It occasionally happens that Your Humble Blogger sees some sort of blogging challenge or contest, and thinks I would enjoy doing that, if only I didn’t have to follow the rules. And, of course, I don’t, as long as I don’t, for instance, enter the contest. In the case of Insert a Zombie, Win a Prize, that means I won’t, you know, win the prize, but then I wouldn’t have won a prize, anyway. Fine. I don’t like prizes. Sour old prizes. Who needs them?
Except, of course, for the prize of your Gentle Readership. Anyway, I have, as the contest suggests, inserted a zombie, although I utterly failed to keep to 250 words, or even to 1,000 words. More than 900 of the words, I think, are those of P.G. Wodehouse, which has got to count for something. The rest are mine, and you are welcome to them.
Arrived at the hotel and standing in the lobby, Psmith perceived the existence of further complications. The lobby was in more than its usual state of congestion, it being a recognized meeting-place for those who did not find it convenient to go as far east as that traditional rendezvous of Londoners, the spot under the clock at Charing Cross Station; and “the writer,” while giving instructions as to how Psmith should ornament his exterior, had carelessly omitted to mention how he himself was to be recognized. A rollicking, slap-dash conspirator, was Psmith’s opinion.
It seemed best to take up a position as nearly as possible in the centre of the lobby, some distance from the walking dead, and stand there until “the writer,” lured by the chrysanthemum, should come forward and start something. This he accordingly did, but when at the end of ten minutes nothing had happened beyond a series of collisions with perhaps a dozen visitors fleeing the hotel, he decided on a more active course. A young man of sporting appearance had been standing beside him for the last five minutes, and ever and anon this young man had glanced with some fear at the slavering horde. Psmith tried the formula on him.
“There will be brains,” said Psmith, “in Northumberland to-morrow.”
The young man looked at him, not without interest, certainly, but without the gleam of intelligence in his eye which Psmith had hoped to see.
“What?” he replied.
“There will be brains in Northumberland to-morrow.”
“Thanks, Zadkiel,” said the young man. “Deuced gratifying, I’m sure. I suppose you couldn’t tell us how to still the undead as well?”
He then withdrew rapidly, dragged off by young woman in a large hat who had just come stumbling through the plate-glass window. Psmith was forced to the conclusion that this was not his man. He was sorry on the whole, for he had seemed a pleasant fellow.
As Psmith had taken up a stationary position and the population of the lobby was in a state of flux, what with the barricades and the occasional incursion, he was finding himself next to some one new all the time; and now he decided to accost the individual whom the reshuffle had just brought elbow to elbow with him. This was a jovial-looking soul with a flowered waist-coat, a white hat, and a mottled face. Just the man who might have written that letter.
The effect on this person of Psmith’s neurological remark was instantaneous. A light of the utmost friendliness shone in his beautifully-shaven face as he turned. He seized Psmith’s hand and gripped it with a delightful heartiness. He had the air of a man who has found a friend, and what is more, an old friend. He had a sort of journeys-end-in-lovers’-meeting look.
“My dear old chap!” he cried. “I’ve been waiting for you to speak for the last five minutes. Knew we’d met before somewhere, but couldn’t place you. Face familiar as the dickens, of course. Well, well, well! And how are they all?
“Who? said Psmith courteously.
“Why, the zombies, my dear chap.”
“Oh, the zombies?”
“The disgusting old zombies,” said the other, specifying more exactly. He slapped Psmith on the shoulder. “What times those were, eh?”
“Which?” said Psmith.
“The times we all used to have together, fighting off the zombies.”
“Oh, those?” said Psmith.
Something of discouragement seemed to creep over the other’s exuberance, as a cloud creeps over the summer sky. But he persevered.
“Fancy meeting you still alive like this!”
“It is a small world,” agreed Psmith.
“I’d ask you to come and fend off the damned,” said the jovial one, with the slight increase of tensity which comes to a man who approaches the core of a business deal, “but the fact is my ass of a man sent me out this morning without a weapon. Forgot to give me my axe. Damn’ careless! I’ll have to sack the fellow.”
“Annoying, certainly,” said Psmith.
“I’ll tell you what,” said the jovial one, inspired. “Lend me your sword-stick, my dear old boy. That’s the best way out of the difficulty. I can send it round to your hotel or wherever you are this evening when I get home.”
A sad, sweet smile played over Psmith’s face.
“Leave me, comrade!” he murmured.
“Pass along, old friend, pass along.”
Resignation displaced joviality in the other’s countenance.
“Nothing doing?” he inquired.
“Well, there was no harm in trying,” argued the other.
“You see,” said the now far less jovial man confidentially, “you look such a perfect mug with that eyeglass that it tempts a chap.”
“I can quite understand how it must!”
The white hat disappeared through the swing doors, and Psmith returned to his quest. He engaged the attention of a well-rotted man in snuff-coloured rags who had just come within hail.
“There will be brains in Northumberland to-morrow,” he said.
The man peered at him inquiringly.
“Uuurrrrrgh?” he said.
Psmith repeated his observation.
“Brains!” said the man.
Psmith was beginning to lose the unruffled calm which made him such an impressive figure to the public eye. He had not taken into consideration that the object of of his search might be dead. It undoubtedly added to the embarrassment of the pursuit. He was moving away, when a hand fell on his sleeve.
Psmith turned. The hand fell to the ground and was stepped on by an elegantly dressed young man of somewhat nervous and feverish appearance. During his vigil, Psmith had noticed this young man standing not far away, surrounded by zombies, who had looked at him with distaste, as if to say, if these were brains, they didn’t want any.
“I say,” said this young man in a tense whisper, “did I hear you say that there would be brains in Northumberland to-morrow?”
“If,” said Psmith, “you were anywhere within the radius of a dozen yards while I was chatting with the recent dead duck, I think it is possible that you did.”
“Good for the damned,” said the young man. “Come over here where we can escape.”
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,