Dear readers, in association with Apex Publications, please find below the short story “Zombie Lenin” by Ekaterina Sedia, first published in Fantasy Sampler and republished in The Apex Book of World SF 2
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“Zombie Lenin” @ Ekaterina Sedia 2007. First published in Fantasy Sampler.
Republished from the Apex Book of World SF 2
It all started when I was eight years old, on a school trip to the Mausoleum. My mum was there to chaperon my class, and it was nice because she held me when I got nauseous on the bus. I remember the cotton tights all the girls wore, and how they bunched on our knees and slid down so that we had to hike them up as discreetly as eight year olds could. It was October, and my coat was too short; Mum said it was fine even though the belt came disconcertingly close to my underarms, and the coat didn’t even cover my butt. I didn’t believe her; I frowned at the photographer as he aligned his camera, pinning my mum and me against the backdrop of St Basil’s Cathedral. “Smile,” Mum whispered. We watched the change of guard in front of the Mausoleum.
Then we went inside. At that time, I was still vague on what it was that we were supposed to see. I followed in small mincing steps down the grim marble staircase along with the line of people as they descended and filed into a large hall and looked to their right. I looked, too, to see a small yellowing man in a dark suit under a glass bell. His eyes were closed, and he was undeniably dead. The air of an inanimate object hung dense, like the smell of artificial flowers. When I shuffled past him, looking, looking, unable to turn away, his eyes snapped open and he sat up in the jerking motion of a marionette, shattering the glass bubble around him. I screamed.
“A dead woman is the ultimate sex symbol,” someone behind me says.
His interlocutor laughs. “Right. To a necrophile, maybe.”
“No, no,” the first man says heatedly. “Think of every old novel you’ve ever read. The heroine, who’s too sexually liberated for her time, usually dies. Ergo, a dead woman is dead because she was too sexually transgressive.”
“This is just dumb, Fedya,” says the second man. “What, Anna Karenina is a sex symbol?”
“Of course. That one’s trivial. But also every other woman who ever died.”
I stare at the surface of the plastic cafeteria table. It’s cheap and pockmarked with burns, the edges rough under my fingers. I drink my coffee and listen intently for the two men behind me to speak again.
“Undine,” the first one says. “Rusalki. All of them dead, all of them irresistible to men.”
I finish my coffee and stand up. I glance at the guy who spoke—he’s young, my age, with the light clear eyes of a madman.
“Eurydice,” I whisper as I pass.
The lecturer is old, his beard a dirty-yellow with age, his trembling fingers stained with nicotine. I sit at the back, my eyes closed, listening, and occasionally drifting off to dream-sleep.
“Chthonic deities,” he says. “The motif of resurrection. Who can tell me what the relationship is between the two?”
We remain wisely silent.
“The obstacle,” he says. “The obstacle to resurrection. Ereshkigal, Hades, Hel. All of them hold the hero hostage and demand a ransom of some sort.”
His voice drones on, talking about the price one pays, and about Persephone being an exception as she’s not quite dead. But Euridice, oh she gets it big time. I wonder if Persephone or Eurydice is a better sex symbol and if one should compare the two.
“Zombies,” the voice says, “are in violation. Their resurrection bears no price and has no meaning. The soul and the body separated are a terrible thing. It is punitive, not curative.” His yellow beard trembles, the bald patch on his skull shines in a slick of parchment skin, one of his eyes, fake and popping. He sits up and reaches for me.
I scream and jerk awake.
“Bad dream?” the lecturer says, without any particular mockery or displeasure. “It happens. When you dream your soul travels to the Underworld.”
“Chthonic deities,” I mumble. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s right,” he says. “Chthonic.”
When I was eight, I had nightmares about that visit. I dreamt of the dead yellowing man chasing me up and down the stairs of our apartment building. I still have those dreams. I’m running past the squeezing couples and smokers exiled to the stairwell, and mincing steps are chasing after me. I skip over the steps, jumping over two at once, three at once, throwing myself into each stairwell as if it were a pool. Soon my feet are barely touching the steps as I rush downwards in an endless spiral of chipped stairs. I’m flying in fear, as the dead man follows. He’s much slower than me but he does not stop, so I cannot stop either.
