Back to Indonesian Version
By Seno Gumira Ajidarma
Translated by Patricia B. Henry
Detective Sarman was still intensely slurping up his coffee in Markonah’s roadside stall, when the irritating sound of his walkie talkie started calling him over and over. It was late at night. The remnants of a drizzling rain reflected the light of the pressure lantern.
“Get to First Street, on the double! There’s a disturbance!”
“Right away, sir!”
His coffee was still steaming, but even so Detective Sarman had to rush off. The momentary relaxation he was enjoying at the coffee stall would have to wait for another time. Markonah’s smiles, which had been poking holes in his heart for some time, would have to be forgotten for now. Ah well, that was the way it was, Detective Sarman said to himself. Scrambling to keep up with things from one moment to the next, and every time you had a chance to come up for air and catch your breath, you immediately found yourself drowning in problems again. In the jitney cab on his way to the place of the incident, he felt for his pistol under his jacket. It was still there.
Nimbly, he jumped out of the cab without paying. People were still crowding around by the side of the road. From behind the crowd, Detective Sarman craned his neck to see. And straight-away his eyes took in a blood curdling sight.
In the moonlight, a hulking form stood in the intersection. Every once in a while its head jerked up and out of its mouth came a hoarse growl. Grrrr! Grrrr! No one dared to come near. Its fist clenched a golden necklace that sparkled as the light from the street lamps fell on it.
Detective Sarman pushed his way forward. Now it was increasingly clear just how horrifying the thing was. In form it was tall and large. Its feet trampled on its already half-dead victim.
Grrr! It growled again. And Detective Sarman saw how thick, soupy spittle was dripping from its mouth. Its lips looked sticky, as if they could only be opened by force. One side of its face was already liquefied. Its left eye was gouged out, and out of the socket worms came crawling, creepity-creepity. The flesh from its whole body was half rotten and the stench was truly awful. Detective Sarman was used to seeing corpses. From those who had died in accidents to those who had been tortured. Those corpses very often were horrible and disgusting, but they didn’t terrify Detective Sarman at all.
Now Detective Sarman looked upon a sight that he had never in his whole life seen before. In the stinking body he could see gaping holes which were crawling with worms. Every time the worms fell out and went creepity-creepity along the road, more worms came pouring out from inside the torso of the body and went creepity-creepity some more and creepity-creepity some more and creepity-creepity some more. Grrr!
The thing made a threatening move towards the victim that was underfoot. Detective Sarman quickly took action. He aimed his gun at the body’s head. He shot.
An explosion was heard. The body jerked to a stop. But it didn’t become still. Its forehead had a hole because of Detective Sarman’s bullet. No blood came gushing out. It was as though the bullet had pierced a banana trunk. But out of the bullet hole emerged more worms which immediately began going creepity-creepity, tumbling down onto the asphalt.
Detective Sarman shot several more times with suppressed rage. But his bullets only made more impact holes. And from every hole came forth worms which went creepity-creepity so that the thing became even more horrible. And it started moving closer to Detective Sarman. Its steps were slow but sure. It lurched forward stiffly but with certainty. Both its hands were held up in front as if heavily waving. People scattered like mice. Detective Sarman quickly reached for his walkie-talkie.
“Missiles! Missiles! Send guided missiles immediately!”
“To shoot a monster! Hurry up! Twenty-two caliber bullets won’t do it! Quick! The monster’s chasing me! Quick!”
“Monster? What monster?”
“Never mind that now! We can talk about it later! Hurry up!”
“What missiles are you requesting?”
“Don’t be stupid! Anti-tank missiles, of course!”
Because the streets were deserted by now, the delivery of TOW missiles arrived quickly. The foul-smelling body which strode with heavy feet was still some distance from Detective Sarman. It was immediately smashed to a pulp. In the blink of an eye, a forty pound missile had been launched with all its awesome power. The rotten body was destroyed without a trace. Only the worms, which had just picked up the pace of their creepity-creepity, were still going creepity-creepity everywhere. Creepity-creepity. Creepity-creepity. Creepity-creepity.
A reporter who up until then had been quietly taking pictures of the event immediately hailed a cab.
“To Palmerah! On the double!”
