A Beautiful Zombie
Please don't run away. I may not be the prettiest Usul to look at, but I wasn't always a zombie. Back when I lived in Tyrannia, when I was alive, I was considered the most beautiful Usul in the tribe. Indeed, some said I was the most beautiful in all of Tyrannia.
I was constantly asked for advice. “Iclana, does this headband go with my tailbone?” “Iclana, where did you get that gorgeous green-and-black striped dress?” “Iclana, how do you get your tail to curl so prettily?”
Then the Monoceraptor came and clothes were the least of anyone’s worries. I’ll spare you the details—and to be honest, I don’t really remember what happened. For me, things were over quickly. It was my owner and friends who suffered when I died. Even though things ended happily for Tyrannia in the end, they felt they could never be truly happy again.
Then they heard of a witch, in the Haunted Woods. Edna, a Zafara who could make any spell you asked. So my owner went to her and sought her help. Edna said she could bring me back to life, but there would be a price, and my owner didn’t listen to that second part; all she heard was that her beautiful Iclana would be alive again.
That’s not quite what happened.
It was like awaking into a nightmare. One minute a calm, peaceful sleep; the next all I could smell was something overwhelmingly pungent, like a rotting tchea fruit, and my ears were filled with the cackle of a witch’s laugh. Confused, I opened my eyes, to see my owner staring at me with horror etched across her face.
“There she is,” said the green Zafara, grinning wildly. “Back from the dead, just like you wanted. Just be careful when you hug her—her limbs and appendages aren’t quite as well attached as they used to be. Hazard of being a zombie, you know."
My owner quickly tried to force her expression into a smile. “Welcome back, Iclana. Let’s take you home.”
True to her word, she took me back to Tyrannia. But I could see it was hard for her, that her darling Iclana—once the pride of the village—was now a half dead monster. My friends only came to visit once; they made excuses, after that.
So in the middle of the night, only a month after returning home, I made my decision. I would leave Tyrannia. I didn’t even have to pack—I didn’t need food anymore, and it wasn’t as if there was anything I wanted to take with me.
I put on my favourite dress and headpiece, and my best tailbone, but left the other clothes where they were. In my miserable and black-hearted state I couldn’t help but think to myself that my owner was sure to get another Usul. One day, helping the new Usul choose an outfit, she might think to herself, “I remember when Iclana wore these clothes.” Perhaps she might then think fondly of me.
So I walked out of our little hut, and out of our little village, and into the wide Neopian world. As a zombie I had no need for rest and could walk miles. In fact, I walked around the Lost Desert for nearly a year before deciding to move on. I wasn’t bothered by the heat—I felt it only lightly, like it was a breezy summer’s day.
It was the loneliness that got me, though. And I started to think: where could a zombie find friends?
The answer seemed obvious: the Haunted Woods. So I headed there next. I ended up staying in the cemetery with a zombie Ixi and a mutant Meerca. Unfortunately, though, I screamed in terror every time I saw them, which made it hard to be friends, to say the least.
Eventually, I got up the courage to go and see Edna. Her tower was dark and dingy, but by that stage I wasn’t so much bothered by the damp.
“I hate being so ugly,” I said to her. “Turn me back into a normal Usul again.”
Edna said nothing, but bent further over her cauldron, stirring it slowly with a long metallic spoon.
“Please,” I begged. “Do something.”
Finally, she looked at me. “I can tell you two things. The first is that appearances aren’t everything. The second is that my canoe is moored at the river, about three miles south of here. I’m so busy with spells these days that I never use it. It’s yours. Now go, before I turn you into something that makes you wish you were a zombie again.”
Numb with confusion, I turned and climbed down the tower.
The canoe was where she said it was. As I approached it, I heard a little “meep”, and a small Warf popped his head out. He was scarred and unkempt, like me, and had a little bolt out the side of his neck.
“Meep?” he squeaked.
“I think I shall call you Prometheus,” I said to him.
“Meep,” he squeaked. Approvingly, I thought.