“Zombies,” he calls after me into the echoing stairwell, “are the breach of covenant. If the chthonic deities do not get their blood-price, there can be no true resurrection.”
I wake up with a start. My stomach hurts.
I take the subway to the university. I usually read so I don’t have to meet people’s eyes. “Station Lenin Hills,” the announcer on the intercom says. “The doors are closing. Next station is the University.”
I look up and see the guy who spoke of dead women, sitting across from me. His eyes, bleached with insanity, stare at me with the black pinpricks of his pupils. He pointedly ignores the old woman in a black kerchief standing too close to him, trying to guilt him into surrendering his seat. He doesn’t get up until I do, when the train pulls into the station. “The University,” the announcer says.
We exit together.
“I’m Fedya,” he says.
“I’m afraid of zombies,” I answer.
He doesn’t look away.
The lecturer’s eyes water with age. He speaks directly to me when he asks, “Any other resurrection myths you know of?”
“Jesus?” someone from the first row says.
He nods. “And what was the price paid for his resurrection?”
“There wasn’t one,” I say, startling myself. “He was a zombie.”
This time everyone stares.
“Talk to me after class,” the lecturer says.
The chase across all the stairwells in the world becomes a game. He catches up with me now. I’m too tired to be afraid enough to wake. My stomach hurts.
“You cannot break the covenant with chthonic gods,” he tells me. “Some resurrection is the punishment.”
“Leave me alone,” I plead. “What have I ever done to you?”
His fake eye, icy-blue, steely-grey, slides down his ruined cheek. “You can’t save them,” he says. “They always look back. They always stay dead.”
“Like with Euridice.”
“Like with every dead woman.”
Fedya sits on my bed, heavily, although he’s not a large man but slender, birdlike.
“I could never drive a car,” I tell him.
He looks at the yellowing medical chart, dog-eared pages fanned on the bed covers. “Sluggish schizophrenia?” he says. “This is a bullshit diagnosis. You know it as well as I do. Delusions of reformism? You know that they invented it as a punitive thing.”
“It’s not bullshit,” I murmur. It’s not. Injections of sulfazine and the rubber room had to have a reason behind them.
“They kept you in the Serbsky hospital,” he observes. “Serbsky? I didn’t know you were a dissident.”
“Lenin is a zombie,” I tell him. “He talks to me.” All these years. All this medication.
He stares. “I can’t believe they let you into the university.”
I shrug. “They don’t pay attention to that anymore.”
“Maybe things are changing,” he says.
“Are you feeling all right?” the lecturer says, his yellow hands shaking, filling me with quiet dread. Same beard, same bald patch.
“Where did that zombie thing come from?” he asks, concerned.
“You said it yourself. Chthonic deities always ask for a price. If you don’t pay, you stay dead or become a zombie. Women stay dead.”
He lifts his eyebrows encouragingly. “Oh?”
“Dead are objects,” I tell him. “Don’t you know that? Some would rather become zombies than objects. Only zombies are still objects, even though they don’t think they are.”
I can see that he wants to laugh but decides not to. “And why do you think women decide to stay dead?”
I feel nauseous and think of Inanna who kind of ruins my thesis. I ignore her. “It has something to do with sex,” I say miserably.
He really tries not to laugh.
In the hospital, when I lay in a sulfazine-and-neuroleptics coma, he would sit on the edge of my bed. “You know what they say about me.”
“Yes,” I whispered, my cheeks so swollen they squeezed my eyes shut. “Lenin is more alive than any of the living.”
“And what is life?”
“According to Engels, it’s a mode of existence of protein bodies.”
“I am a protein body,” he said. “What do you have to say to that?”
“I want to go home,” I whispered through swollen lips. “Why can’t you leave me alone?”
He didn’t answer, but his waxen fingers stroked my cheek, leaving a warm melting trail behind them.
“I thought for sure you were a cutter,” Fedya says.
I shiver in my underwear and hug my shoulders. My skin puckers in the cold breeze from the window. “I’m not.” I feel compelled to add, “Sorry.”
