Last year, I was a photographer for Underworld Weekly. Probably because I was the new kid on the block, my editor assigned me to cover the Delilah of the Dead pageant. At one point, because I didn’t know any better, I poked my head into the contestants’ dressing room. I’d never make that mistake again. I managed to keep my lunch down, but just barely.
In mere minutes, an eager audience would be admiring these ladies, hailed as the pinnacle of undead beauty.
“Marvelous. Simply marvelous,” Scully Pink raved. The famous hair stylist stood still, admiring the Bride of Frankenstein coif that he had just constructed atop the head of one contestant. It was marvelous, but I didn’t have time for gawking. I needed to secure a good spot at the foot of the stage before one of the lowbrow magazines like Dead and Deader or Zombizine got there first.
“Pardon me. Excuse me… Excuse me!” I grunted, pushing my way free of the crowd.
On my way to the stage, a familiar face whizzed by. It was the winner of last season’s Face Off, Reggie Reynolds. But what would he be doing here? Makeovers wouldn’t do a thing for these ladies, and they certainly didn’t need any additional gore. As the flyer boldly asserted, it all came down to their natural beauty, if you could call it that. None of these contestants would require the help of a Hollywood special-effects makeup artist. Had he somehow fooled himself into thinking he could win the silver key?
Kneeling behind a stack of boxes, I took a long look at Reggie and the Daisy Duke-clad zombie he was working on. As clear as day, I saw pink skin on her left arm. Looking through my camera’s lens, I could already envision Reggie’s scam exposed on the front cover of Underworld Weekly with my byline in bold letters: Zack Lamb, photojournalist of the year. I began snapping shots like there was no tomorrow.
Only a small patch of live skin remained visible, which Reggie dabbed at quickly with a small sponge. Was he stupid, or hadn’t he heard of what happened to the last guy who tried this scam? Maybe he liked the idea of leaving on a gurney, minus his brains. While the event organizers and most of the attendees were very friendly to the living, there was no telling what the aggressive minority might do if they felt slighted. This meant I couldn’t show the pictures to anyone, unless I wanted Reggie’s brains on my conscience. What I needed to do was get him out of the building before anyone else figured out what he was up to.
I caught up to Reggie near the backstage door and grabbed his arm. “Dude,” I whispered, “you and that fake of yours need to give it up and leave before you get yourselves killed.”
“What?” Reggie huffed. “Who are you? Get out of here before I call security.”
A contestant was already showing off her talent on stage, and I was missing it.
“Look, man, I’ve got pictures of you putting makeup on that zombie of yours. Do you know what they did to the last guy who tried a stunt like that?” No expression. He had quite the poker face. “They jumped him and ate his brains. That’s what!”
“Beat it, freak!” Reggie said. “Do you know who I am? Do you even own a TV? I’m the best of the best. My girl is going to win that key. Then I’ll have all the power, and people like you will wish you’d never crossed me. Now go off and take your little pictures or whatever, and leave me alone.” He turned and walked past the large zombie guarding the backstage door.
What a dick! This guy was too much. As he disappeared, I shouted, “Have it your way, Reggie. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I missed three contestants trying to save that jerk, and I ended up standing behind the guy from Zombizine. A siren had just wrapped up her song and was running her fingers through the hair of some guy she’d summoned up from the audience. I took a great picture. Maybe I wouldn’t be fired after all.
Next, Reggie’s girl entered from stage right carrying a bunch of sticks—no, wait, double-barreled shotguns—in her arms. She did look dead; Reggie had done a great job. I clicked away, wondering about the shotguns. Then she began to juggle them—four double-barreled shotguns—fluidly, gracefully. The audience gasped as she fired shell after shell toward the ceiling. She let each of the shotguns fall back into her arms and took a deep bow.
Scarcely had she departed the stage when the judges called her back. She had won. Reggie’s fake was the new Delilah of the Dead. An old crone came up to present Reggie’s girl with her prize: a large, silver key hanging from a red ribbon. The audience went wild.
After things quieted down, I found myself crouching next to a dumpster behind the auditorium. I had a hunch, and I was right.
Reggie and his girl came out the backdoor. I couldn’t hear them from my hiding place, but I had a good idea what was going down. Reggie handed over a large envelope, and she handed over the silver key. They went their separate ways.
I knew I’d never see her again. Once the girl washed off all that makeup, she’d be unrecognizable. And I’d never see Reggie again, either, but for a completely different reason.
My editor at the magazine told me about that silver key once. It’s said to unlock the door to your heart’s desire. No doubt Reggie thought he’d get money or super powers, but I’m not so sure.
If you were undead, wading your way through a slow eternity, what would you want? How about a final rest? How about a sweet sleep that can’t be purchased for all the money in the world?
Rest in peace, Reggie.