"Ghoulies, and ghosties, and long legged beasties . . .oh, and zombies . . .
gotta have more zombies" - TV accountants forecasting bottom lines for upcoming sweeps

UNICORNS VS. ZOMBIES
by Nathan Cromwell ©2019

"I locked Jake in the basement without getting bit," Drew announced as he entered the living room,

Karen closed the front door and put down her backpack. "What?"

"Good," Hector replied. He noticed Karen and grabbed the remote. "What's next?"

"Wait - why is Jake locked downstairs?"

Drew walked over and kissed her cheek. "Sorry, babe, I guess I was too riled to say hi. Jake's a zombie."

"Are you kidding me? How did that happen?"

"No time. Now-"

"Tell me."

Hector muted the TV. "If you heard a dam was going to bust, would you ask for a blow-by-blow technical explanation or set up a fact-finding committee? No, you'd run out and grab timbers and sandbags and start shoring it up. Jake's a zombie-let's focus on what to do about it."

"Exactly. What we need to cure him is a unicorn."

Karen tilted her head forward and dropped her jaw. "What? But they hate zombies."

Hector stood up and extended his fist. "So, who stays to make sure Jake doesn't escape?"

Drew walked over, fist out. Three pumps later, after an ill-chosen scissors, Hector left on his quest. Drew fell into the couch. "Fishing is boring. Change the channel."

"How did Jake turn into a zombie?"

Drew reached for the remote and waved his hand six inches shy. Karen sighed, sat, and handed it to him. He stopped on a game show. "Don't know. Hector phoned me because he was trapped in his bedroom and his parents are at their timeshare in Morena. I lured Jake into the basement, and after dodging around the ping-pong table and the TV couch, I gave him the slip. And as you saw, soon as I came up Hector and I were too busy leaping into action to talk." He changed channels. "I guess we can ask Hector if he knows, or Jake after the unicorn purifies him."

Karen analyzed the side of Drew's head. Though he'd texted her to meet him at Hector's-maybe even while leading the slow zombie-he'd been staring at the television as he'd talked and had now fallen silent. Drew was a comfortable boyfriend, but more and more she'd found herself assessing which body part she'd most like to punch to keep his attention. Right now it was either the temple or the jaw.

Arguing outside interrupted her deliberations. Hector entered leading a unicorn by a daisy chain halter. It clopped over to Karen and stuck its muzzle in her crotch.

"You were correct," it announced, "she is indeed a virgin. But she doesn't look distressed. What goes on?"

Karen pushed the sharp horn away from her face. "You found a crazy-rare magic animal in under five minutes? How?"

Hector sighed. "Again: if you came across a man bleeding to death, would you ask him to tell you the sad history leading up to his current scrape? Focus. Now, if you'll guide the unicorn downstairs," he said meaningfully, "I'm sure it'll understand your troubles."

Karen clamped her lips, rose, and taking the flowery reins, led the unicorn treacherously down the steps to the basement, Jake and Hector in tow. She used a penny to opened the rec room door-zombies weren't bright enough to realize they could unlock something from their side-and gestured for the unicorn, whom she had decided to call Blackie, to precede her. When it had just passed the threshold, Jake rose from behind the overturned couch, a ping-pong net draped unselfconsciously over his head. The unicorn froze in disgust, but Hector and Drew each shoved one buttcheek, causing it to stumble across the shifting carpet of DVD and game cases and throw pillows. The men locked and slammed the door, and then bolted up the stairs. A mixture of otherworldly taunts, angry whinnies, and furniture being jostled leaked out. Karen followed her friends' path and found them in the living room.

Hector had changed the channel back. "Man, look at the size of that marlin. I can't wait to land a beauty like that one of these days."

Drew laughed. "You haven't even fished a creek in years."

"Okay, answers."

"Hold on." Drew went to the stereo and put on a band in the new sub-genre critics had dubbed Apocalyptic Metal, and cranked the sound. "So those uptight bastards next door won't complain about the noise in the basement," he yelled, pointing at the shared duplex wall.

"What?"

Hector turned up the TV to hear his fishing show over drums that thundered like the hooves of horsemens' steeds and guitars that shrieked like the anguish of a thousand sinners lost. In spite of all this they detected intimations that the unicorn, far from wishing to cure the zombie, abhorred the idea of any proximity and was instead dodging Jake's determined, murderous stupidity. Finally, after a particularly splintering crash, Karen shut off the stereo and, when Hector wouldn't surrender the remote, unplugged the TV.

"Aren't you guys going to help Blackie? Maybe you could distract Jake."