“You can get dressed now,” he says.
The professor is done with chthonic deities, and I lose interest. I drift through the dark hallways, where the walls are so thick that they still retain the cold of some winter from many years ago. I poke my head into one auditorium and listen for a bit to a small sparrow of a woman chatter about Kant. I stop by the stairwell on the second floor to bum a cigarette off a fellow student with black horn-rimmed glasses.
“Skipping class?” she says.
“Just looking for something to do.”
“You can come to my class,” she says. “It’s pretty interesting.”
“What is it about?”
I finish my smoke and tag along.
This lecturer looks like mine, and I take it for a sign. I sit in an empty seat in the back, and listen. “The idea of capitalism rests on the concept of free market,” he says. “Who can tell me what it is?”
No-one can, or wants to.
The lecturer notices me. “What do you think? Yes, you, the young lady who thinks it’s a good idea to waltz in, in the middle of the class. What is free market?”
“It’s when you pay the right price,” I say. “To the chthonic deities. If you don’t pay you become a zombie or just stay dead.”
He stares at me. “I don’t think you’re in the right class.”
I sit in the stairwell of the second floor. Lenin emerges from the brass stationary ashtray and sits next to me. There’s one floor up and one down, and nowhere really to run.
“What have you learnt today?” he asks in an almost paternal voice.
“Free market,” I tell him.
He shakes his head. “It will end the existence of the protein bodies in a certain mode.” A part of his cheek is peeling off.
“Remember when I was in the hospital?”
“Of course. Those needles hurt. You cried a lot.”
I nod. “My boyfriend doesn’t like me.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “If it makes it any better, I will leave soon.”
I realise that I would miss him. He’s followed me since I was little. “Is it because of the free market?” I ask. “I’m sorry. I’ll go back to the chthonic deities.”
“It’s not easy,” he says and stands up, his joints whirring, his skin shedding like sheets of waxed paper. He walks away on soft rubbery legs.
“Things die eventually,” I tell Fedya. “Even those that are not quite dead to begin with.”
“Yeah, and?” he answers and drinks his coffee.
I stroke the melted circles in the plastic, like craters on the lunar surface. “One doesn’t have to be special to die. One has to be special to stay dead. This is why you like Euridice, don’t you?”
He frowns. “Is that the one Orpheus followed to Hades?”
“Yes. Only he followed her the wrong way.”
There is a commotion on the second floor, and the stairwell is isolated from the corridor by a black sheet. The ambulances are howling outside, and distraught smokers crowd the hallway, cut off from their usual smoking place.
I ask a student from my class what’s going on. He tells me that the chthonic lecturer has collapsed during the lecture about the hero’s journey. “Heart attack, probably.”
I push my way through the crowd just in time to see the paramedics carry him off. I see the stooped back of a balding, dead man following the paramedics and their burden, not looking back. Some students cry.
“He just died during the lecture,” a girl’s voice behind me says. “He just hit the floor and died.”
I watch the familiar figure on uncertain soft legs walk downstairs in a slow mincing shuffle, looking to his right at the waxen profile with an upturned beard staring into the sky from the gurney. The lecturer and zombie Lenin disappear from my sight, and I turn away. “Stay dead,” I whisper. “Don’t look back.”
The rest is up to them and chthonic deities.
About the Author:
Ekaterina Sedia resides in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Her
critically-acclaimed and award-nominated novels, *The Secret History of
Moscow, The Alchemy of Stone, The House of Discarded Dreams,* and *Heart
of Iron,* were published by Prime Books. Her short stories have sold to
*Analog, Baen’s Universe, Subterranean,* and *Clarkesworld,* as well as
numerous anthologies, including *Haunted Legends* and *Magic in the
Mirrorstone.*She is also the editor of the anthologies *Paper Cities*
(World Fantasy Award winner), *Running with the Pack,* and *Bewere the
Night,* as well as *Bloody Fabulous* and *Wilful Impropriety.* Her
short-story collection, *Moscow But Dreaming,* was released by Prime Books
in December 2012. Visit her at www.ekaterinasedia.com
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