George Was Dead
When George died, he was prepared for life to change a bit, but a lot of things still took him by surprise. The legal complications to start with. He was taken aback by the letter telling him that Lizzie wasn’t his wife any longer. They had gone through that marriage ceremony eighteen years ago, tied themselves together until death did them part, and now it had. The first successful resurrection process had been carried out a bare fourteen months ago, and legally speaking the issue was a complete mess, with a dozen test cases bouncing through the courts. Untangling it would take years, so as an interim measure the legal system was treating zombies as automatically divorced, and allocated marital assets accordingly.
“Well, it’s just a technical detail. We don’t have to let it change anything,” said Lizzie, tearing the letter in half and throwing it away.
Lizzie had been a tower of strength through the whole terrible business, and George was deeply grateful to her. She kept repeating that same phrase, that they didn’t have to let it change anything, but of course a lot of things about their relationship were different now. They didn’t sleep together any longer, since zombies didn’t sleep. They didn’t eat together any longer, since zombies didn’t eat. They didn’t have sex any longer, because zombies didn’t do that either.
In honesty, George didn’t miss a sex life very much. He didn’t admit it to Lizzie of course, but he had something far better now. Twice each day, he locked himself into his study, used the special lead to plug himself into the electrical socket, and the power surged through his body in the most intense and fulfilling of orgasms. He’d quickly given way to temptation, disobeyed the hospital instructions, and tried plugging himself in more often, but found it didn’t have the same effect unless the electricity in his body was at a low level. He was limited to experiencing that matchless thrill twice a day.
Despite Lizzie’s brave words, things had definitely changed, but George felt he could hardly complain. It was, after all, a lot better than staying dead. He had been extremely lucky that his body escaped the car crash without taking enough damage to prevent the resurrection. There were even a few advantages over being alive. Without the need for sleep, he had so much more time. He never got tired either. He finished the multitude of little repair jobs that had been waiting for years, spent hours leafing through his collection of books on steam railways, weeded the garden to perfection point, and put his name down on the waiting list for an allotment. Life, or in his case death, was generally pretty good.
It was precisely a month after his return to work, that George was called into Mr Hampden’s office.
“George,” said Mr Hampden, leaning back into the cushioned splendour of his executive chair. “I wanted to have a little chat with you. I wondered if you’d had any thoughts about the future. In the circumstances, the firm would be very sympathetic if you wanted to consider early retirement through ill health.”
“Early retirement,” said George, in shock. “I’m not even fifty yet. I’m not suffering ill health either.”
“You are however, not exactly…” Mr Hampden broke off tactfully.
“Alive.” George concluded the sentence bluntly. “You mean, you want to get rid of me.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said Mr Hampden. “It’s true that some of your colleagues are a little uncomfortable around a… However, I’m sure they would adjust given time. When I suggest early retirement, I’m really thinking of you, George. After all, this whole resurrection process is so new. No-one knows how long the effects will last. I’m sure you want to make the most of the time left to you.”
George glared at the two faced hypocrite.
“Now, no-one is pushing you into anything, George, but it’s really in your best interests to be fully informed. Our pension advisor happens to have a gap in his schedule and will give you a little chat.”
George was firmly shuffled off into a meeting room, and a bald man in large glasses talked earnestly at him for an hour. It was, he was told, a golden opportunity. At the moment, resurrected individuals were able to take up their pensions, but at any moment pension companies might change their code of practice to prevent it.
“But I’ve paid into the pension fund for twenty six years,” said George indignantly. “I’m entitled to my pension. They can’t take that away.”
“It pains me to say it,” said the pension advisor cheerfully, “but you did die. Of course, if the pension companies do act to prevent zomb…., I mean resurrected individuals, taking up their pensions, then they would have to pay your nominated beneficiary the lump sum death in service payment and a widow’s pension. In your case that would be…”
“My wife,” said George.
“Your ex wife,” the pension advisor corrected him. “You are treated as divorced, remember.
