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News & Features » May 2018 » “Notes of an Undead Son” by John Vercher

“Notes of an Undead Son” by John Vercher

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, the undead contemplate familiar social dynamics.

Notes of an Undead Son
by John Vercher
America, 2024

I am the enemy of those of blood and breath.

My lungs are ornamental. My chest rises and falls in a learned mimicry of the motion, designed to put those who rely on air at ease when in my presence. The heme in my plasma, long turned viscous, pushes through my veins and arteries like caulk through a tube with each contraction of my barely beating heart.

The paltry circulation leaves my once brown skin indigo, the cyanotic hue my mother’s lips took when heart failure left her drowning in her own fluids.

But she shuffled loose her mortal coil. Mine clings to me, an ill-fitting meat suit. But to what does it adhere? Besides tendon and bone, from what ethereal thing does this visage of humanity hang?

A soul? My soul? I suppose if I can ask the question, then perhaps I have an answer. Though many among the living, the truly alive, would fervently disagree.

The question of our souls has dogged us since the “resettlement facilities,” a clever subterfuge for hastily constructed extermination sites that sprung up immediately after we started pushing our way out of morgue cabinets and unzipping our own body bags. But once they discovered that we could still think and speak, and didn’t require (let alone desire) living human flesh to survive, the government found themselves with no end of bad press. The sanctioned murder of sentient beings, does not poll well in an election year. So they repurposed the camps to see if Decomps could be assimilated back into society.

Decomps. Not so much clever as it is fairly accurate. We died during the Omega event but then reanimated. Sort of. We don’t shuffle or limp or moan incoherently. But our vitals are limited. Almost nonexistent. It’s not unusual to pass one of us on the street and witness to the spontaneous loss of a limb; some form of joint disarticulation where the bone breaks the skin when we misjudged the height of a curb. The only way we can die (again) is to simply fall apart. We are a mass of neural networks, synapses firing create movement, impulses coursing down myelinated fibers to manipulate vocal cords allowing us to speak. To defend the arguable existence of our souls.

We railed against the term Decomps for a long while, though the effort tiresome. We call each other that, telling ourselves that by owning it, it somehow stings less, knowing full well it doesn’t. You do what you can.

The resettlement facilities were eventually shut down but there was no assimilation to be had for us. There were protests to our release. There were also calls for equal rights. But only from us. 

Before Omega, I’d been a card-carrying social justice warrior. I marched. I picketed. I occupied. I stood side-by-side with brothers and sisters of “the movement,” whichever one it happened to be at the time. 

Jaded, maybe, but after Omega, those who stood beside me crossed the street to avoid me. Texted back, “new phone, who dis?” Brothers for whom I’d choked under the baton acted like they didn’t know me. When it came to Decomps: the living? Alphas, as they christened themselves? They wanted nothing to do with us. 

But that changed. With the slow realization that we weren’t drooling for brains, some Alphas took up our cause. Ran campaign platforms of equality for all “Undead Americans.” There are even dating sites now where people can seek out “inter-life relationships.”

I’m on my way to a date right now.

Though the slurs have changed, the danger has not. Some Decomps seen out with Alphas had been burned in the middle of a mall parking lot. Pushed onto subway tracks. 

She’s nice. A sister, too. Dinner isn’t uncomfortable, even when the host puts us by a table right next to the bathrooms. When I tell her I can only eat raw food, preferably alive, she laughs instead of leaves. She doesn’t ask me what it’s like to be undead. and she ignores the looks we both see from other tables. She hooks her arm in mine walking back to the car and I wonder why I’ve waited so long to do this.

I remember when I see the flashing lights behind our car. She has taken a shortcut through a section of town where I do not belong. Two Alpha cops approach the car, hands to holsters. In life, I’ve been here before.

Some things just don’t die.


JOHN VERCHER is a writer living in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife and two sons. He earned his Bachelor’s in English from the University of Pittsburgh and his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. His debut novel, Three-Fifths, will be published by Agora – Polis Books in 2019.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: May 22, 2018

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , ,