Genesis Special Episode: Ishmael, the Zombie Hunter (Season 1, Episode 13)

What happens when Esau tracks down his uncle, seeking revenge against the brothers who betrayed them? A stand-up bombs, Van Helsing gets back in the game and Esau is reunited with his skin.

This is the latest episode in a serialised narrative. If jumping into things mid-way doesn’t bother you, ignore this and keep reading. If you like to start from the beginning, check out the archive here.


WARNING

If you are a creationist, evangelist, fundamentalist, or biblical literalist, this will probably offend you.

If you have any sense of propriety, this will probably offend you.

If you have the capacity to be offended, this will probably do the trick.

If you're okay with that, then read on.

If you want to read on just so you can tell me how terrible I am and that I should never write another word ever again, feel free.

Who knows? It might actually work.


So Ishmael’s a zombie, right?

And Esau has no skin on his body.

Both of the freaks just stand there looking at each other for a moment, before Ishmael says, “So...uh...does it hurt?”

“Yes, it fucking hurts. What do you think?”

“Jeez, no need to get angry, man, I was just asking.”

Ishmael lights a joint, smokes it. He’s got a bit of a hippy vibe about him. Take the whole ‘living in a desert commune’ thing, the meditation and the incense, and we get the idea he isn’t quite the same guy we met last time.

The hardened, ruthless, Mel Gibson-esque desert warrior is gone, and in his place is a chilled-out, barefoot, long-bearded dude.

Think Big Lebowski rather than Braveheart. But, y’know, grey-skinned and white-eyed.

He’s clearly not one of those mindless zombies. He’s calmed down in the way that Ike calmed down after he had a few kids.

Esau never met him in his prime, but he’s heard stories about him – how he saved Ike and Becca from a pack of bloodthirsty zombies. How he killed Esau’s own grandmother, Sarah.

She was a zombie herself, after all.

But she also cast Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, out into the desert to die. So Esau thinks there’s probably more than just her being a zombie that motivated his decapitation of her.

“So, yeah, about this whole revenge thing...”

Ishmael waves a dismissive hand. “Man...I’m not in that game anymore. I found peace. I’m out here with my family, living off the land.” He takes a puff, holds it in. “And slaves. Slaves help.” He relaxes, letting out a stream of white smoke like a dragon.

Esau’s like, “But...what about what Ike did to you? To your mother?”

At the mention of his mother, a dark cloud comes over Ishmael’s face, like he’s having a Tarantino spaghetti western flashback.

For a moment, Esau thinks he might reconsider.

Then, a voice outside the tent says, “Yo, Ish – you coming?”

Ishmael snaps out of it, reverting to his ‘the Dude’ persona. “Be right there.” He leaves his joint burning in a stone ashtray and says, “Come on, man, I’m up next.”

Esau frowns. “Up where?”

Ishmael laughs. “On stage, man. Where do you think? I like to meditate before I go on stage. Get myself centered, y’know?”

The skinless drifter plays it off like he knows what Ishmael’s talking about. “Yeah, for sure. What are you, like a performer? Musician, singer, something like that?”

Ishmael gets real serious for a minute, leans in close. “Na, man, nothing like that. What I do is an art form. I reach out and connect with every member of the audience on a personal level. I get up there and open my veins, man. I bleed for them. And they love me for it.”

Esau’s still waiting for a straightforward answer. “So...you’re a...?”

“You’ll see.” He pulls the tent flap open a little to see the crowd gathered outside.

Crowd is actually putting it a little strong. There’s maybe thirty people there, most of them members of his own family. A few local shepherds have wandered in and there’s sheep...fucking...everywhere.

It’s a Friday afternoon and everyone’s already pretty drunk. Eager to get on with the weekend.

Ishmael takes a deep breath to prepare himself, then lets it out just as slow. “It’s show-time.”

He goes to leave and Esau goes to follow, but Ishmael stops him. “No, no, no. You stay here, man. Wait for my signal.”

