The Zombie Limbo Master by Rosemary Claire Smith

Presentation Thumbnail DHF LogoThe Zombie Limbo Master
by Rosemary Claire Smith

The first time you see the Zombie Limbo Master, you are behind the bleachers of your high school’s football field. Wearing a black top hat and the scarlet-and-gold tatters of a circus ringmaster’s jacket, he holds out his hand.

A curvy female zombie glares at him in the way that only the undead can glare. Ever so slowly – and zombies know from slow – she digs grimy fingers into something she cradles in the crook of her arm and comes up with a glistening morsel. She stops.

“I’ll have my fair share.” The Zombie Limbo Master’s rotting tongue struggles to form the words. He is implacable.

She drops the lump into his hand and limps away. You avert your eyes, but you still hear his slurp. He mutters to the zombies who captured you, “ingrate…after I saw to it that she won.”

Two bone-fisted zombies shove you closer. You’d been steps away from reaching the safety of the converted bank building, with its secure vault in the basement, when they got you. Your foul, blood-stiffened disguise didn’t fool them. You don’t dare resist, lest they scratch or bite you.

The Zombie Limbo Master’s eyes fix on you. When his mouth opens, his fetid smell engulfs you. You struggle not to retch, which would show weakness.

“… got … next prize … here,” says the zombie clutching your left wrist.

The Limbo Master gives a curt nod, turns, and trots out toward the weed-infested fifty yard line at a brisk pace. Your captors force you to follow, past piles of rotting clothing and shoes, past heaps of bones picked clean from a day spent feasting. The bleachers are packed with zombies – big, little, old, young, more than you’ve ever seen in your too-short life. The decomposing remains of blue-uniformed police officers fill the front rows. Former firefighters and EMTs sit beside them. You dare not look closely or you’ll see the reanimated corpses of those you once loved. Your knees shake and you swear your last act as a living person will not be to soil yourself.

The Zombie Limbo Master shouts to the next batch of contestants, “Come one, come all.”

Crouching beside him is a squat zombie, who starts beating a calypso rhythm on a conga. Another one shakes a pair of maracas. Zombies shuffle down from the bleachers.

You volunteer.

The Zombie Limbo Master shakes his head and snorts in scorn.

“Are you afraid I’ll win your contest?” you taunt him. It’s all bravado, but what else have you got?

And you’re right – a vestige of human pride, maybe his last, flickers in those undead eyes. He sneers, “Beating you will make your brain all the tastier. Step right up.”

Your captors release your wrists, letting you take your place alarmingly closeto the seven other contestants. The Caribbean music swells as two tall zombies raise the limbo stick— a carved, curved tusk pillaged from some museum. It catches the faintest gleam of late-afternoon sunshine amid gathering thunderclouds. The zombies hold the limbo tusk at waist height. The bleachers erupt with shouting and the stomping of foot bones on metal risers. The tumult goes on and on.

Each zombie contestant stumbles forward, in turn. Two of them don’t even try to duck, but rather just bull their way into the limbo tusk.

“Out! Out!” thunders the Limbo Master, and they shamble off. Two others try to duck underneath, but misjudge the distance, what with their deteriorating eyesight, and tumble to the ground. Two adult zombies, who look to be recently infected, and a child zombie, easily pass beneath.

Now it’s your turn, and it seems suspiciously easy. As you come close to the tusk, you turn your head and catch the Zombie Limbo Master’s hand signal to the tusk holders. Just as you are about to pass your chest beneath the tusk, the zombies rotate it so that it curves downward. You bend backward and barely manage to avoid having it thump your chest, which would have sent you sprawling. Yes, you’re onto his tricks, but you don’t dare call him on them.

The Limbo Master shrugs, disappointed but far from defeated. How will he try to cheat you next time?

For the second round, the zombies lower the limbo tusk to hip height. The darkening clouds cast a pall over the football field. The wind picks up. The slowest, shamblingest of the zombies crawl down from the bleachers and start shuffling away. Darkness plays havoc with their diminished eyesight, so they go underground at night.

The Zombie Limbo Master taps his foot – another signal to the dead drummer, who increases the tempo. “Eight beats to pass under,” the Limbo Master declares. That makes it tougher for zombies, but he must not remember that he’s made it easier for you, if you can just keep control over your muscles. Still, you don’t want to tip your hand.

