I met up with Zara outside The Slug and Lettuce. Purple hair this year, but still that effortless unkempt look. Nice ragged slash along her throat, exposing the carotid and lots of gore splattered around her cleavage.
“You look the business,” I said.
“Thanks. I’ve slapped on a bit more this year.” She flicked back her rank locks and adjusted the neckline of her velvet top. “Last time was an utter disaster, too lilac and turquoise, not enough vermilion.”
“Yeah— like Monet’s bloody garden.”
She leaned in close to inspect my face. “Ooh Terence, I adore your mad staring eyeball and is that a garotte mark? Sweet.”
I took her arm and steered her into the pub. I was dying for a drink.
The international brigade was already there, a cluster of droogs in party bowler hats and white long-johns, knocking back pints of craft beer and chatting amongst themselves. Kinky Scandinavian blonds, all nice and lean — but not for me. No blood and guts, far too clean-cut. I couldn’t honestly see the point, their own mothers would be proud of them. There was a lull at the bar, so I took the crumpled note from my pocket.
Usual pint of Darwin for me and half a dry cider for Zara. A beefy bald guy barged past in a pink bustier and black lycra cycling shorts, a tiara of razor blades stuck into his scalp. “Watch it, princess!” I hissed, as beer slopped over the sleeve of my best jacket. A girl with blackened lips, her snub nose pierced by a massive safety pin, scampered in his wake. Ah, the Rocky Horror mob —the usual bunch of punk wannabees in torn fishnets.
“Hey, look — there’s Elvis!” Zara squawked, pointing at a thick-set chap in shades, dark hair swept back from a widow’s peak, flared trousers and satin cape, droning into a mic set up on a small stage near the back.
“Nah, that’s just a pimped-out Bela Lugosi.” I took another swig from my pint.
Zara began to cackle in that inimitable way of hers.
“Hey, behave yourself!” I hissed, pulling her over her towards a dark corner. There was a good half hour to kill before we’d be under starter’s orders.
We’d been walking the bloody walk for a couple of hours or so. After shambling through most of the North Laines, past all those chi-chi boutiques and coffee shops, the main pack turned into Queen’s Road. About halfway along, I spotted a black plastic sack dumped outside a charity shop. Curious, I ambled over, still in character. Alas, someone had also deposited a stinking pavement pizza right next to it, so I did a neat side-step and joined the stragglers preparing to puff their way up Mount Zion. By this time I had lost sight of Zara.
There were the usual show-offs of course, eager for social media notoriety. Some were even crawling about on all fours, gnawing away at their stupid plastic bones. I recognised Bethany and her boyfriend Steve from last year, done up as a ghoulish bride and groom, liberally smattered with gore — a shotgun wedding, at a guess. Also Monster Martha with her gang of four — always ahead of the game, they had gone all ‘Day of the Dead’ — and then I spotted Nick, of course. Unfortunately, he saw me and ambled over, best zombie foot forward.
“You look the worse for wear already,” I said.
“Good turn-out this year,” he replied, crooked mouth curling into a grin.
“What’s the concept then?”
“Pirates of the Caribbean. Davy Jones’ Locker. Sort of.”
“Nah, don’t get it. Looks more Damien Hirst to me.”
“My rib cage came adrift in Duke Street — and uh, spilled a few eels. I went back to look for it, but I think the street sweeper got there first.”
“Sorry to hear that, old chap,” I said, trying to sound upbeat. Then I spotted Zara over the road, standing under a street lamp by the Quadrant pub, looking unsteady on her feet. A pair of community support police officers in high visibility vests were approaching from a side alley nearby.
“Where the hell have you been?” I called out.
“Need–a–bite–to–eat–starving–” She was swaying about, looking far too grotesque under that yellow light. I crossed the road and in my best stage whisper said, “we don’t want to miss the prize-giving, do we, darling?” Grabbing her by the arm, I pulled her towards the main thoroughfare. “Christ! What were you thinking?” I muttered, dabbing more blood around her mouth with a handy tissue.
The pubs were about to close. At last, we would get something to eat. The prizes had been given out at The Druid’s Head. Bethany and Steve got best couple and they duly celebrated with a Screaming Skull Jaegerbomb and a pint of Bloody Mary. A special newbie prize went to a girl with a half-open zipper embedded in her face.
“Clever job,” said Nick, “must have looked that one up in an anatomy book.”
“Geez, they’ll be awarding diplomas soon.” I muttered.
The three of us watched as half-cut zombies emerged in dribs and drabs from the various hostelries. I must say they were staggering around the street in a much more convincing manner than at the start.
“I suppose it’s bye-bye time–” said Nick.
“Don’t fancy joining us then?” I said.
“Uh, not that hungry to be honest.”
“Aha, dropping by that pal of yours at St George’s to get patched up by any chance?’
He just grinned. “Cheerio, see you next year!” Then he lurched off, a dead eel stuck to his shoe.
I linked arms with Zara as we headed for the old municipal market. She seemed a little tired and emotional. After going through the bins, she would probably need a lie down in the cemetery, on one of those big oblong graves covered with little green stones, good for the back, therapeutic you could say.
“Why do we never get a bloody prize,” she sniffed, wiping her nose on my jacket, “it’s always the same smug dilettantes every year!”
“I know, I know,” I said, giving her a brief hug. “Pisses me off big time too. Completely mental if you think about it — all those glib idiots are just faking it, while we are the real deal!”
Slightly revised version of a story first published in Every Day Fiction, 31st October, 2016