The Hunger of Lazarus

For all those who have implied that Zombible is a "rip off" of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I present the original inspiration for this work — written in 1993 and published in Delirium #2 in 2000. Enjoy!

The Hunger of Lazarus

Lazarus supposed that he could have tolerated the smell if it hadn't been coming from him. It wasn't really a musty odor, although it seemed to be at first sniff, but more of a mixed, garbage-unburied-after-a-week smell that stuck to his clothes and drove away his friends — pretty much what you'd expect from a man who had been dead for four days before being brought back to life by the intervention of a deity in human form. Lazarus had managed to keep the stench under control with frequent baths, but lately any amount of scrubbing at all tended to peel away bits of his own flesh. And that wasn't the worst of it.

At first — right after he'd risen from the dead — everything had been fine, but as time went on... well, to say that things had degenerated would be an understatement. There was the smell, of course, and the peeling, the wandering of his thoughts, receding gumline, hair loss, and a rather obnoxious lurch which had creeped into his step. Any one of them would have been bad enough, and when they were combined with his new-found hunger for human flesh, well, let's just say that he wasn't the most popular guy in Jerusalem at the moment.

As he lurched through dark the streets, watching children and strangers dart for doorways and shadows as he passed, Lazarus tried to remember how he'd come to be in Jerusalem. He knew that he'd been fleeing the chief priests because they wanted to kill him, although for the life of him he couldn't remember why. During his journey he'd broken bread with a gentile who'd once been a leper, reminisced with Jairus' daughter, and talked to a young girl who he'd found drawing water from a well... That was it! The young girl! He'd been driven away by her parents when they found him devouring her and he'd simply followed the road to Jerusalem. Sure, it was only a couple of miles from Bethany, but to his old legs it sure seemed to have been a long journey.

Lazarus' stomach rumbled. He could feel it ripple through the whole of his rotting flesh. Flies rose like a cloud from his scalp and shoulders at the sound. This was the third, maybe the fifth, time he'd felt the rumbling and he knew what it meant: time to eat someone and damn the consequences.

Oh, he'd tried to sate himself with a wide variety of other foods. Bread, fish, wine, other things, but there seemed to be no normal food which he could keep down. He'd toyed with the possibility that more pure, natural foods — fruit and vegetables, perhaps — would prove nourishing, but so far all he'd managed to run into was a fig tree outside the city gates and it was dead. Lazarus felt a kinship with that tree.

The resurrection had brought a few gifts with its curses. There was the incredible strength, of course, but even more importantly Lazarus' sense of smell had been somehow augmented. He could smell food, the human kind, at great distances. And he smelled food now.

The scent of death led Lazarus to the edge of town, to the place where bodies were prepared and buried. It was a wonderful place to find sustenance, and he probably wouldn't have to kill anyone before he ate them. What convenience! Lazarus would have berated himself for not thinking of coming to a place like this much earlier, but, of course, his mind had not been up to par since it had started dribbling out of his nose.

With half-closed eyes, Lazarus lurched toward the source of the smell. The smell led him to a hill in which there were a number of caves, the kind used to inter bodies, and to one cave in particular, the entrance of which was blocked by a large stone. As luck would have it, the cave was guarded, but God provides for those with faith and he blessed Lazarus by bringing sleep to the guards. So as not to awaken the guards, Lazarus tried to downplay the sound of his dragging right leg by taking exaggeratedly large steps.

The stone proved to be quite heavy, but to one of Lazarus' newfound superhuman strength, it was the matter of but a moment to roll it off to the right. With the cave entrance open, the smell of food flooded out, bathing Lazarus in ravenous ecstasy. He rushed into the cave as fast as his moldering limbs would take him and let his nose lead him to the body.

The corpse was wrapped in cloth, and Lazarus' hands, far less clever than they had once been, found unwrapping the tasty morsel a chore. He ended up lying the body on the ground, kneeling on one end of the wrapping, and rolling the body out of the cloth.

Someone, Lazarus blessed whomever it was, had had the foresight to cover the corpse with herbs and tasty oils. From the first bite the corpse was delicious, and Lazarus could feel his whole being react to the pleasure of devouring human flesh. Even after only a few dozen mouthfuls, he felt like a new man.

In the days before his conversion to the new faith, Lazarus might have felt guilty for eating improperly killed meat without preparing it in a kosher fashion or washing his hands. But now he knew that those rules were of the past. And although the Passover was quick approaching, how could he fast when he was a living example of the new faith? The hunger was so strong within him that Lazarus felt as if God himself had commanded him to eat this body, and in a way, he had.