The morning papers came out the next day like something in a nightmare. LIVING CORPSES WANDER THROUGHOUT THE CITY. An excerpt of the news:
...and our reporters in various parts of the capital report that in every gathering place, living corpses are emerging. Their bodies are extremely rotten. Their flesh has partially liquefied, and bullets from pistols or rifles have no effect. Even firearms that have been given magical powers by shamans are still useless. The living corpse can only be destroyed with a missile. And even that doesn’t mean it’s dead. Shreds of its flesh continue twitching. And the worms that fall from its body flourish and multiply at an awesome rate.
In general, our reporters have reported almost identical events. The living corpses, alias zombies, behave like criminals. They pickpocket wallets, snatch necklaces, demand money, or rob people at gunpoint. But because of their rotten bodies and their slow, awkward movements, they can’t run away like criminals. They can only hold up whatever they’ve stolen while emitting a hoarse sound: Grrr! Grrr! They appear suddenly from out of nowhere. Perhaps directly from the graveyard. But there are no reports of graveyards which have been broken open.
Now the doctors are examining the shreds of flesh which are still writhing around. We hope that the proper authorities, whose responsibility it is to take care of this truly weird situation, will immediately do so. It’s true that in the everyday life of this country plenty of unbelievable and shocking things happen all the time, and people somehow manage to just accept them. However, it is to be hoped that this particular situation will quickly pass. Living corpses wandering around is just too appalling.
Detective Sarman read the news while shaking his head.
“Too much. How come my name isn’t given even a mention? The press nowadays always blows up unimportant things out of all proportion, while covering up the real issue. Just look, where is there any mention the hard work being done by the authorities? Here I’ve been working day and night without rest, and it’s the picture of the stupid living corpse that gets put in the paper! I could see the point if the thing were at least good-looking! And the damned public, too -- invariably insulting the police. Meanwhile, they always love the cops in western movies. To hell with them all!”
At Markonah’s food stall he ranted on while chewing on a slice of tempeh.
“And now the newspapers are joining in. Making a big fat deal of the news of the living corpses. The community is being frightened out of its wits. And the upshot of it is, at the very least, that the police will be blamed again! Once more the police! The higher-ups will get all pissed off, and then we’re the ones who catch hell! No way is the salary enough to get anyone through a week! Damn! Who knows, if I’d passed the college entrance exam way back when, maybe my luck would be a little better. What the hell do reporters know about anything? Bunch of show-off smart asses!”
He was still cursing enthusiastically when his walkie-talkie called him to attention again. He jumped up, all energetic efficiency.
And in a flash, Detective Sarman vanished.
“Hey, what about paying the check?” Markonah yelled after him, aggrieved. But she didn’t grumble long. She knew, Detective Sarman would always come back to her. Even though he had a wife and four children. Always, he would come back to her.
Once more, Detective Sarman was face to face with a living corpse. Its head was hairless, its body reeked, and it was crawling with worms. It stood in the intersection with its hands in front of it. Its putrefying mouth looked like it was melting, but out of it still came the hoarse voice. Grrrr! Grrrr! The street was jammed with traffic. Cars were abandoned by their passengers. The rotting body strode over the roofs of the cars. Every so often it would lose its balance because the soles of its feet were also starting to rot away.
Detective Sarman contemplated the situation more calmly now. He knew, even if this one could be taken care of, others would immediately come forth. There had to be a reason why all these rotten bodies were coming back from the grave. Surely it was the same reason for all of them. If not, what were they up to, creating such chaos?
Probably they were criminals during their lifetimes, thought Detective Sarman. They looked like petty thugs and crooks, small fry. The kind of crooks that depended on their weapons and their strength, not on their brains. Detective Sarman had noticed that on the bodies that were beginning to rot away there could still be seen traces of tattoos. And in the bodies there were always holes from which the worms started spreading to the outside, falling creepity-creepity-creepity. Detective Sarman felt there was something he could almost remember, but then he forgot it again.
Grrr! The voice brought him out of his deep thought. He looked closely at the body again, and sure enough, it had a tattoo. The form of a naked woman could still be made out faintly on its chest. And the holes. Yes, the holes were always in the same places. At the back of the head, on the left side of the chest, or in the forehead. To be sure, sometimes there were lines of holes from the chest to the stomach. Or along the length of the back. But not often. Suddenly Detective Sarman was reminded of something. But the voice intruded again: Grrrr!
