Fiction: Celebrity Zombie Battles
By Travis Flatt
Dad is out grilling in the rain. I’m washing the onion smell off my hands after chopping for a salad that no one is going to eat. Making salad is out of habit. We’ve lost the taste for refined things, our family. And we’re starting to look it. And my dad–he’s just skeletal. Out the little window above the sink, I watch dad scraping at the brats and burger patties, a lost look on his creased and gray face. The late afternoon drizzle darkens his robin red ball cap to maroon. Someone needs to tell him to come in out of the rain–the show is about to start.
A hand taps my shoulder and startles me. “You need to go get your dad, babe.” Lana, my wife, says. She shambles away deeper into the house.
Maybe it’s better just to let him stay out there: it’s so noisy in the living room with Lana’s mother shouting baby talk at the battalion of nieces and nephews hauled over by my oldest son, Braylon, and his former-opioid-junkie wife, Sara.
I hate Easter: it feels like a fake holiday. Commercial, I mean. Our youngest daughter, Brylee, gets two days off of middle school, so she’s all over the house. Lana and I are off work, too–we’re home, but home to a full house.
“You’re missing it, babe,” shouts Lana. It sounds like her mouth is full of some kind of chips–probably Ruffles slathered in French onion dip. I imagine the chips spraying out in chunks over our carpet. It’s shit like that that makes me confident we will end up with bugs again. That, and frequent visits from Lana’s mom and her little, yapping dog. The damn dog pisses and poops on everything. Why a perfectly fit sixty-year-old woman needs a “service animal” is an absolute mystery to me. She can drive around the country to bother her daughters–Lana and Lana’s two sisters. I’ve got two sister-in-laws, whose names I can’t keep straight: Kaylee and Kayla. I swear to God, Lana’s mom–this woman named her kids Kaylee and Kayla
Kaylee and Kayla live far away, and in different states. I never see them and they rarely come up in conversation. That makes life easier.
One of my little nephews has my spot on the couch, the squinty one who always looks like he wants to fight something. He’s crammed in there with three of the other grubby turds–plus Lana’s mom and the dog. Now I will have to spray the thing down with Lysol and Febreeze when they leave.
We have two EZ chairs flanking the couch in the traditional American setup, one of which is occupied/shared by my son and his junky wife, and the other is occupied/shared by my wife and daughter. Both of these couples, so to speak, sit smaller-person-in-lap. (Well, my son and junky daughter-in-law are exactly the same size. They look like twins.)
Lana’s mom sees me pondering a place to sit and screams–I mean screams–”the show’s starting, buddy, sit down.”
I sit in the only empty spot, this little wooden chair that hangs out in a corner. We used to keep it at the dinner table, but we don’t use the dinner table anymore; we eat on the couch with trays while watching TV. Although, more often than not, I sneak off and eat in my room, my little office “man-cave.” My “get-the-fuck-away-from-everyone-cave.”
When I sit, the wooden chair scoots back into the wall and Lana hollers at me to be careful. I apologize.
So after three more ads–two for insurance and one for dick pills (which might cause blindness or stroke—as if humping was worth that), it comes on: Celebrity Zombie Battles.
Because it is the premiere, a heavily made-up, spray-tanned sitcom actor with an obnoxiously smug and self-satisfied sense of humor introduces us to the season’s first contestants. We get close-ups of greenish and groaning men and women, the reanimated, recently deceased: Betty White, Kobe Bryant, Stan Lee, etc. Within seconds, a dumb-founded trance falls over our living room, excepting the dog's occasional growl. It has a name, the dog, but I don’t like to invoke it.
The camera ping pongs between the host--who can’t utter more than two sentences without punning–and the grunting zombies. The host explains that we’re going to watch these corpses attempt “deadline eliminations” (see, it’s awful) every episode. There will be Rubix cubes, baking, Lego sculptures, etc. Finally, it will culminate in the top three zombies going on a fabulous killing spree amongst death row prisoners or terrorists–this last bit shall be judged by a panel of Hollywood directors.