The newcomer sighs and stays where he is. Ishmael bursts out through the tent flap to scattered applause. Esau just waits in the tent like a fucking loser, listening as the zombie takes whatever passes for a stage out here.

“Alright, alright, alright,” says Ishmael, warming the crowd up. “You folks having a good time? You having fun tonight?”

No response. One guy lets out a drunken “Woooooo!”

Taking whatever he can get, Ishmael feeds off that one guy. “So, I was out milking the goats, the other day. You know what that’s like...am I right?” He waits for laughter, but none comes.

It’s at that exact moment that Esau’s worst fears are confirmed.

The guy is a stand-up comedian.

He proceeds to listen for several excruciating minutes as Ishmael gets a few chuckles here and there, before he hears his own name mentioned.

“A lot of you here tonight, you’re probably wondering who that is in my tent there. The stranger who blew in on the wind. There might be a few rumours circulating the camp. Rumours like this guy doesn’t have any skin.” He waits. “Well, it’s true. It’s true. And I promise...he was like that before he got here!”

“Oh, good,” Esau mutters to himself. “Another zombie joke.”

It gets a few laughs.

“Why don’t we bring him out here?” Ishmael says. “New guy, why don’t you come on out here and grace us with your presence?”

Esau rolls his eyes. He walks out unceremoniously to face the crowd – a lot of shepherd-types leaning on crooks.

They recoil when they see him. Some are just flat-out disgusted (one guy even throws up – though, to be fair, he was doing an upside-down wine-chug just moments before). Others are simply curious, wondering (as anyone would) how the fuck he’s still alive.

Ishmael’s buzzing with energy, pacing on an elevated rocky outcrop (his ‘stage’). “Let me introduce you to these nice people, new guy. Everyone, this is Esau.” He reacts to the name as if hearing it for the first time. “Esau? More like eye-sore. Folks...”

He waits for laughter, but no one laughs. They’re too busy staring at the guy without any skin.

Ishmael’s visibly disappointed with the response. Esau has zero sympathy for him. He turns around and goes back into the tent. The crowd lets out a collective “Awwwww” for the hurt feelings of the skinless drifter.

As any comedian worth his salt would do, Ishmael immediately goes on the defensive. “Oh, I’m sorry. Is that a bit too edgy for you, you inbred fucks? Am I pushing the boundaries a little too hard? Am I a little too in-your-face and controversial? Well, you know what? That’s comedy, baby. Sorry if you’re too stupid to get it.”

The crowd is loudly and unanimously booing him now, and Ishmael’s hurling insults back at them – a torrent of slurs that are alternately racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic (yes, even transphobic – there are members of the commune who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth).

Finally, Ishmael bursts into the tent muttering under his breath, “Lousy, ungrateful sons of bitches...” He notices Esau standing there. “Thanks for having my back, man.”

Esau fights sarcasm with sarcasm. “Yeah, sorry about that. Real dick move on my part.”

Ishmael just shakes his head, picks up the still-burning joint, and takes a drag.

“Yeah, puff away, man. That’ll make it better.”

“Always does,” Ishmael says, letting the smoke out. He seems to calm a little, refocus. “Alright...you still wanna get revenge?”

Esau perks up a little, hopeful. “Yeah. Why the sudden change?”

“‘Cause I just bombed up there and I want to take it out on somebody. What, you don’t wanna do it anymore? Did I eat your balls up there along with mine?”

“Jesus...relax, man – you had a bad set, alright? It happens.” Esau quickly realises he doesn’t know anything about the industry and adds, “...I guess.”

Ishmael takes another puff, mellows a bit more. “I’m sorry I shat on you up there.”

“It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not. A good comic doesn’t insult people to their face. Laughter earned at the expense of someone in the audience isn’t earned at all. It’s like finding a trapped animal, killing it and pretending you’re a hunter. It was weak and desperate, and they could smell it on me. I deserved to be booed off stage.” He flops down on a nearby couch, depressed. “It’s just hard coming up with new material, y’know?”