"Best to let these things sort themselves," Hector said, trying to get the plug back into the socket despite Karen standing on the cord. They all heard the definite, particular tread of a horse ascending wooden steps. The unicorn emerged.

"We decided to stop fighting and work together. The revenant pushed back the sofa and cleared the loose detritus from the floor, creating the space I needed to kick the door down. And now, my reward: Madam, please jump astride my back, and I will take you to Virginland, a magical kingdom filled with frilly castles and chocolate."

Jake shuffled through the doorway. "Hey, guys, turns out being a zombie's not as bad as everybody expects. C'mon, try it."

Karen, seeing no better options, hoisted herself onto the unicorn. "Thank goodness I held out."

Drew reached for her, then withdrew to avoid Jake's grabbiness. "Babe! Why would you leave me at the mercy of a slavering zombie?"

"If a bear came barreling out of the woods and I ran, would you stand there asking why? Focus on evading Jake." She ducked as the unicorn tore through the patio's already tenuous window screen. It galloped around the corner and stopped.

"Here we are: Virgin rescued from danger; job well done."

"This is plain ol' Oak Brook and Riverwood. I don't see castles or chocolate."

"There is no Virginland."

"So, why tell me?"

"Do you ask your parents why they told you about Santa Claus, who does not exist? Accept that in a time of uncertainty you believed in magic and hope. Now get off my back."

Karen alighted. "You're a lousy unicorn."

"And you are a piss-poor virgin," it called as it galloped away.

Karen considered going back to Hector's to demand answers, but decided that if her life had puttered along just fine not knowing how TVs worked, or about economics, or why she keep dating slackers, she didn't really need to understand the hows and whys of unicorns and zombies. She had walked all of half a block when she remembered her backpack full of textbooks, notes, and Midol.

Back at the house she spied Jake using a makeshift torch to herd Hector and Drew. After wasting a few minutes watching her friends, she decided to bail on their squalid stupidity and embrace wonder. Because, she reasoned, if unicorns had once been said to be imaginary but had, in fact, begun making occasional appearances the last few years, and if Santa was also said to be imaginary, then Santa must exist. And if Santa and unicorns both existed, then might not Virginland? Perhaps the unicorn had been lying-after all, they were supposed to be like that. On the other hand, while zombies might be mean creatures, the dead were incapable of lying, so maybe she could ask one. She looked at Jake's vapid face. Probably zombies told the truth because they were too ignorant to lie and too simple to have much to lie about.

She circled to Hector's parent's backyard and began weaving daisies. "Here, unicorn. Come getcher technical virgin in danger right here. Come on."

She worked five minutes in relative peace. Then Drew ran around the corner.

"Jake got Hector! Now we have to deal with four zombies. I suppose you're going to ask about the other two."

Karen held up one daisy-filled hand. "I'd rather not be bothered, thank you very much."

"Hey, guys," said Jake rounding the corner, "Not worrying 'bout flunking out or getting fired's a real relief, lemme tell you. Everything's so easy now. Stop bein' dummies and try it."

Blackie poked his head over the fence and frowned. "Look, did I really just save you so you could sit in the path of oncoming zombies?"

Karen stood. Shambling forth were Jake, Hector, and the couple from next door who always took the time to personally inform Jake and Hector that they were going to call the police if the noise didn't start dipping below forty-five dolorimeters on the pain measurement scale.

"He's right, it not so bad," Hector mumbled. "Just think of all the problems this solves."

Karen crossed her arms. "Such as?"

"Health worries. I can't feel my sinuses anymore. And see this nail in my foot? Before, I'd wonder if I should see doctor. But now the only thing to fret about is my head getting severed, and how often does that happen?"

Blackie moved closer to Karen. "A lot with zombies, I hear. Hey, virgin, did you know that if you get ten girls to make chastity pledges, you earn a week in Virginland?"

"You said it didn't exist."

"Of course it does, Blondie, it's just not free. And once you break the hundred-virgin mark, you get a lifetime membership."

"Sounds weird, and I think you're lying."

"Or am I?"

"Wait, why are you suddenly hot to get me to a place you wouldn't take me to earlier?"

"Honestly, your hold on virtue seemed tenuous and I didn't want to waste the time. But right after I left, a neighbor of yours with excellent spinster potential gave it up in her family's hot tub, and I realized that every maid is precious."

"Really?" Drew asked. "Who?"

"That redhead in the blue duplex over on Gleetrill Close."

"The pre-med? Man, she was always the queen of cold to me. Who did the deed?"

"Some teacher's assistant. I doubt you know him."

