Land of the Voting Dead
Miriam Showalter opened the heavy wooden double doors to the unseasonably warm November morning. Sunlight streamed in, golden so early in the morning and so late in the year. Miriam lodged the doors open with heavy wooden doorsteps that her husband Gene had carved thirty years ago to replace the ones that the previous twenty years had worn out. Back then they’d been horses’ heads, like pieces on a chess board, and Gene had spent his days in the fields planting corn and beans. Now all of the features, the delicate detail that Gene spent hours squinting at and refining, were worn smooth and Gene spent his days as a pile of ash in a brightly polished urn.
Miriam finished pinning the doors open and dabbed the sweat away from her brow with the tissue she kept tucked under her watch. She could have taken off her cardigan, but she was no fool. Just because she worked up a sweat, just because the sun was shining, just because they were having a late warm up didn’t mean that it wasn’t November. Miriam wasn’t catching her death today.
From the front doors, Miriam walked across the dark wood floor, the insolated soles of her shoes barely making a sound in the open room, past the long table and single folding chair (with a many-times patched, pink cushion that she’d made about the same time Gene made the horse head doorstops) that she’d set up when she first got there, and down the back hallway where the sunshine couldn’t reach. There was a storage room on the left, a bathroom on the right, a door at the end, and not a window in sight. The light was still on in the storage room. Miriam walked in, wrinkling her nose at the heavy musty smell and the lingering scent of something that just couldn’t be placed, but Miriam knew what it was. She’d leave the doors open all day long. That’d chase most of the smell out. The place just wasn’t used enough to get rid of it entirely.
Another table and a stack of folding chairs sat against one wall. There were several miscellaneous cardboard boxes along the wall opposite the door. It seemed that there were more every year, but Miriam had no idea who brought the boxes or what was in any of them. Shoved off to the side were two voting pedestals that stood like misshapen patio umbrellas, their dingy little screens separating six little cubicles, their little desks hitting Miriam just under her bust as she wheeled them out one by one into the main room, positioning them on opposite sides of the less than great hall and locking their wheels into place.
Miriam dabbed away the sweat from her face and replaced the tissue under her watchband. She checked the time. Russell Sims would be along any minute with the vote box. That’s what Miriam called it. It’s where the votes went after people were done filling in the circles with a special black pen. That wasn’t the proper name for the thing, but Miriam didn’t care. People gave stupid names to things anyway. “Vote box” was accurate enough. It wasn’t like anyone was ever going to quiz her on it. They probably didn’t know the correct name for it either.
Russell showed up in his old truck that had the most ineffective muffler still attached to a vehicle and left it running as he wheeled in the black vote box and a cardboard box full of ballots on a dolly.
“You gonna be alright on your own, Miriam?” Russell asked as he positioned the box next to the table according to Miriam’s hand gestures.
“Yes, of course. I’ve been dong this longer than you’ve been alive,” Miriam said. “Just put the ballots on the table.”
“They’re supposed to be in a secure location.”
“They’ll be fine.”
Russell set the box on the end of the table.
“You got your voter book?” he asked.
“Picked it up this morning.” Miriam opened the ballot box.
Russell looked around, unable to decide if he should put his hands in his pockets or not. “Anything else you need while I’m on the get, Miriam?”
“No, no, Russell, I’m fine,” she said without looking up, dismissing him with a flutter of her hand.
“Good. ‘Cause they’re on the move,” Russell said, hurrying toward the door.
“Of course they are,” Miriam said. “They don’t like to be late.”
Russell said a hasty goodbye at the door and Miriam gave him another wave. She listened to his truck roar off into the morning.
Miriam busied herself by testing all of the magic black pens as she placed them at the voting pedestals. She opened up the voting book, took out a stack of ballots and a roll of “I Voted” stickers from the cardboard box, and retrieved her “voting stick” from the storage room. Miriam sat down with a sigh, the cushion deflating beneath her, a delicate ache creeping up her legs and along her spine. She waited.
The first voter of the day shambled in right at eight. A trail of dirt followed him, falling from the cuffs of his pants and the pockets of his jacket. Miriam grimaced at the sight. She forgot to bring the broom out from the storage room. Sighing, she got to her feet. Miriam flipped the book to the correct page as he staggered to the table in a less than straight line, his eyes half-open, a faint scent of rot preceding him. Miriam knew Douglas Kless when she saw him even if he had been dead six years, in part because embalming had improved over the years (Douglas had hardly moldered at all), but mostly because Miriam was always good with names and faces, even decomposed ones.
“Morning, Douglas,” she said, even though she knew he wouldn’t respond and honestly wasn’t sure if he heard her, but that was no different than when he was alive. She liked to be polite.
With one hand, Miriam held out a pen for dead Douglas Kless, killed by a brain aneurysm on his way home from a movie, and with the other she pointed to the place in the book Douglas was supposed to sign. Douglas took the pen with clumsy fingers and his hand dropped down to the book. Somehow he formed something that looked like a “D” on his space. He dropped the pen.
“Both sides, Douglas.” Miriam flipped the ballot over and back before handing it to him. She put a sticker on his lapel.
Douglas Kless stood there for a minute, blank and swaying. Miriam picked up the “voting stick”, a stubby, faded blue broomstick, and prodded him with it. Douglas started walking, feet dragging along the hardwood, to the voting pedestal.
The doorway darkened with the arrival of several more voters.
In Chicago, the dead voted in spirit. Downstate, they voted in body. At least in this town they did. They voted until they were so rotted, so decayed that they couldn’t claw themselves out of their graves and shamble to the polling place. It’s why Miriam’s husband Gene had himself cremated. He had enough trouble deciding whom to vote for while his brains worked; God only knew the trouble he’d have once they stopped.
Miriam felt the same way.
Wanna read the rest? Head on over to the Storytime Jukebox and drop in some change.
It originally appeared in the anthology Zombidays: Festivities of the Flesheaters, which is currently out of print.