A golden cock glittered in the November morning. That winged phallus – FIRST PRIZE – was a potent amulet in Detroit.
A Pink Zombie Rose story by Dia VanGunten
We Had Love
A golden cock glittered in the November morning. That winged phallus – FIRST PRIZE – was a potent amulet in Detroit. For 60 years, the trophy traveled from couple to couple, since year one when the old timers refused to be arrested in other clubs and created their own Fort Knox. Priapus, a private social club with a 5-star chef and roman spa, still employed a system of dissolving passcodes. Younger members were forced to lock their phones and sign NDAs, but the intrigue was just for fun now. Mostly. Priapus went all out for Halloween and this year was no different, looming apocalypse be damned. A dark infection was no match for the old guard. They upped the ante and threw a bigger party. The year’s winning couple had kept it sleek with slicked hair and metallic suits, meticulously tailored. In silver wings, Atom Verne was a Thunderbird. In a golden crown, Shane Zabat was a Crown Vic. Romantic status was bestowed with the “Best Couple Trophy” because, more than costumes, it was about the couple. Silver foxes judged on red hot chemistry and viable potential. Could the couple cut it in a rough world? Did they have balls? Were they Detroit’s next power duo? Verne / Zabat got the coveted cock, so it was official: they’d won Halloween. It had just been their first and yet they owned the holiday now. No other Halloween was allowed, no other couple, because they’d done it so well.
A beautiful November morning, they had a soft bed and a big trophy, but Atom wasn’t making omelets or peeling grapefruits. He wasn’t taking hot coffee into his darkroom or buttoning yesterday’s shirt for a quick run to the next-door bakery. He’d laid out fresh clothes and now he was hitting the shower. There was no semblance of Sunday, not even a quick cuddle while Atom still smelled like Saturday night.
Bummer was a gray film in Shane’s mouth. He rose and brushed his teeth. He threw on clothes, brewed coffee and washed dishes; all tasks that would be much improved by music. Was this early bird Sunday a punishment? When the romances with their respective Verne brothers trumped rock and roll, he and Angelique had skipped The Scientists doing a full-on haunted lab at The Magic Stick. They’d missed the show of the decade but the Verne twins neither knew nor cared that this significant sacrifice had been made on their behalf. Now there were rumors of an impromptu instore this afternoon, before the Aussies headed west.
Stormy Records was tiny, intimate, so yea, sure as shit, Shane was gonna be there.
Whooshing past the window, the sky-tram was a constant source of sonder. Shane glimpsed another man’s Sunday: a proud grandfather held a big box of donuts in his lap. Misanthropic identical twins had purchased this loft which was constantly subjected to human intrusion, where riders looked in, waving even. It was people, but bite sized, in a glass box like TV, regularly scheduled programming. Riders were gone as quickly as they came, disappearing with a flushing sound. The twins could enjoy humanity in this anonymous, disposable way. Shane, on the other hand, was the kid who wrote fanfic when his favorite stories ended. He could never get enough. If he loved a fictional couple, he wanted to see them mop their floor and pick their asses. He would stan them forever.
His nose twitched: fresh Amish cream, slightly curdled from scalding coffee; beans that were carefully researched and chosen for the potency of their scent. The odor was so deep, dark and chocolatey, it was almost fecal. It was subtle to most but the first time he poured those stinky beans, the second they hit his nose, Shane knew they were there for his pleasure.
A monster truck was parked in the middle of the kitchen. A hunk of clay, the truck was muscular, virile, but with oceanic grace. Shane aimed a spray gun at the massive model which squatted on the countertop. With a hissing tsk, water shot from the plastic nozzle to saturate the clay. Water dripped from the marble edge. It was important to keep the clay moist because Atom might want to tweak something. Shane had just the tweak.
He took his mug to the bathroom, where Atom rolled and unrolled his shirt cuffs.