Despite himself, Esau is starting to feel a little sympathy for the guy. He goes over and sits down beside him. “It can’t be easy – making humorous observations when there’s not really much to observe...humorously.” Esau frowns, knowing he ended the sentence in a grammatically-incorrect way, but not sure how to recover.

Ishmael doesn’t seem to notice.

“You’re telling me,” he says. “Back when I was hunting zombies for a living, I had loads of material. It’s actually how I got into stand-up in the first place. Like...what’d I used to say?”

Ishmael thinks. Esau braces himself for a terrible zombie-hunting bit.

“Oh!” Ishmael laughs, like he can’t contain himself because his joke is just that damn good. “You know what the difference is between a zombie and a corpse?”

Esau winces. “What?”

“The corpse doesn’t wake up when you’re fucking it!”

Ishmael stares at Esau, open-mouthed, expectant.

Unable to hide his true feelings, Esau’s face wrinkles in disgust. Ishmael’s face falls. “What? You don’t like it?”

“A necrophilia joke? Really?”

Ishmael waves a dismissive hand. “You don’t get it.”

Muttering, Esau goes, “No, of course. I’m what’s wrong with that joke.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

Ishmael sighs. “I guess things were a little more exciting then.” He takes a puff. “What’s your plan?”

“For getting back at Ike and Jake?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t have one, really. I thought you’d be able to help, seeing as how you’re this badass desert warrior...”

The words die on his tongue as he takes in the failed comedian/hippy/goat herder smoking weed before his eyes. Esau lets out a sigh. “You know what? Forget it. I’ll go back and get revenge myself.”

Esau goes to leave, but Ishmael grabs his arm, before remembering it’s nothing but exposed muscle.

“Ewwww...” He instantly recoils, hand covered in blood. He wipes it on the couch cushion.

Frustrated, Esau says, “Yeah, I don’t have any fucking skin. Deal with it!”

At this, Ishmael freezes. He looks at Esau like he’s just discovered some rare, skinless diamond in the rough.
“What?”

“You got the heart of a stand-up, kid. You know that?”

“I don’t care. I don’t wanna be a stand-up.”

But this only makes Ishmael more excited. “Exactly! No one wants to be a stand-up. It’s something you have to be. It’s a vocation. A calling to serve a higher purpose.”

“You are still talking about being a stand-up, right? Getting up on that rock you call a stage and telling dick jokes?”

“No, it’s more than that. So much more. It’s bringing joy. It’s giving people an experience. It’s being able to say terrible, unspeakable things, and not having to take responsibility for them because it’s comedy. Don’t you want that?”

Flatly, Esau says, “No. I just want revenge.”

“You got the gift, man. Be a shame to let it go to waste. I thought I was the only one, but...it must be in our blood. Maybe it runs diagonally in the family tree.”

“I don’t...Wait, what?

“Diagonally. You know...” He draws a diagonal line in the air, connecting two invisible dots. “Like from uncle to nephew.”

“First of all, that doesn’t make any fucking sense...”

“Does to me,” Ishmael says, taking another puff.

“Second of all, I’m not interested – in any way – in becoming a stand-up comedian. Look at me. I’d be the guy without skin. I think people would have a hard time getting past that.”

“But that gives you an edge. A gimmick.”

“I’m not gonna be some gimmicky prop-guy, alright? You want me to wear a lampshade on my head and a big, red, clown nose too?” Esau catches himself, realises he’s actually thinking about it. “Look, that’s not why I came...”

“Alright, fine.” Ishmael sits up, flicking his roach into the sand. “You wanna talk revenge? Let’s talk revenge. You came to me because you think I can help you, and you’re right. It might not seem like it now, but before I settled down and had a family, I used to be a stone-cold zombie hunter. Which means...I’ve got a very specific set of skills. I’m not talking about joke writing or dealing with hecklers – that’s a separate skill set. I’m talking about hand-to-hand combat, stealth, decapitation, et cetera. If you want me to help you kill Ike and Jake for cutting your skin off, I will.”