Though she welcomed the shift in attention from her own internal anatomy, Karen quietly regarded the profiles of Blackie and Drew and decided: for that one, fist to the throat; for the other, foot to the sack. She pushed back into the conversation. "The zombies are almost upon us."

Blackie roughly shepherded Karen back. "Leave this woman alone. She needs to inspire other maids to the advantages of chastity."

"Her? Good luck with that," Drew laughed. "She'll pop just as soon as she settles on the right guy."

"Wait, aren't you her boyfriend?"

"Yeah, two months and counting. Why?"

The unicorn raised one foreleg and shoved Drew into the advancing quadripartite of zombies.

"Blackie! You just somewhat killed my boyfriend! You're nothing but a monster."

"Your virginity was in danger, and, by extension, you."

The male neighbor raised his hand. "Excuse me, could she be zombie virgin? Everybody wins."

"No! She must be pure. And the dead aren't pure."

"Hey, Karen," Drew said as he rose from the dead, "Being a zombie is cool. It feels like . . . like . . . like that numb, happy calm you get halfway through a fifteen-episode marathon on a Friday night."

The unicorn snorted and whisked its horn millimeters from Jake's neck. "Begone, foul ghouls. Nothing is greater than virginity. See how all the world pursues it? Unfortunately, often successfully."

"No," said Hector, "isn't cheating death what men want more?"

"I don't know about that," Karen replied. "Speaking as a woman, I've met a lot of men who load up their arteries with crap food, don't bother to exercise, and drive distracted put an inhuman amount of effort into luring my kitty out. Although Drew seems to have given up lately."

"Well," Hector grumbled, "it's still pretty cool, and longer-lasting. Losers."

Blackie reared and let out a whinny. "Protect the virgin!" Other unicorns leapt the fence and formed an arc around Karen. As she stared glumly at the wall of equine asses, she decided that this was getting tiresome fast.

"Look, I'm not interested in becoming a near-brainless undead thing, and I'm not up for going around preaching abstinence so I can maybe get into a place you're probably lying about anyway. You guys can sort yourselves out-I'm going to find a more appealing, non-dead, non-cherrycentric path, okay? And stop pestering me, or I swear to God I will start decapitating and copulating like you would not believe."

"What's her problem?" asked a unicorn she had decided to call Paisley.

"No idea," Drew slurred. "Just nod and agree and she'll get over it."

Karen regarded Jake, who was struggling to negotiate the sprawling garden hose, and then at two unicorns kicking the female neighbor's head, which one had sliced off with its razor-sharp horn.

"The heck with this. I'm going home to study for my Biology exam."

"No one likes a nerd," Drew sneered. "If you let me make you zombie, you won't need to sleep, which means we can watch every episode of the Star Trek franchise in one sitting. Now that's cool."

"Virgin nerds are okay," Whitey interjected. "Would you be studying alone, like a nice girl?"

Karen turned. "Thank you all, and good night."

***

Karen's wise decision led quickly to good stuff: after the next morning's confidence boost of acing her exam, she decided to upgrade her term paper's topic from the staid The Effects of Increased Urine-borne Caffeine on Lake Fish Since the Ascendancy of Starbucks to something truly kickass. That evening, using her chastity as a press pass, she uncovered the reason for unicorns' obsession with virginity: they wanted humans to stop breeding and die out so that not only would the unicorns' remaining woodland habitats stop shrinking, but also so old ones could be reclaimed.

That nugget, having fallen into her lap and likely guaranteeing her a solid A, emboldened her the next morning to gun for extra credit by opening negotiations with their leader, whom she secretly called Pinkie. Humans, she explained to the mare, would never stop having unprotected sex, no matter how many purity vows unicorns scored; also, if allowed to run rampant, zombies would suck up even more space, and stink besides. By late afternoon, Pinky agreed that in exchange for humans setting aside federally protected preserves, the unicorns would heal the fresher zombies. Karen rushed home to type her report.

Karen won acclaim for both solving the worldwide zombie plague and giving women more leave to abandon their maidenhood, and she went on to deliver the most memorable Nobel acceptance speech in history: "Now that I'm done with the whole unicorn thing, I don't need my virginity. Anyone feeling frisky?"

x x x

Like with vampires and werewolves a bit ago, anotherealm was reluctant to publish zomibie stories. This was especially true when one considers how much the classic nature of the zombie has changed under the money-oriented demesne of Hollywood. Nathan Cromwell's clever mashup of the walking undead and my favorite fantasy creature, though, caught my attention. Did it catch yours? Let us know on our BBS.



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