"So, we're back in our first post-zombie-apocalypse recording, all of us in one piece, all of our brains intact," Stephen said, moving the microphone into place as he spoke.
"Well, I don't know about that." Ricky looked at Karl and raised his eyebrows. "Of course, his brain probably wasn't intact before, was it?"
Steve chuckled. "No, probably not."
"Mmm," Karl said, staring at Ricky and laying his palms flat on the counter.
"So," Stephen went on, "we're fine, and your significant others survived as well, we can happily report, yes? Jayne is--"
"Jayne's fine, a bit shaken, but she's got me there to protect her."
Karl and Stephen both chuckled, but before Ricky could protest Stephen forged ahead. "And Suzanne?"
Karl sniffed. "She's all right, I suppose."
"You suppose, Karl? Is she trying to eat anyone's brains?" Ricky tilted his head, an exasperated look on his face. "I know if she's in the house with you all day, she'd be shit out of luck, but I mean has she nibbled on your dome lately, or is she truly fucking okay?"
"She's not trying to eat me brains or nuffin," Karl said. "She's just touchy since it all went down."
Stephen leaned back in his seat and held his hand out. "Rick, you can run with that one."
"Karl," Rick said, "we're all a bit touchy, all things considered. Except you, I'm guessing? You're not affected by what happened, right?"
"Well, I mean, it's over, innit? Not much point in being touchy about it now."
"Jesus. How many neighbors do you have left? And wait, how in the fuck did you not draw the zombies like cats to catnip with that incredibly round, bare head of yours. I would have thought that would be like, oh, I don't know--"
"Like the Bat Signal," Stephen mumbled.
"The fucking Bat Signal, drawing them from miles around. Look, look here, no need to chew through hair, and look how round this round-headed freak's round head is. Round."
"No one much bothered near my 'ouse."
"Everyone who turned must have listened to our podcasts and watched the show, and figured eating your brain would be a waste of time."
Stephen leaned forward again, ready to continue, but Karl shook his head. "How come you're still here, then? I mean, if they wanted to eat the smartest brains . . . ."
"Oh, it's not for lack of them trying to eat me, Christ we had to fend them off day and night. They were after this brain," Rick said, tapping his skull.
"Like a pig after truffles." Stephen snorted.
"That's right," said Rick, laughing. "A rare and delicate, delicious truffle. What a loss that would have been, eh?"
"Mmm." Karl rubbed his hand over his head.
Stephen cleared his throat. "We're still not completely out of the woods, by the way. If people find this recording in the future, it very well could be that we've been eaten by the time they hear this. I thought I should state that for posterity."
"They're not going to care in the future," Karl added.
"No? Go on," Rick said, resting his chin on his hands.
"I mean, in the future . . . depending how far in the future we're talking, we'll probably already be dead."
"Maybe, but the future could be next month, and we're not dead. Or in a year, and we're dead, and it'll serve as a warning that there are still fucking zombies out there even after the major threat has passed."
"But in the future," Karl said, motioning with a hand, "they'll have figured all that out. You know, how a disease comes along and then they find a cure for it and they don't care anymore."
Ricky said, "Bollocks. There are tons of--we can't even cure the common fucking cold--let alone other diseases far worse. They might never be able to fix this, so you can't say they won't care."
"No, it's just, I mean, even if it's not a cure, they'll adapt to it. Like . . . I was walking the other day and thinking, zombie restaurants could really be the answer, and might have saved-"
Rick screamed with laughter. "Zombie restaurants?" When he composed himself, he said, "Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, here's a table for two complete with some wet towels you can use if one of your limbs falls off. Can I bring you a leg of lamb, or a leg of Sam? Jesus."
"No, wait, think about it," Karl said, gesturing with his hands. "Why would zombies want to kill the person providing them with food? That would be like biting the hand that feeds you."
Stephen snorted. "Yes, literally."
"And guest what, Karl," Rick said. "Dogs do that all the fucking time."
"Well, I mean--"
"Why would zombies be better behaved?"
"Dog are animals, aren't they. People aren't going to act like animals if they can help it."
Rick pushed himself back from the counter and glared at Karl at the same time Stephen rubbed his forehead and said, "Wow. Karl. So . . . are people vegetables or minerals?"
"They're, okay, they're animals, but they're not animals."
"Fuck me," Rick said. "Karl, I can see your point--which is terrifying me, by the way, that I've hung around you long enough that I can actually follow the ferret-on-caffeine winding path to your point--but it's still a load of shite."
"Time for an excerpt from Karl's Diary," Stephen said, taking a sip of his coffee. "April seven. Deaders keep walking by the window. It's boarded up, but there's a large enough crack that I can peer out, because Suzanne didn't do a very good job nailing the boards." Stephen sighed. "Unbelievable."
Rick let his forehead drop to the counter with a klunk. "She should kill you in your sleep."
Stephen cleared his throat and continued. "Suzanne didn't take the flower box off the window. I can't help wondering if the bits and bobs falling off the Deaders might be fertilizing the soil. She may end up with prize petunias this year."
"Oh, get me a knife," Rick groaned.
"I called Stephen today." Stephen looked at Rick. "He did-- I remember this conversation vividly. Karl goes on to say, I had an idea about how he can get through the crisis in one piece. He didn't like my advice, though, and hung up asking how such a blockhead could have such a round skull."
Rick laughed, then turned to Karl. "And what was this wonderful advice you so thoughtfully dispensed? I have to hear this."
Stephen waved a hand. "Karl's suggestion, his survival strategy for getting around during the infestation was for me to just walk out there and act oblivious."
"He didn't actually use the word oblivious." Rick shook his head.
"No, that's my word. I think he said joost act like nuffin's 'apnin."
Rick ran his fingers through his hair, his eyes closed, shaking his head. "Mm hm, because that's been working so fucking well. Oh, la ti da, nothing's wrong, everything's ordinary, except the rotting bastard sticking his tongue in my ear . . . to eat my brain."
"Listen," Karl said, rubbing his hand over his head. "You know I'm over it now, but when I first met Steve I was stunned for a bit. Well, the Deaders are just people, right? And the first time they get a load of him they'd probably be too stunned to go after his brains. They'd stop and stare at him for a bit like I did, or most of 'em would. He could just stroll through town, maybe tilt to one side to fit in a little better if he was worried."
Rick whistled. "I am going to beat you to death with this microphone."
"Karl," Stephen said, "have you considered that yes, I'm incredibly tall, but that most people can take that in stride, as a matter of course, just like if they see an incredibly short person, or someone with one arm or who's wearing an unusual hairstyle. Most people's brains don't seize up the moment they see something different from their usual experience."
"But these people are zombies."
"Oh my--" Rick couldn't speak for laughing.
"I mean, they're Deaders," Karl explained. "They're likely to stop and stare a bit in surprise because their brains are like--"
"Karl's!" Rick screamed. "You heard it here first ladies and gentlemen. Karl has a dead, feeble, zombie brain in that supernaturally rounded head. Oh, Christ, that explains so much."
Stephen took a deep breath and wiped his eyes, then dissolved into giggles. "The world officially makes sense again. Mark the date for future reference."
"Mmm." Karl tapped his fingertips on the counter and waited for Rick and Steve to catch their breath. "So . . . you really don't think it would work, then?"