“Ike didn’t cut my skin off. Neither did Jake.”

Ishmael frowns, not understanding. “Then, who did?”

“My mom.”

“Jesus,” Ishmael says. “Becca?”

Esau nods. Ishmael thinks about it. “Is she on our hit-list, too?”

“Of course.”

“Why didn’t you mention that before?”

Esau shrugs. “I don’t know. Makes for a more symmetrical narrative if you’re killing your brother and I’m killing mine.”

“So you’re just cutting the only woman out of the story?”

“After she cut me out of my own skin? You bet your ass I am.”

“Seems kinda sexist.”

“Seems kinda ‘I don’t give a fuck’. Get over yourself, you hippy douche. The woman literally flayed me alive. I know you don’t have a problem with killing women – you cut Sarah’s head off, didn’t you?”

“She was a zombie! And...” His face darkens. “I’ve killed enough mothers in my time.”

Esau studies him, waiting for him to elaborate.

Ishmael snaps out of it, remembering his train of thought. “Look, if I help you do this, I want something in return.”

Esau eyes him warily, fearing that the favour may be sexual in nature. “What?”

“You have to come on the road with me.”

It takes Esau a minute to figure out what he’s proposing. “You mean...as a comedian?”

Ishmael nods enthusiastically. “Yeah, it’ll be great. You can start out opening for me, then once you’ve honed your craft, you’ll be able to headline your own shows. We’ll go all over – Babylon, Egypt, you name it.”

“What about your family?”

“What about ‘em? You heard ‘em out there, the way they disrespect me. They don’t understand the art, man. The pain that goes into it. They don’t understand that it’s just as hard sitting in here all day trying to come up with jokes as it is out there doing manual labour.”

“Wait...you seriously just sit in here all day? You ever think that’s why they don’t respect you when you go up on stage?”

“I’m a comedian!” Ishmael shouts, suddenly defensive. “It’s part of the job.”

He calms himself, lays a hand on Esau’s shoulder as if about to impart some wisdom, forgetting (once again) that it’s nothing but exposed muscle. He stiffens instantly, looking horrified as he realises what he’s done. He desperately wants to remove his hand and wipe it off, but he fights the urge, keeps it there, as if proving his commitment to Esau.

“Part of our job,” he says, trying to keep the disgust from his voice.

*

The very next day, they’re on the road. Esau and Ishmael. Wronged men seeking to make things right. Heading back to the place where it all began, to kill the brothers that betrayed them.

They’ve gone about a mile and a half when Ishmael needs to stop and rest. He hasn’t done any physical activity in some time, and this walking shit gets old real quick.

Esau hauls him to his feet with a ‘get up you zombie sack of shit’ attitude, and pushes him along.

To distract his uncle from the agony of exercise, Esau goes, “So...listen, there’s something I wanted to ask you about. Back in the tent, you said, rather ominously, that you’d killed enough mothers in your time. How many are we talking here?”

“A lot,” Ishmael says. “Including my own.”

I feel I’ve been very clear up to this point that Esau has no eyelids, and therefore, constantly looks surprised. However, at this moment, he seems truly shocked. “Hold up – you killed your own mom?”

“I had to. She was a zombie.”

“She got bit?”

Ishmael nods. “That was how I became a zombie hunter in the first place. Before she died, she made me promise to exterminate Abe’s bloodline. She hated him, and she hated God for going back on his promise to her.”

“What promise?”

“Well, at one time, when I was still a kid, he was planning to replace Isaac with me. I think the idea was to make dad disobey him by asking him to sacrifice his son. That way, God could weasel out of the covenant and have me be the new patriarch. But then the crazy motherfucker went ahead and actually killed his own kid. So God came back to my mom with his tail between his legs and said, “Sorry, I didn’t think he’d actually do it.” Supposedly, he had another deal going with Lot to make him patriarch, but I think that was like a second backup if I fell through. The big guy sure does like to stack the deck, doesn’t he? Heard he jumped off a cliff or something.”

