Monday, February 27, 2012

Brain Food by Katherine Tomlinson


They say when you die that hearing is the last sense to go. With me, it was smell. The last thing I remembered was the aroma of the blood gushing from my torn throat.
It smelled delicious.
When I woke up everyone in the lab was milling around like groupies backstage at a rock concert with no real objective except being there.
The researcher who’d killed me was chowing down on Dr. Lowenthal, whose field of research was schizophrenia.
I’d never liked Dr. Lowenthal. He didn’t really think that anyone who didn’t have a degree from Princeton belonged here doing research. My degrees from Duke and Stanford did not impress him.
I wondered if his brain was tastier than mine or if taste was even an issue to zombies.
The researcher who’d bitten me was a stranger; probably one of the Canadians who was doing research in the main hospital.
He wasn’t interested in anything but the man-meal he was enjoying.
I looked around to see if anyone was still alive.
They weren’t.
Trevor Pippen lurched by me, mouth agape, eyes vacant. He gave a grunt of what might have been recognition but it was hard to tell.
Poor Trevor. He’d been doing promising work; was on the verge of some important discoveries into the origins of autism spectrum.
There was a lot of grunting going on in the lab, which surprised me. Twenty minutes ago the combined brain power in the room had been equal to the entire faculty of a state university; now everyone but me seemed to have regressed to Neanderthal-level cognition.
I attributed my continued brain function to the Goji-berry smoothies I had every afternoon while everyone else was getting their Starbucks fix. You are what you eat.
And I was ravenous.
I left the lab and went looking for dinner.
The hallway was lined with shambling figures, most of them disfigured by bite marks and open wounds where eyes and ears and skin used to be.
Some grunted as I went by but none tried to stop me.
Once I got into the hospital proper, I saw it was mostly deserted.
I could see smears of blood on the otherwise pristine walls, and there was a pile of gently steaming viscera next to the entrance.
I hate to see people waste food.
I was still hungry after polishing off my snack, so I kept moving.
Somewhere alarms were going off.
I wondered if anyone would come in response.
It’s the end of the world as we know it, I hummed. And I feel fine.
Fine, but still hungry.
Have you ever had a hankering for something and only that something will satisfy? And if you don’t eat that particular thing, you’ll never feel full? Like if you want a Mrs. Field’s semi-sweet chocolate chip cookie but you have a handful of animal crackers instead? And then another handful. And then finally you go get the damn cookie you wanted in the first place. Like that?
That’s how I felt.
The viscera had dulled my appetite but I craved brain.
And not just any brain.
Like everyone else who worked in neuroscience study at Princeton, I’d paid a visit to a locked room to gawk at the two jars filled with neatly cubed pieces of what looked for all the world like gefilte fish floating in formaldehyde.
I’d been revolted by the sight at the time, but now those yummy morsels called to me. I could smell their savory succulence through the glass of their containers and through two closed doors.
Those doors had been torn open by the time I got to the room.
I could see a figure in a lab coat was hunched over one of the jars, his fingers deep inside, clutching a handful of cubes but unable to pull his hand and the brains out at the same time.
He turned around when he heard me come through the door and gave a ferocious, feral grunt.
His hand still trapped in the jar, he clutched it to his chest like a football.
I recognized him as a “brainiac,” one of the many post-grads who migrated to the campus every year to study Einstein’s brain.
I guess he was really into his research.
“Get out of here,” I said and he drew back, frightened by my voice.
“Go on,” I insisted and he shuffled toward the door.  Slowly.
“Leave the brain,” I said.
He grunted and shook his head.
I ripped his head off and threw it into a corner, grabbing the jar before the rest of his body collapsed on the floor.
Slow zombies…they’re at an evolutionary disadvantage.
I reached into the jar and plucked out a bite-sized morsel and popped it in my mouth like a cheese cube at a cocktail party. The texture reminded me of semi-firm tofu.  I’d been a vegetarian in my former life but that was no longer a lifestyle option.
Albert Einstein once said, “Hunger, love, pain, and fear are some of those inner forces which rule the individual's instinct for self preservation.”
I was going to have to work on “love.”
BIO: Katherine Tomlinson is a journalist-turned-fictionista. Her most recent collection of short fiction is Toxic Reality. A group of stories set in her paranormal Los Angeles, L.A. Nocturne II, will be published this spring.