By sunrise, Lazarus had somehow managed to polish off the entire corpse — the bones were picked clean and only whole because Lazarus hadn't thought to break them and suck out the marrow. He wasn't sure how his stomach could hold the meat of an entire man, but with his new life had come a superhuman hunger. Who was he to question the workings of such miracles? In any case, he needed to gather up the bones and dispose of them before he got in big trouble.

His first thought was to wrap the bones in the burial cloth and hide them somewhere, but when he picked up the cloth he made an amazing discovery. Somehow, while he was rolling the body on the ground, the dirt had made an impression of it on the cloth, sort of like a relief painting. Lazarus found it fascinating, so fascinating in fact that he allowed his mind to wander away from the task at hand.

He was snapped back to reality by the sound of the guards outside the cave.

"Look, the stone has been moved," said one.

"They must have stolen the body," said the other. "Pilate's gonna be pissed." And then they appeared at the cave entrance, backlit by the morning sun.

One look at Lazarus — his body rotting, his face, arms, and clothing covered with blood, bits of gristle and a few thorns still stuck between his teeth — and the guards dropped their weapons in terror. They had turned and run away screaming before Lazarus could so much as offer a word of explanation.

Stepping to the cave's mouth, intending to call to the fleeing guards, Lazarus saw some women coming down the road toward the cave. Panic overtook him. He was not prepared to deal with any more witnesses! It was possible that he could come out the better when putting his word against that of Roman soldiers, but he might not fair so well when defending himself against fellow Jews. What would they do to his reputation?

Lazarus rushed back into the cave, wiped the blood from his face and arms with his tunic, and then removed his clothes, turning them inside out to reveal the clean (well, cleaner) side. Looking quite a bit better than he had a moment before, Lazarus gathered up the remains of his meal, rushed out of the cave, and threw the bones behind the large rock. Then, to discourage anyone from looking behind the rock, he plopped himself down on the ground in front of it.

Although there had been a flurry of activity near the mouth of the cave, the women — engrossed in weeping and talking amongst themselves — did not notice any of it. Lazarus made up his mind to sit by the rock until they arrived, at which time he would say something, anything, to get them to go away so he could bury the bones and replace the rock. After that he would get out of town as quickly as possible.

As he sat, leaning on the rock, Lazarus tried to rationalize his actions of the previous night. Sure, he'd eaten a body, but so what? He was risen from the dead! Blessed of God! Who was going to say anything? At least, Lazarus hoped that nobody would make a big deal about one little missing corpse.

When the women were close enough for Lazarus to make out their faces he received another shock. He'd met one of the woman — Mary? Maggie? — on a business trip a couple years earlier. She'd been, as they say, friendly at the sight of his purse, and Lazarus had neglected to mention her to his wife. To make matters worse, Maggie (or whatever) was walking next to another Mary... Lazarus' sister.

If they recognized him and got to talking then the whole sordid affair could come out in the open and Lazarus would be in for some big trouble when he finally shambled back home.

Keeping what was left of his wits about him, Lazarus kept his knees up and his head down. It was his hope that they would look in the cave, find it empty, and leave.

But despite Lazarus' hopes, they simply peeked into the cave and redoubled their sobs.

And so it was that Lazarus spoke, disguising his voice so that they would not recognize him. "If you're looking for the body, it's gone," he said, trying to sound official and holy. "It walked out of here this morning, raised from the dead. Go ahead, look. He's gone." He paused for dramatic effect. "Now be off with you," he continued, "tell everyone about the miracle!"

Lazarus had said the words off the top of his head — if he could be raised from the dead, why not the guy in the cave? — and they seemed to do the trick. The women's sobs turned off like faucets, and if Lazarus had looked up, he would have seen their mouths drop. Then, without so much as a "by your leave," they were off down the road.

Only half believing that he had gotten away with it, Lazarus sat still as a pillar and watched the women retreat into the distance.

No more than a moment passed before Lazarus realized that the satisfaction he'd gotten from fooling the women was short-lived at best. The sun was hot, he was tired, his stomach was full, the rock was uncomfortable, insects were beginning to cloud overhead, and he stunk to high Heaven.

With a creak of bones, Lazarus wrenched himself up off the rock and shambled down the path away from the cave. Sometimes he wished that he'd never come back from the dead in the first place.