Assisted Living

Bunting fluttered around the gates, small triangular flags rising and falling in the warm sea breeze. “Annual Fête & Fundraiser, 2023” the hand-lettered sign proclaimed.

“Ready?” Erik asked. 
“As I’ll ever be,” Harry replied.

They drove through the open gates into a deserted parking lot.

“Are we early or late?” Harry licked dry lips and pushed his fringe back from his forehead for the twentieth time. Nervous, thought Erik. Poor guy. I should have let him skip this.

“We’re on time, Babycakes. Or just a little late. And we don’t have to stay long. We’ll just show face, see Mum, buy some random stuff — nothing too awful,” Erik added hastily, “Then, I’ll take you out to lunch. Anywhere you like, OK?”

“I’m not a child,” growled Harry, “Let’s get it over with.”

With a syncopated slamming of doors, they left the car and headed off in search of Erik’s mother and an unobjectionable purchase or two.

They followed bright construction paper arrows around the reception block and into the courtyard beyond. Tables were set out for stalls, labeled with the same hand-painted signage that had greeted them at the entrance. There was no one in sight, just an eerie hush, and the warm wind sighing between red-brick buildings.

“Um,” said Harry, “Shouldn’t there have been a security guard on the gate? And where are the inmates?”

“Don’t call them that. Let’s go up to Mum’s room — see what’s up,” said Erik, sounding discomfited.

A newspaper blew lazily across the concrete paving, lending a Wild West air to the desolate space. Cue ocarina wails with twanging guitar accompaniment, thought Erik. Next thing you know, John Wayne’ll saunter in, order a whisky, straight-up.

He set out across the courtyard with Harry at his heels, picking his way between the bare tables, heading for the corner staircase which led up to his mother’s small apartment. Dammit, he thought, This is what I get for trying to be a good son. His optimism withered like a three-day-old balloon.

“Look!” exclaimed Harry, “There’s someone.”

A small figure in a pink-and-green shift stood in a doorway on the far side of the courtyard. It seemed to be watching them.

“Hellooo!” shouted Harry, “Where’s the fête?” And, sotto voce, “Ugh. Polyester. You can spot it a mile off…” Erik rolled his eyes. The figure failed to reply. Or to move at all.

“Um. She’s just staring at us,” said Harry.

“Let’s find Mum and get out of here,” Erik muttered.

“Giving me the creeps too,” replied Harry.

They continued up the stairs and turned right along an open-air corridor lined with olive-green doors. The door of number 227 stood open. Cream lace curtains twirled lazily in the breeze.

“Mum!” called Erik.

“Mrs Weber!” echoed Harry, a little breathlessly.

Silence greeted them.

“Where are the fogies?” whispered Harry while Erik checked the spotless kitchen, perused an empty bathroom, all white tiles and wall-mounted steel bars.

“Not here,” Erik replied.

Harry led the way back downstairs. The woman in pink and green hadn’t moved. She seemed to be smiling. Or at least baring her teeth. They were alarmingly white, almost glinting in the distance. Halfway down the stairs, Harry paused to wave nervously at her.

“Move your ass. Something’s very wrong here,” hissed Erik.

“Alright, alright — I’m moving. Untwist those knickers.”

As they reached the courtyard, a low moaning began, as of many voices. It was accompanied by a dry, shuffling — hollow, slow, rhythmic, and menacing.

“Um,” said Harry.

“You’ve said that before,” snapped Erik, “Move!”

But it was far too late.

Through every entryway into the courtyard, the denizens of that place tottered, limped and, in the more extreme cases, deliquesced. Fixed grins distorted ancient faces. Swollen-knuckled claws reached out towards the two men. And, perhaps most disturbing, more than half the residents wore fancy dress in cheerful, primary colors. An old lady attired as Tweety Bird chewed on what appeared to be a child’s tibia. Her lurid yellow body suit was streaked with red.

Their eyes were dull — dull and hungry. And fixed on Erik and Harry, who stood frozen on the stairs, silent and staring.

“They’re …” Erik began.

“… zombies!” finished Harry.

“Yes,” said Erik. “It’s a fête worse than death.”

They turned tail and charged up the stairs, towards their doom.

© 2019 Warren J Banks. First published in Literally Literary on

A bit of fun written on the eve of my mother’s retirement village fundraiser this past weekend. It was a species of fancy dress fête. She dressed as the Red Queen from Alice (in case you were wondering).

Bizarrely (ha! — another pun, though unintentional this time), it turned out to be a lot more fun than expected. And there was nary a zombie in sight.

I’ve never written anything purely for the joy of foregrounding a bad pun — so here you have it!

All feedback is welcome, as ever. XO, Warren.

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