Of the three zombies, only the child makes it underneath in the brief time allotted. You frown and shake your head. They shove you forward. You make a show of taking a big breath and racing under the limbo tusk, then gasping for breath at the other side.

The ferocity of the Limbo Master’s glare makes you wince. He turns to the zombie drummer and they exchange whispers.

The sky grows gloomier and the wind promises rain. Sunset isn’t far away. More zombies are leaving, dropping from the bleachers and stumbling to the graveyard, or to the new trenches behind the elementary school where mass graves were dug in the early days of the zombie outbreak. You unclench your fists and steady your breathing. Just hang on.

For the next go-round, it’s down to just the little-boy zombie and you. The zombies lower the tusk to upper-thigh level. Zombie boy lurches forward, swaying from side to side. No way will he make it! But then, the zombie kicks off the remnants of his sneakers. Barefoot, he takes a step forward, sinking ankle-deep into the hard-packed dirt. Another step. He’s up to his calf. Now his hip bones are wriggling under the limbo pole. But what about his head? He dips his skull and plows a furrow in the dirt. He goes under and comes up the other side.

You can’t compete.

The big zombies holding the ends of the limbo tusk are frowning at the sky. They’d love to drop the tusk and shamble off toward their nocturnal lairs. You whisper to the smarter-looking one that you’ll finish your turn quickly if he’ll help you out. But will the zombie play along with you?

You start forward, dipping your back lower than you’d ever imagined. The limbo tusk wobbles and twists. For a moment it arches upward. You’re under it in a flash – faster than you’ve ever moved.

A bolt of lightning arcs down from the sky. The zombie boy utters a howl of terror as loud as the thunder that follows. He sinks down into the furrow he dug into the fifty yard line, covering himself completely with dirt. He does not come back up.

“I win.” Your voice will quaver if you say another word.

The Zombie Limbo Master stares at you with fury. “A tie,” His teeth snap as he spits out the words.

The two big zombies drop the limbo tusk and back off, their heads turned toward the shelter of the trenches. The zombie musicians rise to leave, their eyes squinting at the sky as the first fat raindrops splash down.

The Limbo Master bellows for them to stop. They do. So does every zombie left in the stands.

“I win.” Your shout echoes back from the top row of the bleachers.

The Zombie Limbo Master glares at you. The wind whips the ragged remains of his tail coat. At last, his booming voice declares you the winner.

The Limbo Master fixes you with his terrible glare. “Nobody cheats me out of my fair share of the prize.” He opens his jaws wide. As darkness sweeps across the nearly deserted bleachers and the football field, he reaches to grab you, his fingernails striking your wrist.

You expect his move. You are quicker. You see better. You drop down and seize the limbo tusk. Rising, you smash it into his chest. It makes a satisfying crack. He screams. The sky fills with lightning that outlines the Zombie Limbo Master as he staggers backward. His black top hat tumbles. You swing again, low, dropping him to his knees. He whimpers. Your third blow shatters his head into many small pieces.

The sky opens and rain pours down. The rest of the zombies stand transfixed, open-mouthed. They are staring at you the way they used to stare at the Limbo Master. They won’t attack. You want to sink to your knees in the middle of the muddy field, exhausted, shaking, and exultant. You can get to the former bank vault, make sure the ventilation is working, and fill it with food from a nearby restaurant.

Except that’s when you feel the sting from a gash on your wrist. That’s when you behold the Zombie Limbo Master’s blood that spattered across your torn skin.

“No!” you scream.

There is no stopping what happens when the Limbo Master’s blood mingles with your own, when the mixture courses up your veins to your heart. You cannot fight, for it is already happening.

One of the tusk holders picks up the black top hat. The other removes the ringmaster’s jacket. They shuffle forward and hold them out to you. It is time to release the zombies so that they can go to their night-time shelters. Tomorrow will bring another day of limbo and feasting.

You take the former Zombie Limbo Master’s black top hat and his scarlet-and-gold ringmaster’s jacket and put them on.

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<em>©2016 Rosemary Claire Smith — Published electronically at February 11, 2016. You may link to or share this post with full and proper attribution; however, the author retains the complete and unrestricted copyright to this work. Commercial use or distribution of any kind is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.</em>

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