Excerpt from “Understanding the Reanimated”

The full short story appears in my 2011 book, The Associated Villainies.

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Daisy swayed back and forth in her chair, a thin stream of drool hanging from the corner of her mouth. She appeared not to notice it, and she appeared not to have heard Dr. Jenner’s question, so he gently repeated it.

“Why do you want to eat human flesh, Daisy?”

Her eyes seemed to meet his for a moment, and he drew in his breath, for he swore he’d seen a spark there, though of what he couldn’t be sure. Was it simply hunger? Or the effects of the drug the nurses came to inject every four hours? Or could it have been something else, perhaps nothing as profound as intelligence, no, but maybe a kind of rudimentary understanding at least… He didn’t want to get too excited; it had only been a flash, a second, but he couldn’t help his palms moistening.

“Daisy? Can you hear me? Do you understand?” He was leaning toward her now, closer than he should have really—the reanimated were still dangerous, despite the medication, and it never paid to be careless around them. But Daisy seemed far more responsive than any of the other patients he’d interviewed in the clinic. He realized that wasn’t saying much, but in this case he’d take what he could get.

She was swaying endlessly, like a snake looking for a place to strike. All of them did that, and he assumed it was simply a manifestation of their condition, filtered through the pharmaceuticals they were forced to take by law. She still didn’t speak—none of them did, or at least they never had when live humans were around—but her strange eyes were fixed on his again, and this time they didn’t simply drift away but held there, seeming to focus sharply behind their milky lenses. Dr. Jenner felt his pulse beginning to race.

“You do understand me, don’t you,” he said, whispering as if the two of them were sharing some delicious secret. “This could change everything.”

He sat there for another hour, firing questions at her and still getting no answers, but becoming more and more certain that he was getting through to her on some level, which was far more than he could say about any of the others. When he finally left the clinic, he called out a musical goodbye to Vera at the nurse’s station. “Any luck today, Doc?” she asked him.

“Yes, Vera, I think my luck is improving. You will call me immediately if any of them say a single word, won’t you?”

“You know I will. Have a good one.”

“Indeed. Good day, Vera.” Dr. Jenner left the clinic, not noticing the way Vera smiled indulgently and shook her head at his receding back.

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