Houseguest

by Autumn James Haworth

Tom stood staring at the body on his living room floor. He couldn’t be sure how it got there. Taking a sip of his tea, he thought that maybe he should phone the police, but it was too early in the morning to have to deal with that kind of thing. The body lying in the middle of the living room was already enough to deal with. Talking to the police just meant questions that there was no way he could answer. He kicked the body a little to see if there was a reaction. Nothing. Fuck. Life would be nice if things were simple, but no. A body just had to be lying there on the floor. His toast popped out of the toaster in the kitchen. This was a pleasant change as the smell of toast was far nicer than the smell in the living room. It didn’t completely overpower the body, but it was a new smell and it was pleasant. He took another look at the body and decided that it was probably okay to leave it there while he went to put jam on his toast. As he got to the kitchen door, he heard a groan. He figured it was probably just his gut. It was early, and he hadn’t eaten his breakfast yet. As he took another step into the kitchen he heard:

“You couldn’t possibly help me up, could you?”

“What?” said Tom, turning back into the living room.

“Would it be possible for you to help me to my feet?” Tom stared at the body again, and this time, it was sat up looking groggy. It smiled politely at him. This was rather disconcerting, but somewhat appreciated.

“Y–yeah, sure.” He put his mug of tea on the table next to his sofa. He put out his hand and helped the body up, though he was reluctant to do so. It was cold. It was a corpse, or at least that’s what Tom thought before it started talking, so why wouldn’t it be cold? He tried to figure out how impolite it would be to light some scented candles. Tom had never known what a corpse smelled like, but he figured that this was it. He listened to enough true crime podcasts to know that people seem to just know what dead bodies smell like. He held back the urge to gag. Maybe it was out of politeness, but he wasn’t so sure why he’d be polite to the dead body in the living room. He was still holding the body’s hand after he’d helped it up. His hand was going numb from the coldness of the body’s touch, so he went back over to the table to fetch his cup of tea. Its sudden warmth left his hands felling a little tingly. Taking a sip of his tea felt like a comfort. Its sweetness was something nice to think about rather than whatever was stood in the middle of his living room. Tom looked at the woman in his living room. He should probably start calling her a woman now that she was up and walking.

“I’m Florence, by the way.”

“Huh? Oh, I’m Tom. Nice to meet you, I suppose. Exactly how did you get into my apartment?”

“Five minutes ago, I was face down on your floor with no life in me. Trust me, Tom, I’d love the answer to that question too.” Tom supposed that was probably a reasonable response. It also confirmed that what he’d walked in on that morning was, in fact, a corpse. That would explain the smell and the cold.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got some heating you can put on, do you? It’s rather chilly in here.” Florence had a permanently polite smile across her face. Tom thought that it was probably rigor mortis that hadn’t gone away yet. He also wasn’t sure that putting the central heating up would help with the temperature problems that Florence was facing, but Tom was more than happy to oblige. As he walked over to the thermostat, Tom told Florence that she’s more than welcome to take a seat on the sofa and offered her a cup of tea. Tom was wondering how long it would take to get the smell out of the sofa after Florence was done sitting there, but there was no way that he could just let Florence stand about. Her bones were probably aching. Florence had declined the offer of tea but had sat down. Looking over at the animated corpse on his sofa, Tom tried to figure anything out about what he saw. It wasn’t exactly easy to look past the obvious. ‘Don’t say zombie. Don’t say zombie. Don’t say zombie,’ were the only thoughts circling in his head. He had to focus. Her dress looked nice, if a little scuffed, but that was to be expected; he didn’t actually know how long she’d been dead for. While it had only been five minutes for her, what’s time to the dead? She looked pretty intact though; she still had hair and skin, and she was almost regular people colour even if she was a little blue. Her accent seemed quite posh for someone sat in a tiny apartment on the outskirts of Manchester. Though maybe she’d been a businesswoman and had been living in the city centre. Plenty of people like that lived in the city centre, so that wouldn’t be so unusual, he supposed. Besides, she was at least a good 20–30 years older than him, so that could as easily explain the accent as anything else.

“You’re staring, young man.”

“I–yeah. I’m sorry. I’m just a little confused at this whole thing.”

“I’m hardly any more enlightened than yourself. I wish that I was. Trust me, dear boy, I didn’t exactly expect to have my lights go out one second, and wake up in a stranger’s living room the next.” Tom sat on the sofa beside Florence and tried to remain polite about the smell. He figured that his smile probably looked plastered on, but he thought that was better that he put on a nice smile than to appear physically repulsed. He felt like he had to make a good impression on this woman, even if he wasn’t sure why. Both of them sat facing each other on the sofa, and Tom could only deduce that Florence was feeling as awkward, because neither of them seemed to find anything to say.

“Do you mind if I ask, you know, how it happened?” Tom asked, feeling a little uncomfortable about it but feeling like it was better than no conversation whatsoever.

“How what happened, my boy? I’ve already told you that I don’t know how I got here.”

“No, I mean before that. How did you, you know, pass? If that isn’t too rude of a question of course.”

“Oh, that. I can’t say that I remember it all too well. I just know that at some point in late November, I was stood at the top of my stairs, and the next thing I knew, I was here in your lovely home.”

“I’m sorry. That’s, wow, that’s awful.”

“It is, my boy. That it is.”

After hearing this, Tom felt worse, and far more awkward. It would have been easier if he just hadn’t asked because he realised that Florence not knowing how she died clearly hurt her. It wasn’t exactly like life had prepared him for this kind of situation. He generally knew what to talk about with strangers but the people he’d met in his life were usually, well, people, and not animated corpses that had suddenly appeared in his living room one morning. Tom remembered that his toast had popped out earlier and he was trying to figure out if it would have been rude to go and prepare and eat it. Almost definitely. Maybe if he offered Florence some toast, then that would make things better. Though, come to think of it, would Florence even need to eat? She appeared living but, Tom couldn’t even be sure if she were technically alive.

“Would you like some toast?” Tom blurted out.

“Oh, well, that would be lovely. Not sure how that works now, but I suppose it could be fun finding out.”

While Tom was in the kitchen preparing Florence’s toast and eating his own, he considered trying to contact someone. Though he couldn’t be sure how that would go down with anybody. How was he supposed to explain the situation in his living room? It’s not like it was simply a case of a break-in or someone who was just lost. Well, he supposed that Florence was lost, but not in a way that he could deal with. He took a sip of his tea. It was cold. Of course, it was cold. His tea was cold, his toast was cold, and the living corpse in his living room was cold as ice. He supposed that he’d have to get to the bottom of this in some way or another. He was startled by the toast popping out beside him. That was it then. He’d prepare this toast, feed the corpse, and then he’d find out why the hell that corpse ended up there in the first place.