“The Working Dead”

Dave knocked tentatively on his boss’ open door, still holding the sticky note summoning him to her office. “You wanted to see me, Ms. Levin?”

“Yes! Please, have a seat. How are you today, Dave?” Her voice was cheery, her motion toward the chair smooth, but her eyes were narrowed, scrutinizing Dave’s movements, words, and aura.

“Fine. Good. Fine.”

“Dave, we—your co-workers and I—Bethany, in particular—have noticed this change in your dress.” She waved her pen in an enlarging circle, indicating the space Dave occupied in her office and the world at large. “And we don’t like it. I mean, we’re concerned for you. Halloween was almost a month ago and you’re still…. Are things okay? At home, I mean, are things just fine?”

“Yes, everything’s fine. Never been better actually.” Dave pulled at the front of his shirt, looking down to make sure he’d put on the right denim button-up with red dye strategically dripped down from the torn collar. “Sure, it’s a little non-traditional, but Tanner’s been wearing that fez and bow tie since he started watching Doctor Who last year and no one’s said anything to him.”

“Well, I think there’s a slight difference between the doctor whoever and… whatever this is,” she said, poking the nib of her pen in Dave’s direction.

“Walker. I’m a walker,” Dave said enthusiastically. Seeing Ms. Lavin’s unimpressed look, he offered, “from The Walking Dead. It’s a show. And a graphic novel series. My character is an original creation, though.” He nodded and attempted a smile, but his facial prosthesis was ill-equipped for expressions of happiness, tilting the mask of faux rotting flesh around his mouth into a sickening grimace.

“Your… character…. Yes, that’s all yours.” She looked down, shuffled some papers on her desk. “How long do you think—what are you—,” she paused, thinking that one wrong word could set him off and spark a scene that turned into a mass slaughter. “I think it would be best if, after Thanksgiving, we all adhere to a more business casual dress code.” She set her pen down, marking her final word on the matter. “I’ll send a memo.”

Dave returned to his desk the next week in a new Oxford cotton button-up and ironed khakis, his face still a smear of artificial blood, ripped latex skin, and coffee grounds meant to mimic the soot his character would encounter in the fire-ravaged health clinic he called home. As he began typing his first email of the morning, he heard the clap of Ms. Lavin’s boots approaching his desk.

“Dave, do you remember our discussion last week?”

“About the dress code? Yeah. Is this not appropriate?” His puzzlement turned to embarrassment as he saw that he had not met her expectations. “I’m sorry. I Googled it. I thought this would be okay.”

“It’s not the clothes, Dave. That’s not the issue.” She slouched, leaning on the side of his cubical, her hand cupping her forehead in anticipation of a migraine.

Dave blinked at her, his milky-colored contact lenses shining beneath the recently installed energy-efficient light bulbs. “What would you like me to do? I can change the shoes. I know Converse aren’t really dressy, but I thought since—”

“No, Dave. No!” she said louder than intended. She coughed and straightened herself, quietly explaining, “I think it would be best if you worked from home for the rest of this week.”

Dave enjoyed the freedom of working from his home office, arriving to his folding-card-table-turned-desk promptly at 9:05 a.m. in the nearly shredded olive-green scrubs and fresh makeup showing the rapidly advancing decomposition he felt currently suited his character. At noon, he relished the opportunity to enjoy his lunch on his front lawn, tossing a tennis ball for his dog between bites of microwaved noodles.

“Hi Carolann! Janey! Matt-chu!” He yelled and waved to his neighbor and her children as they scurried from their front door to their SUV.

“Just get in the car, kids,” Carolann instructed. “Just keep looking down and get in the car.” After shushing and buckling everyone in, she left her driveway speedily, refusing to look at the gruesome, still waving figure in her rearview mirrors.

“That’s weird. She used to be so nice,” Dave remarked to Sam, who dropped his tennis ball at the man’s feet for another throw. “Everyone’s so weird lately. Must be the weather.” Scratching the dog’s neck, he asked, “You like me being home, don’t you, boy? Yeah! Me too! Let’s go back in and do some more work! Yeah? Yeah!”

Allyson Borkgren

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