“Who, God?”

“No, you asshole. Lot.”

“Oh.” Esau takes a moment to process it all. “Okay, but...how did you become a zombie, then?”

“Well, after mom died, I went on a bit of a rampage. Boozin’, fuckin’, killin’ zombies. You know, the usual grieving process. Killed ‘em by the hundred. Then I got scratched in the fight at dad’s funeral and turned into one myself.”

“You got scratched?

“Apparently that’s all it takes.”

“What’s the science behind that?”

Ishmael laughs. “Beats me. This is God’s country, man. Science don’t apply.”

Esau goes silent. He knows for a fact that it was Abe who caused this whole zombie plague in the first place, when he sacrificed Isaac and turned him into Ike. Or maybe it was God’s fault, for bringing Isaac back from the dead, or for telling Abe to kill him in the first place.

Either way, Esau bites his tongue. Doesn’t see how sharing that information will help.

Ishmael goes on, “But, eventually, I met my wife, Sharon, and settled down, had some kids. Just like your dad. That’s the key for a zombie – you gotta settle down. Otherwise, I would’ve just kept eating people and never found my passion. Been doing stand-up ever since.”

“Seems like an odd career move.”

“Zombie hunting to stand-up comedy?” Ishmael thinks about it, unconvinced. “I suppose...” He shakes his head. “I guess I just kind of forgot about all this stuff until you came along. Got so busy writing jokes.”

“You forgot about your promise to exterminate your dad’s bloodline?”

Ishmael nods, oblivious to the implications of Esau’s question. “She made me swear on her grave, then passed right on into the next world.” He pauses. “Then she came back, and I cut her head off.”

“Oh.” Esau swallows, not knowing how to move the conversation forward after that. He tries to make his point a little more obvious. “But, uh...aren’t you technically Abe’s bloodline? So wouldn’t you have to kill yourself in order to keep that promise?”

“Well, I haven’t killed Ike yet, either. Or Jake. Or you, for that matter.”

Esau laughs nervously, but Ike just stares at him with dead eyes until he goes quiet.

Finally, Ishmael laughs. “Jesus, you should see your face. Look, I never really cared about all that stuff. The patriarch and being the father of a great nation. As long as I have a stage and a crowd of people ready to laugh, I’m good.”

“You never intended to follow through on your promise?”

“Nope.”

“The deathbed promise you made to your mother before cutting her head off? The one where you swore on her impending grave?”

“Yeah,” Ishmael says, almost cheerfully. “I just told her what she wanted to hear. Forgive and forget, you know? That’s what I’m about.”

“You do realise you’re doing pretty much the opposite right now?”

“Yeah, but I’m doing it so you’ll come on the road with me. A little vengeance now for a lot of fun later. I think the joy you’ll bring to people on our tour will outweigh the horror you’re about to inflict on your family. We’ll call it...” He scrunches up his face, trying to think of a good title. Suddenly, his eyes widen as it comes to him. “The ‘Entertainin’ Canaan’ tour.”

A big, stupid grin spreads across his face as he slowly turns to gauge Esau’s response.

“What do you think?”

Esau just shakes his head. “Jesus...”

“You like that?” Ishmael chuckles. “Entertainin’ Canaan?”

The skinless guy says nothing.

Ishmael continues to laugh quietly, shaking his head as if amazed by how funny and creative he can be.

*

It takes them over a week to get back to Ike’s camp, due in no small part to Ishmael constantly needing to take a break and get high. Esau’s frustrated at first, but soon learns that it’s easier to indulge the zombie comedian, and ends up getting stoned along with him.

And you know what?

It ain’t bad.

Esau quickly comes around to the idea that smoking weed is pretty...fucking...good.

