Welcome back to my novel-in-progress, ZOMBIE ROAD. If you are just now joining us, the idea of this book originates from an urban legend in St. Louis County, Missouri. Story goes the very area nick-named “Zombie Road” is teeming with ghosts and ‘shadow people.’ Melanie Dunbar, my character has recently relocated to the area from Chicagoland, only now instead of being a deserted road, it’s a development of McMansions where she lives with her husband. Here’s some of Mel’s backstory to help give us some understanding of where she’s at now.
Chestnut Ridge, Missouri
“I used to like to play dead. It was a sick and macabre game to pass the long days in mother’s art studio. She’d be lost in a vision of oil streaking her canvas and I’d lie on the rag rug on the floor, my breath held, wondering just how long I’d be able to hold out; wondering too if my face was turning indigo like the paint on mother’s brush. If I allowed my chest to expand, I knew it would give me away. A dead give away.
When you’re dead, you don’t feel anything.
Feeling wasn’t my best subject. I learned to escape into a world void of emotions. They weren’t worthy, a waste of time. Facts, figures, and absolute certainty felt safer, and more comforting.
When I tired of playing dead, I’d remove my folded hands from my chest and slowly re-enter the land of the living. Mother would hum and step back from her easel, and tilt her head in approval as her eyes took in the swipes of purple, blue, and magenta. Winter colors. She’d run her fingers through her hair, “You done with that silly business of yours, Mel?”
She didn’t have to look at me to know what I’d been doing. I’d nod and twist on the small black and white television set, turning the knob with a loud click-click to channel U where I’d lose myself in animal documentaries and3-2-1 Contact. Sometimes, I’d stare at Bob Ross’s dark afro and his happy little trees just to appease mom. A career in the abstract would never satisfy me.
And then Leelah came along.
Her hair ran down her back in a dark, wavy pony tail. Her face was blurred, so I couldn’t say whether she was happy or sad, but I am guessing she was sad. She’d show me things—pencils, a metal spoon, a comb, anything ordinary—and ask how they were used. My eyes would widen as I’d sputter, “You mean, you’ve never combed your hair, or used a pencil to write a letter?”
“No, never,” she’d respond.
“Never mind why,” she’d say. “Just show me.” Her brown eyes would bear into mine hazel ones, “Now. Please.”
So, I taught Leelah how to comb her hair first by showing her how own my favorite Barbie with silky blond strands.
“Like this?” Leelah took the flimsy plastic from my hand, ran it from Barbie’s scalp to her back in one smooth motion.
“Yes, that’s right.”
We played like that for hours in mother’s studio. The sister I wished I had. Our play fell into predictable routine, carved between hours of watching mother paint and smoke and curse that she hadn’t found her big break, yet. Stacks of quarters became side tables for Barbie’s couch, and they took were asked how they were used.
“Money, you mean?”
Leelah nodded, waiting for answer.
“Well,” I began. “Money is used to buy things.”
“But how, do you get this thing called money?” She asked.
An exasperated sigh and a beat later I’d say, “Leelah, don’t you know anything?”
“I like hearing it from you, Mel. You’re the smartest girl I know.”
I smiled the kind of smile I didn’t want her to see, ducking my head low and pretending to look at the floor. “Oh. That’s nice of you to say.” My cheeks burned with pride, embarrassment. I’d dart my eyes towards mother at her easel, lost in her painting, not bothering to notice my antics of talking to myself.
[Thanks for reading! Remember, this is original fiction and not to be taken as your own, or shared as such.]