Shambling (Flash Fiction)

He moves slowly, like a corpse returning to a grave simply for having no place else to go, and the crowd moves around him without realizing they’re do so.

They’re all bodies without faces, faces without names, names without meaning. As he trudges passed each booth, one by one, the vendors smile and say hello and offer a business card or promotional flyer. Some hand out sticky pads, mice pads, office pens. Every now and then, when passing by the bigger booths of businesses that are doing well, he’s offered a carrying bag or perhaps a t-shirt or hat. They all greet him in the same friendly, I-don’t-know-you-but-I-could-sure-sell-you-something-you-don’t-need kind of way.

Sometimes he takes their trinkets. Sometimes not. Either way, he glares and moves on.

There are others as well, those that recognize this corpse from his previous life. They wave and say hello. Shake his hand. They call him by his name and ask how he’s been. He doesn’t answer. They’ve no real need to know. He doesn’t even know where to begin.

“So, Bob, how’s the wife and kids?”

Oh, just great, Bry, just great. Buried the Mrs. last summer when that pesky old skin cancer finally did her in. You win some you lose some, ya know? And poor little Bobby, well, you know, a boy needs a mother even if he’s a teenager and when she was gone that really sent him off the deep end. Oh sure, we tried counseling and all that, but those things don’t always pan out. Just like investments, ya know? So anyway, Bobby takes the loss pretty rough, poor guy, always did have thin skin, he never would have done well in business, and he gets to thinking about some strange things, starts talking a little weird. And wouldn’t ya know it, just when life is getting close to being a little normal, I come home from the office to find him in the bathtub, water flowing over the edge like a slow river tinged red with what’s left of his blood. That’s one thing they never tell you about life insurance, is it? Suicide doesn’t pay out.

He shambles on.

Sometimes he listens to their venial conversations, but most of the time he doesn’t. He’s surprised when they stop him, talk to him, remember him. He doesn’t wear his nametag. His eyes illicit no invitation. There’s no indication of which business he represents, which firm he’s possibly from. His shoulders slump. The brown business shoes on his feet drag.

He comes into a long strip dedicated to the medical insurance industry. A very attractive woman strikes up a scripted chat about the odds of cancer and how it runs in the family. The corpse stands there and stares while the living crowd flows around.

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