He had already ordered the TOW missiles. The most effective weapon for immobilizing zombies. While waiting he lit a cigarette, watching the monster fall and pick itself up as it lurched around on the tops of the cars. It was truly disgusting. Detective Sarman could smell its rotten stench even from where he was standing. Good God, who would believe it -- a corpse coming to life again. What evil spirit possessed it?
If you counted them all up, there had been more than twenty living corpses popping up on various street corners. Detective Sarman’s colleagues had run themselves ragged, keeping track of them all. Every time, they had to use a TOW missile to destroy them. Unfortunately, the TOW missiles didn’t confine themselves to smashing to smithereens only the living corpses. The corpses’ surroundings were also smashed up along with them. The Minister for Protecting the Environment was getting angry.
“Just why is it we have to use missiles? Isn’t it a shame to squander all those expensive missiles? Can’t you snare them in a net? Chop them down with a machete? Or pour gasoline all over them?” he asked in a televised statement.
But while the polemics were going on, the living corpses continued to show up conspicuously all over the place. The authorities wanted to take care of this matter quickly. For that, missiles really were the most effective means.
Nevertheless, in only a few days, there had been so many incidents. What would happen if we ran out of missiles? This is what Detective Sarman was thinking. His brain was reeling. The United States had just said they were sick and tired of selling missiles. To buy them from Israel was tantamount to treason. There had to be another way. We have no way of knowing how many more living corpses will be terrorizing us. Where in hell are all these stinking corpses coming from? Detective Sarman was truly at his wit’s end, trying to figure it out. He reached for his walkie-talkie.
“Check out the graveyards in all corners of the land. Report back on which graves have been broken into!” ordered Detective Sarman.
At that very moment the missile delivery arrived. The missile specialists set it up carefully. The zombie was standing firmly on top of a car. Grrr! Grrr! Detective Sarman looked closely at the half-dissolved face. He had the feeling he had seen it before. Who was it, anyway? Grrr! Grrr! Worms were falling out of its mouth. And as usual, they were going creepity-creepity in their disgusting way. Rapidly spreading over everything. Creeping over the car windows, so that the pretty women who hadn’t been able to escape were screaming like crazy people. The zombie was now looking more ferocious.
“Shoot it, quick!” yelled Detective Sarman.
“OK, Boss!” And the TOW missile was off in a flash. Ka-POW!
The capital was like a war zone. Smashed-up ruins lay scattered all around everywhere. This was the result of the missiles that had been shot off with such abandon. Nonetheless the zombies continued to emerge. Worms were infesting everything like a plague. Worms were going creepity-creepity on top of tables, chairs, windows, toilets, in bathrooms, shirt pockets, shoes, dishes, glasses, and bottles. People were busy every day, flicking off worms which were crawling all over their shirts, their hair, their nostrils; they even had worms dangling from their eyeglasses.
Zombies were raging around increasingly. Daily life was disrupted. Now they weren’t just snatching cheap things, but they’d also started gobbling up all kinds of food. Their very existence was an act of terrorism. The supply of missiles was getting lower and lower. Keep in mind, this was a calm and peaceful country, fertile and prosperous, like a kingdom in a shadow play. What the hell. Who would have dreamed they’d have to fight a war against zombies?
Detective Sarman’s walkie-talkie squealed.
“Get to Fifth Street on the double! There’s another zombie!”
“Right away, sir!”
But Detective Sarman didn’t budge. He put both his feet up on top of his desk in the office. His head drooped. His walkie-talkie went on squealing. He could hear there was a lot of yapping back and forth.
Lazily he reached for some of the reports which had been filed.
... our informants from every corner of the land report that there are a certain number of grave sites that have been broken open. The coffins within them have been opened and whatever was in them is not there anymore. The data shows that these graves are in fact those of criminals of the “small fry” class. However, not all the graves have names or dates. The result of the research we’ve been able to do up to now also shows that some of the living corpses come from the Mass Grave...