So I got into that canoe and rowed, for years. Prometheus was my companion, and even though he couldn’t talk, he was a great listener. Both of us were immune to injury, which was quite handy—and entertaining, too. We fell over a great many waterfalls.
I think the rowing and the talking managed to sort something out inside of me, and even though I still wasn’t completely happy, I felt more at peace with myself. It got to the point where I could stop off at little riverside villages without twisting myself into knots worrying about my appearance.
It was nice to get food for Prometheus without having to fish for it, and to have some real conversations. In time, I think I came to be a recognisable figure, and I was greeted with friendly waves rather than gasps of horror, by most of those who lived by rivers.
One day, when Prometheus and I had stopped off to get a replacement oar, a yellow Grundo approached us.
“Excuse me,” she said, nervously, her antennae bobbing. “Are you Iclana?”
“Yes,” I said, with a friendly smile. I recognised the Grundo, and knew she lived just up on the riverbank. “You’re Meu, right?”
She nodded. “There’s a girl looking for you. She’s down at the general store. She wants to talk to you.”
“Meep,” said Prometheus, and waddled away towards the town. I followed him, thinking how strange it was that someone actually wanted to talk to me. It was a nice feeling, though.
The nice feeling went when we got to the general store.
“You,” I said, flatly. Because there, leaning against the whitewashed wall, was my old owner. Looking a little older, and a little more lined around the eyes, but still the same old owner.
She smiled. “Hello, Ic.”
“You look well,” I said, glancing at her tattered shirt and ripped jeans.
“I’m doing okay,” she said, trying to look casual but failing. “How are you doing?”
When I didn’t respond, she knelt down to Prometheus. “Hello there, little Warf. You’re Iclana’s friend, are you?”
I couldn’t stop myself. “Get away from him. How dare you talk to Prometheus? How dare you pretend nothing’s changed? After what you did?”
She stood up. “I didn’t do anything, Iclana. You were the one who left.”
“Only because you didn’t want me anymore.”
“Can you blame me for finding it hard to get used to you being a zombie?” she said, acidly.
We were starting to attract stares from the townspeople, and a nearby Lenny—no doubt expecting the language to degenerate—had put his hands over his baby Lenny’s ears.
“You’re supposed to love me,” I said, nearly shouting. “I was still me.”
“No,” she said, keeping her voice level. “You weren’t. You used to be bubbly, and confident, and friendly. After Edna brought you back you hated yourself. You became a shut-in.”
“That was only because no one came to visit me,” I said.
“Because you were so awful to them when they did!” she retorted. “You were jealous. Admit it. You couldn’t get past the fact that they looked nicer than you.”
I began to speak, then stopped.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, she was right. I had been so wrapped up in disgust of myself that I’d assumed everyone else was the same. I’d assumed they were all thinking, “Isn’t Iclana ugly?” when maybe they just didn’t know what to say to make me feel better.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I couldn’t blame my owner for being a little scared, at first. For judging by appearance. I hadn’t given her the chance to know that I was still the same Usul. What’s more, I was equally guilty. I’d never gotten to know that Ixi and Meerca in the graveyard because I couldn’t get past their horrifying appearances. For all I knew, they were just like me inside—unable to reconcile what they used to look like with what they had become.
My owner put her hand on my shoulder. “I’ve been looking for you for a long time. You have siblings now, you know.”
“I knew it,” I said, but not bitterly. “I knew you would replace me.”
“I tried to,” she admitted. “When I realised you were never coming back, I thought getting other pets would help. It didn’t. Iclana, I don’t care what you look like. You’re still beautiful to me. And I want you home.”
My eyes welled up. “And I want to be home,” I said.
We hugged right there in the street. A few bystanders cheered. I think they were mostly glad we hadn’t come to blows.
So that was that. I’m back with my owner, where I belong, though I still like to go rowing a lot. I have a great new family, and don’t have to tell Prometheus everything (though most of the time I do anyway). Aside from the occasional limb-loss and the invincibility, I’m just your regular Tyrannian Usul.
Sure, I’m scary and ugly—but only on the outside, and that’s not what counts.