Submitted by Darren MacLennan

You weren't supposed to eat pate by shoving your face into it and gorging, but that didn't stop Lydia from urging one of her friends to do just that. The one she'd picked, who'd been about forty-five when he'd died, somehow wound up in her entourage. He craned his neck forwards, flexing the exposed tendons, pushed broken teeth into the surface, and tried to close his mouth. He didn't quite make it. The organ paste dribbled out through the hole in the side of his face while he chewed, but that was good enough for everybody else.

They'd found a ballroom that was large enough for their entourages. It was easy enough to meet when it was just them, just the group, but soon their entourages would starte snapping at each other, and you'd lose a dozen good members just from a stray tooth-snap at the wrong time. And when they'd tried muzzles, it hadn't worked very well. If they couldn't bite, they could claw, and if they couldn't claw, they'd shove. It was like trying to coordinate a kindergarten.

When it was the only way to get status, though, you did what you could. Regina, as usual, had picked up on sexual for her little display. She'd been raiding abandoned sex shops -- the last place that anybody would go to in the event of a crisis -- for her swains. Her help looked like exotic fish, plastic extremities strapped to parts of the body in rows. They didn't do anything with them. Regina had taught a pair of them to simulate sex, but one of them had started eating the other, and by the time that she'd pried them apart with a cattle prod and a crowbar, one of them was half-gone and the other was simply too bloated to move. Terrible, but then again, those were the breaks.

* * *

You had to be out there every evening because the fresh ones, the ones that had just gotten up, confused the old ones. If you arrived late, or if the help delayed, then you'd get them with big pieces missing. The general consensus is that the zombies went for movement, then for smell, then maybe for shape. Then they just ate whatever came in reach of their heads.

* * *

She circulated, keeping Regina's company at bay with her hands. A gentle touch to an arm turned into a grab as the arm slid off, black fluid trickling from the teeth of exposed ribs. She held it for a second, watching the maggots crawling underneath the skin, and then threw it aside. Let Regina worry about putting it back together. Raw materials were everywhere, after all.

Georgia, the unacknowledged queen of the whole affair, sat in her usual spot. The far side of the room had been elevated; you stepped up a short flight of stairs to get to the bar, where you could see the entire room, and where the entire room could see you. She could feel Georgia's eyes on her all the way there, but she ignored it, flipping a stray bit of goo from her hair with an insolent shake of her head.

She wished that Armand could be there with her, but her entourage had gotten out of control again -- and, well, while men were a dime a dozen, the well-trained dead were so hard to properly cultivate.

* * *

Last week, she'd had trouble with a capture. It was easy enough to keep them away from her, because they didn't like her. Something about her personality. That's what Armand had said, but when they'd finished off her capture team, they'd come up the stairs toward her. For a second, in the light, they'd looked like a single organism with a thousand arms and eyes and teeth. So throwing Armand down the stairs for them was that much easier. Even the police hadn't found out.

* * *

 "What an interesting idea, Caitlin. Just the one, then?" said Georgia, sipping gently from the baroque piece of glass in her right hand. "What a fascinating concept."

"Moderation in all things, Georgia. Speaking of which, how many martinis is that tonight?"

 "Martinis? Dear . . ." She lowered her glass, showed her the contents. Black fluid. The smell hit her first, making her gag, but she covered it by putting her hand over her mouth. "I gave up on those yesterday. I've found this to be much . . . more complex. Say, give my regards to Armand."

 "Oh, I will. Perhaps I'll ask Regina to dress one of hers up, show you a night on the town?"

"Just walk away, dear. Always best to do that when you've been beaten," said Georgia. Caitlin glared at her for a second. As she walked away, she took a tissue from the inside of the chic little purse that she'd bought a few weeks ago, dabbed the blood away from where her fingernails had punched through the skin.