Detective Sarman felt more and more as if he should be remembering something. He hadn’t yet gotten the answer to the puzzle when he heard a knocking on the glass window behind him. He turned, and felt a stab of terror: zombies!
His heart pounded hard. The horrible face had suddenly appeared just like that in the window. At a glance, even though this face too had begun to rot away, Detective Sarman recognized it.
“Ngadul!” he screamed. But Ngadul, who had become a zombie, didn’t recognize him anymore. The zombies crept inside. Grrr! Grrr!
Detective Sarman leapt on top of the table, grabbing for his walkie-talkie. Now he felt that he was on to something.
“Commander! One of the zombies is Ngadul! One of the victims of the legendary mysterious slaughter of the Mass Grave! I recognize him, sir! He’s turned up at the station!”
“Shoot him quick with a missile!”
“Forgive me, Commander, but that won’t solve the problem!”
The zombies approached and knocked over Detective Sarman’s desk. The Honorable Detective jumped like a hunted rabbit and ran into another room. The zombies kept on coming after him. Worms swarmed over the walls.
“Officer Sarman! Are you disobeying your commander’s orders?”
“It’s not that, sir! We don’t have enough missiles to get rid of all the zombies!”
“What are you talking about, Officer Sarman? Those zombies are disrupting our lives!”
The zombies were kicking at the door and breaking it down. Detective Sarman jumped out of a window with his walkie-talkie.
“Don’t you remember, sir? Along with Ngadul there were six thousand criminals of the “small fry” class who were slaughtered mysteriously! Do you still remember, sir?”
“Yes, yes! What about it?”
“Most of the corpses were buried in the Mass Grave, Commander, sir!”
“I know! So what then?”
“There was a report, it seemed that many among them weren’t active criminals anymore, sir! Among those mysteriously slaughtered there were many who had seen the error of their ways, sir! And all of them were buried without religious rites, sir! At the time, nobody dared mention it! They were scared they’d get slaughtered, too, sir! The fact is, at that time anybody at all could be killed mysteriously, sir!”
Grrr! The zombies jumped from the window. Detective Sarman started climbing the wall of the outside fence.
“So, have you come to some conclusion, Officer Sarman?”
“That slaughter was a big mistake, sir! Our generation is suffering the consequences! Those people weren’t ready to die, sir! They’re taking their revenge!”
“What should we do?”
“Perform rites for them, sir! There has to be a mass funeral service, sir! We only have a hundred missiles left! It isn’t enough to wipe them out! Perform rites for them, sir! So that their souls will find rest!”
“You’re dreaming, right, Officer Sarman? You’re babbling in your sleep! That’s all utter nonsense! We’re importing missiles from overseas even now! Do you hear that? Six thousand missiles are being shipped here! The zombies will be butchered!”
A zombie caught hold of Detective Sarman’s foot which was still half in the station compound.
“Help! They’ve got me! Help!” Detective Sarman screamed in horror. The zombie was starting to swallow his leg. Detective Sarman’s shrieks pierced the heavens. His walkie-talkie fell into the ditch.
From various quarters of town zombies appeared, more and more of them, moving faster and faster, becoming more and more ferocious. They crept along like worms. Filling the streets, skulking in the supermarkets and entering the campuses. They wandered about in every nook and cranny. They climbed up on top of multi-storied buildings and roared hoarsely. Grrr! Grrr! Revenge! Revenge! They growled in unison like a choir from hell. Grrr! Grrr! Revenge unto death! Revenge unto death! Grrr!
In the intervals between that horrible chorus that made the entire town quake with fear, could be heard the shrill, heart-rending wails of Detective Sarman, “He-e-e-elp! My leg is being eaten by zombi-e-e-es! He-e-e-elp! Commander-r-r-r-r! He-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-elp!!!!!”
Jakarta – Yogya
“Grhhh!” from “Penembak Misterius: Trilogi” (The Mysterious Shooter: A Trilogy), in Penembak Misterius: Kumpulan Cerita Pendek (The Mysterious Shooter: A Collection of Short Stories). Jakarta: Pustaka Utama Grafiti, 1993; written in Jakarta and Yogya, December 1986.
“Squealer,” a name for an informant, from ngadul = (Jav.) to squeal, inform, report