That was the last straw. George glared at him. “My fiancé then,” he said, belligerently. “We intend to remarry immediately!”
“And the pension? The company has offered to allow you to retire on full pension. It’s a very generous offer, even without the issue of resurrected individuals being prevented from…”
“I’ll take it,” snarled George. “If I don’t retire, then I suppose they’ll find another way to get rid of me.”
The advisor pushed several papers across the desk towards him. “Please, sign here, here, and here.”
George signed, threw the ballpoint pen at the man, and stormed through the door into the main office. He looked around at the suited figures, sitting at regimented lines of desks. “You’ll all be happy to know that I’m leaving!”
They looked at him with startled faces, and then hastily turned back to their computer screens and pretended to work.
“Just remember though,” added George. “It may happen to you too. Just wait until you’re a zombie, and people don’t treat you as a human being any longer. See how you like it then!”
He left the building, remembered he hadn’t cleared his desk of personal items, and decided he would survive without the diary, box of tissues, and twenty five year service award.
Lizzie was startled to hear the news. “But… What will you do now that you’re retired?”
“We’re getting married again,” said George, “and going on an extended honeymoon. We’ll go out right now and make the arrangements.”
“Now?… I’ve got an appointment at the hairdresser at one thirty.”
“You will have your hair done in Paris,” said George, magnificently, and they set off for the registry office.
“You want to get married?” The woman with bouffant hair looked at them from behind the desk.
“No, I came here to buy a television licence.” George shook his head in exasperation. “What a stupid question. Of course we want to get married!”
“Well, you can’t,” said the woman, bluntly. “Our latest guidelines say that we can only perform marriage ceremonies for couples who are both alive or both dead.”
“That’s rampant discrimination.” George was incensed.
“I’m very sorry, but there’s nothing I can do. Rules are rules.” The woman stood up. “I’m now on my lunch break.”
George was prepared to make a scene, but Lizzie towed him firmly out into the street. “There’s no point in making a fuss, George. We can go to Paris anyway, whether we get married or not.”
They couldn’t. The travel agent was deeply apologetic. “Since you’re dead, your passport will no longer be valid, and until they sort out some sort of process for reapplying then…”
“We’ll go to Edinburgh then,” said Lizzie.
“But…” George was speechless at the injustice of it all.
“Now, George,” said Lizzie. “There’s no point in getting angry. It doesn’t matter where we go. We should be grateful that we can still do things together. If the accident had been a year ago, or done more damage to your body, then all I’d have left of you would be an urn of ashes.”
“I suppose you’re right.” George sighed.
So they went to Edinburgh for a week, and it rained solidly. They sat in the hotel room for seven long days, watching Scottish raindrops trickle down the window. By the time they returned home to Wolverhampton, George had made plans to fill the days and nights ahead. He would do an Open University degree. He would write his own book on steam railways. He would take up water colour painting and pottery. He would get his allotment and grow prize winning dahlias. Perhaps Lizzie would like to join him in these new plans, he thought.
Lizzie didn’t. She explained that she already had enough to fill her days. She was a volunteer driver for Help the Aged, she had two exercise classes, and she manned the till in the local Oxfam shop on Wednesdays and Fridays.
George accepted that, and life settled into a new routine. During the day, he dug, painted, and potted. During the night, he collected credits towards his degree and worked on his book. Each evening, he spent three hours watching television with Lizzie, except on Thursdays when she went to her music society meeting.
Digging the allotment was George’s favourite activity. He was untroubled by rain, cold, or fatigue, and found the repetitive labour soothing. He spent two hours every afternoon digging, and when his own patch of land had been dug to perfection, he offered to help the other allotment holders. They had regarded him with suspicion, but as one plot of neglected ground after another was methodically dug into neatness, George found himself not just tolerated but almost welcome. The thanks of the other allotment holders, and the occasional gift of spare plants, were a little embarrassing. He had a secret he could not share with them. The true reason he liked the digging was that the work drained his stored power and made the evening power recharge into a moment of ecstasy.