“What the hell are y’all watching?” Everyone in the living room startles. My dad is standing in the doorway, looking unusually cogent–although wet.
“Quiet pa-paw, it’s Celebrity Zombie Battles!” cries one of the little shits.
In a tone so condescending that it makes my teeth hurt, Lana’s mother begins to explain the show's premise to my father, who tosses up his hands. “That’s awful. Y’all should find something better to watch. Or go to church. It’s Easter, for Christ's sake.”
“But it’s about zombies! And it’s got Betty White!” wails one of the nephews.
“You don’t even know who Betty White was, Andrew–” my dad says, pointing at the boy, whose name isn’t Andrew–“You all should be ashamed of yourselves.”
“This will be savage,” giggles the oldest niece. She looks fiercely at dad. “You’d be good on this, pa-paw. Except, you’re not famous.”
“Sara,” gasps my junky daughter-in-law, who has named her girl after herself. We do that; it’s a tradition.
The girl smirks at dad and holds up her phone, probably shooting footage for TikTok. My dad chews on his lips and scowls. “You, little girl, need to learn some respect–”
Boom! Something explodes near the backside of the house with a concussive thump, but intermingled with glass shattering.
Our lights go out, and I think: a power transformer blew? It’s not storming. But, that’s what it sounded like.
In the dark, the children shriek. The dog barks. Even though enough dusklight washes in from the windows for everyone to see okay–it’s only six o’clock–you’d think we were in blackness.
“We’re under attack,” someone yells. I think it’s my junkie daughter-in-law–she’s into conspiracy theories.
For some reason, no one gets up. Instead, my son, Braylon, who has looked dazed all afternoon from existential exhaustion, sits in his chair repeatedly pressing buttons on the remote as if, by the magic of will, he can make the powerless TV come back on. He might be somehow clicking the remote in his sleep. Everyone starts shouting and whining and bickering, so I take dad’s arm and go back out toward the kitchen to investigate.
And I see fire. The backyard is on fire. The grill exploded.
“Son, I’m sorry I burned your house down,” my dad says. He’s sorry in earnest, but the only damage was the partial melting of an old swing hanging from an enormous oak tree (unscathed) in the backyard. The vinyl siding is blackened a bit near where the grill’s gas canister burst. We think that will wash off.
Oh, and some of the back windows broke, and the grill’s blown to bits, of course.
Dad’s a little shook up. The firemen lectured him and I–mostly him–about leaving grills unattended. While we listened, dad looked both sheepish and impatient, pissed. As soon as they left, he made off-color remarks about their supposed “Eastern European” heritage.
So, I drive dad home. On the way home, I buy myself a steak from Outback and eat it in the car–I was hungry for the steak I’d been denied.
Then, I am immensely glad to discover that everyone has left to watch a DVR-ed premiere of Celebrity Zombie Battles at my son, Braylon’s, house. My wife keeps texting me, asking me where I am? When will I come join them?
I go to my office man-cave and turn the PC on to play computer games for about… I’ve got about an hour and a half, it looks like. Then Lana and Little Lana will be back. I hardly ever get time to play games with all the shit my family wants me to do; I’m giddy.
From now on, I’ll say that the Zombie show upsets me and makes me think about my dad wandering more and more out to lunch, and thus I can’t stand to watch it. Hopefully, my wife will buy this bullshit. She might even take the kid and go watch it with someone else every week!
I don’t know–I’ve learned not to get my hopes up, but I think that at the very least, she just might let me slink off to my room once a week and give me some time to myself. Now, I might play Baldur’s Gate 2 over again, or I could play Dark Souls 3 again, or I could level up my characters in Elden Ring, or I could…
Travis Flatt is a teacher and actor living in Cookeville, TN. He is an epileptic person, but not all of his fiction deals with disability. In his free time, he enjoys fluffy dogs and fluffy dog related activities. His stories appear in Bridge Eight, Fauxmoir, and many other publications.