His employers gave him an obscene amount of money as a bonus. He bought a new car and a second condo in Miami. The lady zombies lined up to spend time with him.
There was just one problem: after eating that horrid wrinkled mass, he could no longer stand the sight, smell or even mention of a human brain. He tried all-organic, GMO-free brains. He tried free range, happy human brains, cultivated in a loving environment. He tried brains from humans already on the brink of death. Yet he vomited up everything he managed to swallow.
After a few weeks of noticeable deterioration in his performance, Richard’s inability to play the “I’ll eat your brain” card in the game of politics didn’t sit well with his employers. He went from golden boy to dirt in the course of three weeks. “You know how it is. We need a lobbyist who can eat brains when needed,” they said, right before they told him to clean out his office.
“You’re useless to us. No hard feelings.”
Dazed by his stunning reversal of fortune, Richard stood in the street outside his K street office building, staring up at the window that used to be his corner office. A young zombie, with the same superior, determined look Richard once wore so well, looked down at him and sneered. He opened the window and yelled, “Thanks for the office, Mr. Sallington. It will look great once I wash the stench of failure out of the carpet.”
At his words, something inside Richard snapped. He’d spent decades helping those sons of bitches and this is how they repaid him? Screw them. He threw his box of personal effects into the gutter (a dead plant and a picture of him shaking hands with the president), and took an Uber over to the Capitol.
The “Zombies for Human Welfare” still sat at the steps, but their numbers had grown. The tie-dye wearing protester who’d yelled at Richard earlier stood in the middle.
“YOU!” she yelled. “You’re the lobbyist for …”
“…nope. Not anymore,” Richard interrupted, holding up his hand. “Now I’m a free agent. And I want to help you.”
The woman paused, eyeing Richard suspiciously. “You want to help us do what?”
“Win,” Richard said, gesturing at the Capitol. “I want to help you stop “Big Zombie.” I want to help you get funding for whatever it is you freaky, vegetarian, undead want.” He nodded toward the crowd.
“Let’s say I’m doing it for the money. How much can you pay?”
The woman stared at him for a while, then grinned. “I know how this game works, too,” she said. “You don’t want money. You want revenge. And you want it pretty bad if you’re willing to make a deal with me.” She looked Richard up and down. “How about twenty dollars an hour and all the cauliflower you can eat.”
Richard bared his teeth in his shark’s smile and picked up a sign.