George was quietly content with his new life, until the day he came home two hours early from the allotment. He had been offered a small second hand greenhouse, and needed some tools to dismantle and move it from the far end of the allotments to his own plot. George went in through the back gate, took off his muddy boots to leave them on the back doorstep, and saw Lizzie kissing a strange man in the kitchen.
Stunned, George picked up his boots, fled back out of the garden, and trudged back to his allotment. He couldn’t believe this. He and Lizzie had always been so… so dependable. It wasn’t Lizzie’s fault, he thought. The problem was that they weren’t allowed to marry. Naturally that left her feeling…
The answer to that, and to all of the other frustrations, was suddenly clear to him. If Lizzie was a zombie too, then they would be able to marry. She wouldn’t get tired or need sleep, and she could join him in his night time studies. They could even share the erotic moments of recharging their power together. After Lizzie had experienced the thrill of plugging herself in to the electrical socket, she would no longer want to kiss strange men in the kitchen.
He left dealing with the greenhouse to another day, and spent hours digging as he considered ways to kill Lizzie. It had to be something that wouldn’t damage the body too much, and he needed to be able to get her to the hospital within three hours for the resurrection process to work. Drowning seemed relatively painless and could be arranged to look like an accident. Lizzie, of course, would be grateful to join him in death, but he didn’t want to have any silly problems with the police to spoil their happiness.
When his plans were complete, he carefully cleaned his spade and went home.
“Hello, George,” said Lizzie. “You’re back late today.” She was sitting at the kitchen table, eating dinner.
“Hello, Lizzie. I thought I’d spend a few extra hours digging today, because I have some plans for tomorrow.” He smiled at her, confident that she wouldn’t notice anything odd about his manner. Whenever zombies spoke or smiled, it was always a little wooden and stilted.
“What sort of plans?”
“The weather forecast says it should be nice tomorrow,” he said. “I thought perhaps you could skip your exercise class for once, and we could go for a walk somewhere. By the reservoir perhaps.”
“That sounds nice.” She took her empty plate over to put it in the dishwasher.
They sat and watched television for the next three hours, and then Lizzie started getting ready for bed, while George went into his study. He locked the door, and felt a thrill of anticipation as he approached the electrical socket. He had spent extra time digging today, and his power was very low. This recharge would be something very special. He opened his desk drawer, to take out the lead and plug himself in, and then frowned. The drawer was empty.
He looked round the room in confusion, checked the desk top, the floor by the electrical socket, and the shelves. The lead was nowhere to be seen. He searched further, remembering the time his watch had fallen down the back of the settee, but found nothing except a ten pence coin and a three year old shopping list.
His movements were slowing now, and he could not afford to delay any longer. He would have to face the embarrassment of phoning the hospital, confessing his carelessness, and asking for help. He reached into his jacket pocket for his phone, but his searching fingers found nothing.
He didn’t understand how he could have lost that too, but there was no time to worry about it. His power was dangerously low now, and he had to call Lizzie before he went into automatic shut down. He lurched over to unlock the door, but the key was missing. He shook his head in confusion, and turned the door handle, but it wouldn’t open.
“Lizzie!” he yelled. “Lizzie! I need you.”
“Yes, George.” Her voice was unexpectedly close. She must be just the other side of the door.
“Lizzie, call the hospital for help. I can’t find my power lead.”
“I’m sorry, George. I’m not planning to do that until the morning.”
“What? You have to get help now. More than three hours without power and I’ll really be dead.”
“That’s the idea,” said Lizzie. “Since we no longer sleep together, I naturally won’t discover you ran out of power until tomorrow. Everyone will understand.”
George swayed in shock. That almost sounded as if… No, he told himself, that couldn’t be right. “Lizzie, you aren’t really… You wouldn’t…”
“Yes, George, I would,” she replied calmly. “I’m murdering you. Again!”
© 2010 Janet Edwards. All rights reserved.
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George Was Dead is completely unconnected to any of my other stories. I wrote it some years ago for a short story competition, which it won!
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