Rosa sat in the corner of the living room, tablet balanced on her lap and tried to ignore the influx of rotting companions coming in through the door. None of them were as healthy as Mei, each one sporting a black decayed ear, shriveled skin, or smoky eyes. After her gaze had lingered too long, she focused back on her book. She’d finally found something in Spanish after a long time of searching, and it would be her only company for the night.
Rosa had asked Mei if she could just stay in the guest room, but she’d been denied. Even after living together for a month, Mei didn’t trust having Rosa out of her sight for longer than she had to be. The party was concentrated in the block of space next to the kitchen, where some kind of game with tiles and weird money was being played. Strange, wavering music played from small speakers on the kitchen counter, with cups of clear alcohol provided for every guest. The sight of the huge jug of booze made Rosa uneasy.
She stared at her book for fifteen minutes, but couldn’t get past the third page.
Quickly, she moved only her eyes to look over at the table. Ten zombies here, and three of them kept looking at her; at least, she thought they were. It was hard to tell since their eyes were black spheres, but sometimes they would tilt their chins or turn their heads towards her. One of the ones with his back to her turned just enough that he must have been able to see her out of the corner of his eye.
She looked back to her book.
Throughout the night, she kept touching the oval-shaped metal over her throat. She’d turned the translator off once the first guest arrived. Whatever they had to say, she didn’t want to hear it. Despite this, she could still pick out Mei’s voice from the crowd. She didn’t understand a word, but sometimes she caught the strangest thing – laughter. At those times when the antanama would start laughing, Rosa would look up, amazed. She’d never seen Mei smile, let alone laugh, and she’d find herself staring at the green-tinted woman until the zomb went back to playing the game in earnest.
Whatever they were doing with that game, they were drinking along with it and growing louder. Rosa managed to power through a decent portion of her book. She laid the tablet down on her seat and went to the restroom. After delaying there for some time – she really didn’t want to go back to the living room – she finally returned.
Only a couple antanamae sat at the game table now. Most were in the kitchen, waiting next to Mei as she distributed chunks of preserved organs from the fridge. A few guests looked significantly better in contrast with when they’d arrived, the healing properties of the meals working quickly.
Most importantly, however, was that there was an antanama in Rosa’s chair – the same one who’d kept turning his head to look at her. She sighed and made sure the earpiece of her translator was fully in before switching it on.
“Excuse me. I was sitting there,” she said.
He looked up at her, eyes narrowing. The flesh of his cheeks was a deeper green than the rest of his skin, and she wondered if that was what a blush was supposed to look like.
“This how Mei stays so goddamn healthy?” he asked. “Keeps stay-at-home meals?”
All pretense of manners were gone. “Move,” she said.
She quickly glanced over at the kitchen. Mei had her back to them, providing drinks for her guests with laughter and oral jabs. The conversation between Rosa and the antanama would be covered by the music. When she brought her eyes back to the man in her chair, he had stood. He shoved her back a few feet, looming over her until she had her back against the wall. She didn’t back down, though. She stared, thick brows converged into an angry line.
“You know how long I’ve been waiting to get some new fucking intestines?” he said, bearing his teeth. “Four months while that shit rots inside me. Meanwhile, Mei’s got a whole damn buffet sitting at home. How much of you has she eaten already?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
He went to grab her throat, and she immediately grabbed his face, pulling at his ears and nose and whatever soft, fleshy protrusion she could get her hands on. She jammed a finger deep into his ear and he dropped her with a curse, leaving her sputtering on the ground.
The antanama’s face brimmed with rage, and he glared down at Rosa, snarling his words.
“I’m gonna tear-”
Before he could finish, the sound of bone hitting flesh reverberated through the room and he was on the ground, too. Rosa skittered away as fast she could, putting the attacker – Mei – between them.
“I allow you into my home, provide you with food and entertainment, and this is how you repay me?” Mei asked.
There it was – the voice Rosa was familiar with. Quiet, foreboding, demanding the listener’s careful attention. Her sleeveless shirt meant that the muscle of her arms was on display, toned and flexed. She still had some scars from the naval mission a month back, having not yet dined on skin to heal it.
The man turned and sat with his back to the wall, cradling a cheek as he looked up at her.
“The government give you that bitch?”
Mei looked unfazed. “The only reason I’m not killing you right now is because I don’t want to stain the carpet.”
The other party attendants were silent, watching. The stereo’s speakers continued to play the warbling music, the fast beats an odd backdrop to the situation. Mei seemed to contemplate something, then, before he could say anything, she grabbed the man by the hair and pulled him to his feet. He fought her, but he was much more drunk than she was, barely able to control his motions. Even if they’d both been sober, Rosa knew Mei would have taken him easily. She wrenched him across the apartment to the front door, then threw him outside.
Rosa sighed, happy that it was over. As she stood, however, she noticed that Mei hadn’t come back inside; she’d followed him. The party-goers ran outside, and Rosa did, too, unable to restrain herself. Mei and the man were out in the courtyard of the apartment complexes, a simple garden on the top floor of the building with stone benches and immaculate sculptures of famous antanamae. The man rattled off insults, trying to hit Mei when he could. He only landed one or two decent hits, but then she wrenched his arms around. The sound of breaking bones made Rosa cringe.
The man began to cry.
“I’ll tell you what, Gang. I’ll leave you alone today,” said Mei. He’d fallen to his knees, sobbing as his arms hung uselessly from their sockets. “But if I ever see you again, I’ll rip those decaying intestines from your carcass. Understand?”
His “fuck you” was only barely audible.
Mei slammed his skull into the edge of one of the benches so hard that when she pulled back, the skull was cracked and dark green blood and brain pushed from the extreme fracture. Rosa knew without a doubt he was dead.
Mei walked up to Rosa and glanced her over.
“Did he hurt you?”
After looking to the others, Mei flicked her head dismissively. Everyone went inside just long enough to grab their belongings, and then left. Mei cleaned up the game table, and Rosa busied herself by washing cups. They didn’t speak until the apartment was clean and Rosa was heading for her room.
“I might’ve found someone who can take you home,” said Mei, sitting on the couch. “I’ve still gotta check him out, but if things go well…”
Rosa lingered in the doorway and nodded.
“Okay,” she said, “thanks.” A moment passed, and she added, “You didn’t have to kill him.”
“You don’t know me very well.”
“I don’t, but still.” Rosa pressed her lips together. “He was an asshole, and honestly, I’m still of the idea that the world would be a better place without antanamae, but he was just a drunk asshole.” She glanced to the front door. “Are you going to leave him out there?”
“The worst my boss will do to me is make us have a one on one meeting about the importance of discretion,” Mei said. “So yes. Unless you feel like taking him to the dumpster?”
“Well, then, leave it be.” Mei kicked off her boots and said the command prompt to turn on the entertainment screen hanging on the wall. “I’m a government-sanctioned killer, Anarosa. No one’s going to care – especially not about scum like him.”
The human nodded, despite disagreeing.
“Thanks for sticking up for me, anyway.”
“I still owe you.”
Rosa sank back into the guest bedroom she’d been occupying for the last month. The bed was welcome, and she curled up happily beneath the blankets. The night was over, thank God, and soon she might be able to go home. Her heart clenched at the thought of it. What did she have to go home to anymore?
She set those thoughts aside, and instead focused on the idea of her house, the converted convenience store from a hundred years back with the strange, delightful paintings on the wall and the portrait of her family… She buried her face in her pillow and sighed, wondering if she could suffocate herself before she ever went back.