It’s not long before he’s the one saying they should stop, take a break, and Ishmael’s more than happy to oblige him. As it turns out, the majority of his pack is just bags of weed and rolling papers. Screw water and basic provisions. Who needs that when you’ve got some sweet, home-grown Desert Kush to smoke?

When they finally arrive at their destination, it’s still daylight, so they crawl on their bellies up to a ridge overlooking the tents in the valley below.

There’s still movement down there – smoke rising from a fire, Becca preparing dinner, servants tending the flock. Naturally, Jake’s nowhere to be seen. Probably inside with his head in a scroll.

“Nerd,” Esau thinks, and wriggles back to get stoned with Ishmael on their side of the ridge.

They wait until nightfall, when they’re sure everyone’s asleep, and then crawl back up to the ridge-top. The fire’s all but burned out now. Not a sound to be heard.

“Alright,” Esau says. He takes a puff, then passes the joint to Ishmael. “I’ll take Jake and mom. You take Ike.”

“You want me to kill a blind guy who can’t get out of bed?”

Esau’s getting sick of his attitude. “No, I want you to kill the brother who stole your inheritance. The guy who was the reason you and your mom were cast out into the desert to begin with. If he wasn’t born, your mom would never have been attacked by zombies and you wouldn’t have been forced to kill her. In a way, he killed your mom.”

Esau nods, eyes wide and red, like what he’s saying is some mind-blowing, cosmic shit, when really, he’s just high as hell.

Ishmael furrows his brow, trying to work out the logic. “But...if he wasn’t born, you wouldn’t have been born either.”

They both react to this like they’ve just been told their universe is one of those marbles the aliens were playing with in Men In Black.

Esau snaps out of it, shakes his head. “Just get your fucking knife out and let’s go do this, already.”

They draw their blades and head down into the camp, staying low, like they’re in a Splinter Cell game. They part ways – Esau going left, Ishmael right. Both of them weaving through the tents and trying to stay quiet.

Esau approaches Jake’s tent, planning to kill his brother first. But before he gets there, he sees something that stops him dead in his tracks.

Himself...

Esau freezes, staring at the figure walking up to him. It’s like looking directly into a mirror (or, since mirrors didn’t exist yet, the surface of a calm lake, I guess?).

But, no – it can’t be him. Because he is him. He’s almost a hundred percent sure of that fact.

The doppelganger shuffles forward, moaning horribly. Almost like he’s a zombie...

“Jesus Christ!” Esau thinks. “Am I dead? Is this what an out of body experience feels like? I was flayed alive, after all. How many people survive any length of time without their skin attached to their body? Not many, I’m guessing.”

Then another thought occurs to him.

Maybe it’s the weed.

He’s been smoking pretty heavily for the past week, up to and including this very night. He hasn’t had a chance to build up any kind of tolerance, and maybe it’s altered his perception of reality.

It isn’t totally out of the question.

Maybe he’s just having some weird hallucination, like the time when Ishmael thought he saw a lake and broke several of his fingers trying to dive into it.

Esau touches his chest to make sure he’s still there, still real.

It’s at that moment that he realises he doesn’t have any skin. Jesus, what happened to his skin?!

Then he remembers he didn’t have any skin to begin with.

He didn’t have any skin because his mom cut him out of it.

His mom cut him out of it so Jake could wear the skin and cut Esau out of his inheritance.

Then it all comes crashing into place:

The doppelganger is Jake!

His hands are behind his back like he’s carrying a weapon, and Esau lunges at him before he has a chance to draw it. He stabs what appears to be himself and Jake slides off the blade onto the ground.

He continues moaning, but this time he’s moaning in pain. Esau stares down at him, breathing heavily.

He’s done it.

He’s killed his brother.

He got his revenge and it feels great. He feels energised. He feels like he could run a marathon, drop down and do fifty push-ups, then go run another one.

Esau crouches down, wanting to look into his brother’s eyes as the life drains out of them. He cuts the stitches at the back of the skin suit (the Skoot™) and pulls the face-hood down to reveal...

