Arthur’s Invitation

“Brains! They’re what’s for breakfast!”
A mechanical voice from next door taunts Arthur, who plucks crabgrass from the veinlike cracks in his flagstone walkway, as he does every morning. Perspiration funnels down his back as he collects the pulled weeds in a careful pile.
“Pitter-patter, I’m craving gray matter!”
The ten-foot-tall animatronic zombie had appeared on Ms. Fisk’s lawn seemingly overnight. Arthur met the garish thing at dawn when he came out to retrieve the newspaper, a process that, as of late, has required a forage beneath his rhododendron bush thanks to the paper-boy’s lazy aim. Ms. Fisk bought the house next door last year: a woman of late middle age, presumably divorced, possibly widowed. Apparently, she has bizarre taste in lawn ornamentation. The zombie peers at him with creepy, catlike yellow eyes, its tattered clothing hanging over the dewy grass. Arthur shakes his head. When the homeowner’s association gets wind of it, they will not be amused.
“Yum-yum, cerebellum,” the zombie cackles.
Perhaps Ms. Fisk never married. Like Arthur. For his part, this is not for lack of interest: one time, when he was dating a particularly special lady, he even went to the jeweler’s downtown to look at rings. But, every time a relationship advanced to a certain stage, the woman in question would produce a reason, a not-you-but-me, delivered delicately under concerned eyebrows. Arthur never set out to become a lifelong bachelor, but here he is. Year after lonely year.
He has long since concluded that it is, in fact, him.
Anyway, Ms. Fisk. Nobody in the neighborhood knows what her situation is because she’s never managed to make it to a single meeting of the homeowner’s association. Heck, she’s rarely been seen outside her house. On occasion, Arthur glimpses a curvy figure’s shadow behind her curtained front window.
The mechanical spectre’s robotic jaw flaps open and shut as it heckles, “You say head. I say fed!”
“I say shaddup,” Arthur mutters, sweeping his weeds into the yard-waste bin. Where does someone even purchase a robotic zombie? He suspects the internet is involved somehow. Blasted internet. How long will he have to tolerate this thing yapping at him before the association can flex its muscle?
With a creak, Ms. Fisk’s front door swings open. A compact woman with warm auburn curls, which bounce as she walks, beams at him as she totters across the porch. “Howdy, neighbor! Happy Halloween!”
“Um…it’s August.”
She waves dismissively, as if a calendar’s rules couldn’t possibly apply to her. “Do you like him? I programmed him myself!”
Arthur dusts his hands. “You do realize the association is going to make you take that thing down, don’t you?”
“Naturally. But not until you’ve heard what he has to say.” Ms. Fisk’s grin broadens.
What an oddball. But her smile is pretty. Arthur folds his arms. “Okay, I’m listening.”
“Here we go!” With a girlish giggle, she ducks back into her house.
After a long pause, the zombie swivels around and warbles, “You look tasty, Arthur.”
Arthur’s mouth drops open.
“Come in for coffee?” The zombie inclines its mangled head. “No tricks. Only treats.”
The bachelor blushes.

When Shelby Van Pelt isn’t feeding her flash-fiction addiction or compulsively editing her debut novel, she’s probably tripping over one of her cats while wrangling one of her children and knocking her beer onto her keyboard while she’s at it. Follow her on Twitter @shelbyvanpelt.

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