Eat My Brain, I Dare You
By Jade Duffus & Donica Bettanin
A cocky girl in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Will she survive?
“Tick, tick, tick.” That old dusty clock hanging on the old dusty white wall keeps making that weird scratching sound as the handles tick.
It moves so eloquently but makes the most annoying noise as it barely touches 11:26 a.m. I can’t even focus on this stupid test. I can feel the beads of sweat drip from my forehead and slowly, ever so slowly, creep to the tip of my chin. My ADHD gets the best of me, and I tip my head to the sound of Shirley McLogan tapping her pen on the hard wooden desk, swirling it around and around as she does so: “Tap, tap, tap.”
I can feel Smelly Sammy’s hot, shaky breath on the back of my neck as he sighs in desperation for some answer. As if his brain could regurgitate a math equation. Everything around me starts to slow and my senses quicken. I finally acknowledge our proctor. She is an old, raggedy woman with a deep scowl on her face; I’ve never seen the woman smile once. For someone of such an old age, she can hear the slightest movement of a pen dropping. She slowly raises her head from her big book and searches the classroom for her next victim. With slight tension, I focus my attention back to the question before I become Ms. Cadwell’s next meal.
In the building next door, Assistant Principal Reggie Tang leans back in his chair. With the students’ bags and cell phones secured in lockers outside his office and the SATs underway, he finally has a moment to himself. Reggie refreshes The New York Times website, curious about the human outbreak of the “zombie deer” virus that’s been traced to Hudson Heights Hospital. He opens another tab to check Google Maps. The hospital is just a couple blocks away. The name of the virus has to be an exaggeration… doesn’t it?
I’ve been stuck on this stupid question for a while now. I should’ve studied Linear Equations instead of kissing Bryan Barlowe under the bleachers after his amazing, death-defying football game.
The classroom is completely white: no posters, no wallpapers, no signs that scream, “VOTE FOR BRIE LOCKWOOD FOR SENIOR PRESIDENT” or bright blue stickers that say, “GO WILDCATS.” It’s empty and bare, a reflection of what the education system is like in America, a system that keeps pushing exams and tests to separate the dummies from the Einsteins, the future 7-11 workers from the MIT graduates.
In this hot, smelly, anxious, depressing, bare white room I can’t focus on anything but the end of this day. There aren’t any windows, just large gray shutters to shield us from the outside world. The sounds of honking cars, wheels smashing against the wet, slick roads, and the rushing of the rain falling from its gray counterparts engulf the space.
At nearby Hudson Heights Hospital, Nurse Selma Kale unwraps the bandage on her arm. She’s running a fever and the skin where Patient X—the “zombie virus” patient—scratched her is pulsing. Nurse Kale signs out early and swipes a tube of Neosporin from the supply cupboard for the scratch. She wants to pick her son up from school then go home to get some sleep.
I turn my attention back to question number five. The lines showing a linear graph mark my paper, pushing me to write at least a number down, but absolutely nothing comes into my mind.
“Noah! Noah The Know-It-All,” I scream in my head. He could probably give me the answer, if I could get his attention. Out of hope, I slightly angle my head in his direction and tap my sneakers on the hard concrete floor: nothing. I do it again but louder and closer: nothing. Sighing in defeat because Noah is obviously blind. My attention goes back to number five, which is my lucky number, but today this number is not on my side.
Girls Write Now On the Other Side of Everything: The 2023 Anthology
Do you know what it’s like to communicate with your family across a salty ocean’s divide? Do you want the sun and moon to enter your home with stories written in embers? Do you seek voices that will punctuate the darkness? Welcome to the other side of everything. It’s the other side of silence, the other side of childhood, the other side of hate, the other side of indifference, it’s the other side of sides, where the binary breaks down. It’s a new paradigm, a destination, a different perspective, a mindset, a state of openness, the space between the endless folds in your forehead, hopes for tomorrow, and reflections on the past. This anthology of diverse voices is an everything bagel of literary genres and love songs, secrets whispered in the dark of night, conversations held with ancestors under the sea.
Reggie Tang looks up in surprise as his office door swings open.
“Mrs Kale—” he begins, noticing that she looks a little, well, a little green. When she opens her mouth the sound that comes out is low and coarse.
“My son,” she growls.
“He’s in the SATs,” Reggie says. He tries not to stare at the thin line of drool extending from the side of her mouth.
“My son,” she insists. Selma Kale lurches forward and climbs over the desk, sending papers sliding to the floor. Reggie realizes too late that she is strong—supernaturally strong. In his last human moments he thrusts his hand under the desk and slams the red emergency button labeled LOCKDOWN.
“BRRRINGGG.” The bell for dismissal rings and I look at the old, dusty clock, on the old dusty white wall again. It’s 11:55 a.m. but I thought we had about an hour and forty-five minutes left. That stupid old clock is broken and I’m definitely failing!
As the proctor comes around to pick up our exams, the croaky, brittle voice of Principal Ahmed descends over the small classroom, but he doesn’t sound cocky and miserable like usual, with his thick Russian accent. He sounds desperate. And… terrified?
This writing is probably one of the best works so far in our Girls Write Now journey. I am so excited to share the work Donica and I put in after reading and watching countless post-apocalyptic books, films and TV shows. For this piece, we would proudly say that the TV show “All of Us Are Dead” really inspired us to write about high schoolers in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, as well as the simple idea of surviving in an apocalypse. We both really enjoy these types of stories and wanted the challenge of writing one for ourselves. We are so excited to share this piece, and I hope everyone enjoys! – Jade
Jade Duffus is an activist, artist and writer who is both active in her local community and engaged with bigger issues including Black Lives Matter and intersectional feminism. Her goal is to use her skills in art and writing to build a career that helps her community. Her proudest achievements are winning several art and writing contests in 2021 and surviving the school year during the pandemic. Jade has lived in Egypt and can play the electric guitar.
Donica Bettanin is a passionate reader who loves to talk all things writing, storytelling and creativity. She has worked as a literary agent, event producer and festival manager and is currently the Program Director, Literary Awards for PEN America. Originally from Australia, she has lived in New York City since 2014.