Ishmael’s first-born son, Neb.

The one who greeted him at the desert commune.

Esau’s blood runs cold. He swallows, terrified.

“No, no, no...” he thinks. “It can’t be.”

Neb has been gagged with a thick wad of cloth and his dead, frozen eyes are staring up at Esau, full of betrayal. Looking down, Esau sees that the guy’s hands are not only empty of weapons, but bound at the wrists.

He’d been forced into the Skoot against his will...

Those weren’t zombie moans Esau was hearing earlier, but muffled cries for help.

Before Esau can do or say anything, Ishmael comes around the corner, holding Ike’s severed head by the hair. “Hey, man, you’re never gonna believe what I...”

He stops.

Freezes.

When he sees Esau kneeling there beside the body of his first-born son, knife in hand, blood everywhere, he only has one thought.

This motherfucker tricked me...

“You son of a bitch!”

“No, wait. I...”

As Esau stammers to explain himself, Ishmael hurls the severed head at him. It hits him in the cheek, knocking him backwards.

“Ah! Gross!”

In the confusion, Esau drops his dagger. Before he can recover, Ishmael descends on him, going for a good old fashioned face-stab. Esau holds his wrists, keeping the knife just inches from his left eyeball – his father’s blood dripping down into his tear duct.

“Bastard!” Ishmael says. “Traitor!”

He’s grunting, frenzied, putting all his weight behind the dagger. It takes every bit of Esau’s strength to hold him at bay, but every second, the blade draws closer, closer...

He pushes Ishmael’s hand to the side and his knife sinks deep into the sand. Quick as a flash, Esau grabs his own dagger lying nearby, swings it around, and shoves the blade between Ishmael’s ribs.

The zombie screams, and drops to the ground beside his son. He looks over, seeing the kid dressed up in what he can only assume is Esau’s flayed skin.

What in the fuck...?” he groans.

Esau stands, looks around – desperate, paranoid, breathing heavily. There’s no one there. Ishmael’s writhing on the ground and Esau takes pity on him. He kneels down beside the guy.

“Ishmael, I didn’t... It wasn’t me.”

“You tricked me. You son of a bitch. All this time...” He coughs up blood. “You cut your own damn skin off...”

Esau frowns. “What? No. Why would I do that?”

“To trick me.”

Esau tries to piece his logic together. “Yeah, but...you didn’t know what I looked like. Maybe if I wanted you to kill your son, that would’ve been a pretty sweet plan, but...”

Sick of listening to reason, Ishmael groans. “Smoke. Gimme a smoke.”

“I don’t...”

“Left pocket.”
Esau reaches into the left-hand pocket of Ishmael’s cloak, taking out a half-smoked joint. He leans over, holding it to the coals of a nearby fire to light it. He takes a few quick puffs to get the thing going, then places the end between Ishmael’s chapped, undead lips.

The guy sucks in deep, and proceeds to cough up a shit-load more blood, spraying Esau with it. The skinless guy winces as he’s misted with the zombie comedian’s lung-blood, but otherwise ignores it.

“I’ve been a fool,” Ishmael says, in a pathetic, woe-is-me tone of voice. He sounds like he’s coming to some great revelation. “I should’ve listened to mom. I should’ve wiped Abe’s bloodline out while I still could, when I was still in my prime.” Another cough, more blood. “I can’t do it now. I’m too old. Too stoned all the time. The weed’s dulled my killer instincts, mellowed me out too much. I got Ike, but that was nothing. I just walked up to him while he slept and cut his head off. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work with a knife, but...” He swallows. “She made me promise...and I never carried it out. I’ve been a coward. I’ve wasted my life...telling jokes...that no one ever laughed at.”

Esau feels a stab of guilt and empathy. He wonders if he should tell Ishmael that it’s because of Abe sacrificing Isaac that the zombie plague was unleashed to begin with – that Abe wasn’t only responsible for casting him out into the desert to die, but also for Hagar becoming a zombie and for Ishmael being forced to kill her.