* * *

There weren't all that many dead out there. There'd been a lot of talk about it, and Caitlin had hired some security of h er own, but they'd contained them at something called "critical mass". Manhattan was gone, left to the dead that had been herded there, but you could still hear them bombing it during the day. There were pockets here and there, of the unlucky, but the dead were cremated within a day if they knew. They'd come after you with their guns if they knew about it. Moving them around at night was a bit of a pain in the ass, but money could always smooth the way.

* * *

Carla was having trouble with her entourage tonight. She was frantically slapping zombies around, trying to get them back into the careful chorus lines that they'd maintained a few minutes ago. These were pretty fresh -- as a matter of fact, most of them were sporting bullet holes. Carla was always the most eager to try to fit in, but she was overextending herself, and it was more than a littl e pathetic to see a girl of her age trying to fit in with people who were much her superior. As a matter of fact, if she didn't shape up tonight, Georgia had promised something along the lines of discipline.

* * *

They were bored, and they could control the walking dead. So they started little dioramas, and every time things seemed strange, they'd just remember that it was just nature's little way of making sure that they were on top.

Whoever had the best diorama -- and so far, it had been Georgia -- got the pick of the latest crop. Caitlin's own diorama was coming up shortly. You were supposed to bring it out right away, but her little scene needed to be in motion. She'd lose a few points for it, but that didn't bother her. She'd score a victory in the end.

* * *

The last of them, a strange little girl named Bonita, had come up with something that would genuinely challenge Caitlin, and that worried her for a second. She'd been a little hesitant at first, but once they'd shown her what you could do with a little effort, she'd come around with a vengeance -- she'd even included some of her old friends from that dreary little nightclub in her acts. Tonight, she'd lined up a spectrum of decay -- starting with somebody just-dead, a cop that had taken a shotgun blast to the face, continuing with the first few days of decay, and ending wi th what looked like a pile of black seaweed. Then a bone flailed out from within the seaweed. Caitlin noted that with interest; she'd never been able to see what happened to a dead body if you kept the maggots off.

 "That's very nice, Bonita. Much better than last week's sordid little display."

Bonita shot her the finger, and Caitlin smiled. Her display would knock the little Goth bitch on her heels.

* * *

There was always the threat of discovery, but they weren't the only ones who needed zombies. Caitlin hadn't met them, but Bonita had fought somebody over the spoils of a bus crash. She hadn't said who, but she'd said that she'd made a deal with them. Caitlin and Regina both drew their corpses from a local undertaker whose pill habit they funded, but it was somehow comforting to know that they weren't the only ones involved. As a matter of fact -- and Caitlin had only just heard this -- there was talk that the Sandusky's new menu items didn't use meat from the stockyards anymore. Or, at least, not the stockyards with cattle in them. But so far, they'd been safe enough.

* * *

They overtook Regina when Caitlin's zombies shuffled in, carrying bits of Armand with them. All that Caitlin saw was a sudden flurry of movement, followed by part of Regina's lower leg skating across the floor, pin wheeling blood. It bounced off of one of Caitlin's zombies, the one carrying Armand's lower leg. Caitlin bent down, gently pulled the ankle bracelet before the blood soaking the nylon reached it. It was a nice bit of jewelry

She walked back towards Georgia, already considering who'd replace her. It was difficult to find just the right kind of temperament, but there was always that nice little debutante who'd shown up with her dead cat entombed within her purse. A trifle showy, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a little work.

 "Looks like we've got a vacancy. Pity, really. But what a stupid idea -- a zombie chorus?"

Caitlin hadn't thought so, but she kept quiet anyways.

"In any case. Do think about a replacement. How about Skye? The little debutante with the dead cat?"

 "Of course. I'll see about turning her over. Do you like what I've done?" Caitlin said, gently inclining her head to where the zombies were trying to put Armand back together again. Armand himself just moaned, head supported by a series of metal braces that sprouted from the bones of his shoulders.

 "Like it? Love it. I'll let it finish, but do get to work, hmm?"

 "Of course. Toodles."

It occurred to her that she wasn't doing much more than the zombies were; putting on a show for somebody else. She touched the surface of her flesh, and, just for a second, felt the maggots there.

Then she stepped into the elevator and went downstairs.

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