“My only regret...” Ishmael goes on, “...is that I didn’t...kill enough members of my family.”

“I don’t think she meant your side of the...”

Ishmael speaks over him. “My wife, my children. Their wives and husbands. Their children. A great pile of corpses rising up to heaven...”

Esau cuts him off. “And, y’know, Ike and Jake and Becca – the people who were actually guilty of something.”

Ishmael nods like he just forgot about them. “Them, too. But mom was right – this family’s nothing but a curse on the world. How do I know that in a few generations, my kids and their kids won’t be just as fucked-up as you guys are? Better for God to just wipe us all out and start again. But...he’s done that before already, with Noah, so...I don’t know. Maybe this is just the way things have to be.”

Esau thinks about that for a moment – the sad clarity that Ishmael’s come to about his life, about the world and the nature of humanity.

“I’m sorry,” Ishmael says, meaning it. “I’ve gotta clear my conscience.”

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for.” Esau finds himself meaning it, too. Welling up a little. Connecting with the guy in a way he never thought he would.

“No, I do. I...I never actually thought...you’d be a good comedian. I only wanted you...for the gimmick. I thought I’d...sell a lot of tickets if...I partnered with the skinless guy.”

Needless to say, Esau is not impressed.

He isn’t feeling betrayed so much as he is just sick of hearing this guy talk about his stand-up. He drops his uncle’s hand, gets up and walks away.

Ishmael wipes the bloody hand on his cloak and, in a feeble, rasping voice, says, “Gross.”

Esau’s only taken a few steps when he sees two figures up ahead. One of them is Jake, holding a bow with an arrow pulled back to his cheekbone, aimed directly at his brother. The other one is Becca, hair done up like Lagertha from Vikings and for some reason wielding a gigantic battle-axe with spikes and shit.

“Jesus...” Esau thinks. “How did I not know my mom was such a bloodthirsty killing machine?”

Instead, he goes, “You planned this?”

Becca nods, the slightest hint of a smile on her face. “I followed you out there. When I saw you leaving with Ishmael and realised what your plan was, I kidnapped his first-born son and brought him back to use against you. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to use him, but I think it turned out pretty well, don’t you?”

Esau fumes.

“This isn’t over,” he says, and sprints off into the night.

Jake lowers his bow. He and Becca don’t say a word. They just look down at Ishmael, who, with his final ounce of strength, takes hold of the dagger in his ribs and yanks it out.

He doesn’t see Jake and Becca watching him, but raises shakily up onto all fours, crawling over to Ike’s severed head. He grabs a handful of its hair and lifts it up to the moon.

“Are you up there, mom? You seeing this? I got Ike. You see that? I got...” He coughs up blood. “I fucking got him.”

Ishmael puts the head back down, feeling like a failure. “That’s as good as I can do.”

As he stares at the head of his half-brother – milky, white eyes staring back at him – Ishmael gets an idea. He nods, accepting his fate.

Almost without thinking, he takes the knife and begins sawing into his own neck...

Jake and Becca react with stunned silence.

Ishmael groans in pain, blood pouring from the wound.

“Is this what you want, mom?!” he shouts at the moon, cutting through an artery and spraying blood everywhere. “I failed you! I can’t take out the rest of Abe’s bloodline, but I can take me! I’m coming, mom! Roll a few joints and bust out the Doritos, because I’m a-comin’...”

His last few words devolve into a gurgling mess as he cuts clean through his larynx. With his free hand, he tilts his head like Nearly-Headless Nick while he saws through the rest of his neck and chips through his spinal column.

Finally, the head comes free and Ishmael flops to the ground, dead.

His head rolls over next to Ike’s so they’re cheek to cheek – decapitated zombie brothers, reunited at last.

Jake and Becca just watch, horrified.

“Jesus Christ...” says Becca.

Jake doubles over and retches.


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