“Hey, Verne? I was thinking about your truck, maybe if we nudged that line – “
Atom interrupted: “Gonna need ya in the studio today, Zabat, before you run off with her.”
Shane’s scalp prickled. He didn’t enjoy being interrupted with Verne’s alpha dog work tone, especially here in this still steamy bathroom.
Atom said, “Your hairs are up, that little mohawk you get when you’re pissed. That’s handy.”
“You need an earlier clue. Once my mohawk comes, I’m ready to rip your throat out.”
“You have a little lip snarl warning, but I just barrel past that.”
He sat on the vanity edge and Atom immediately leaned over him to peer into the mirror, launching another sparkle inspection. Two metallic suits were laid over the hamper, pinned with an illustrated diagram so that the dry cleaner didn’t miss any of the iridescent grease.
Shane apologized: “Halloween was messy. Sorry.”
“Nah, it’s adorable. We’ll be picking glitter out of our rectums for years to come.”
Atom bumped him with his body. Hot coffee sloshed from Shane’s mug, burning his hand. He set the hot mug well away from the marble edge, an abundance of caution. Of hope. Atom grasped the vanity and bent over Shane’s lap but just to offer his head to another search for stray silver hairs. When Shane found a metallic stripe with an oil paint sheen, he ran the smooth strand through his thumb and forefingers. He wiped his fingers on his T. Rex tee.
Atom eyed a nearby towel. “Why Sunday afternoon? Isn’t rock and roll a nighttime thing?”
“It’s a lifetime thing, baybay.”
There was no laugh where a laugh should be. It came out cute too. Shane swallowed a growl. It was just a little one, so it went down ok.
“It’s an in-store but they’re playing in this teeny place. It’ll be crowded and sexy.”
Just at the thought, he raised his voice, already calling over waves of music.
Atom ouched and headbutted his chest, but gentle. Shane made a sound like a dying Pac-Man. This early bird business was the worst. He wiped the sparkle from a thick strand, another shimmery streak, before spotting a pale hair, not from paint. Atom felt his examination, sensed his hesitation.
“Aton says ya gotta get with the show. He says he’s goin full Christmas tinsel.”
“No, no, I run this show. I manage our appearance. He’d look like a madman if I’d let him.”
“You’ve got me so well trained, I impulsively plucked a silver hair from your twin’s head.”
Atom lifted his rough-scrubbed face – “Aton is my monkey, I pick his nits. You just concentrate on me.”
With his fingers and thumbs, like he was carving Atom from clay, he stroked those chiseled features…features streaked with gold all over again. Shane made an emoji yikes face and pressed that grimace to Atom’s gold shimmer mouth. He propped blocking elbows on Atom’s shoulders so he couldn’t see the mirror.
Muffled inside that caged hug, he said, “I’m sparkly again, aren’t I?”
Atom grasped obscurant elbows.
“It’s nice in here. Dark and quiet, smells good, feels good. Can I wear your arms as a helmet?”
In the street below, someone laid on their horn, but Atom’s “Shhh” wasmeant for Shane. It was more “be still” than “be quiet.” Don’t move a muscle. Stay. Shane’s favorite canine command.
“Everyone’s all wrong now. Too bright or too dim. Not just the zombies. Everyone.”
Black converse sneakers moved quickly. A manhole clattered beneath Atom’s foot and startled the newspaper attendant. He was adrift in his own world, aura climbing from his head like Jack’s beanstalk. That vegetal aura was an unusual phenomenon and worrisome. Atom purchased the New York Times and a specialized journal on typeface fonts. The attendant charged him 75 cents. The owner was a serious man, an immigrant, and his eldest daughter was a sophomore at MIT. He wasn’t one to gift regular customers with 70$ quarterlies published out of Amsterdam.
Work was weird too. On a normal Sunday morning, Diamond Auto Design would be mostly like any other day, turning wheels, grinding gears, but the elevator was empty. Atom worried about what the staffing shortage meant for the company, the industry, global infrastructure, but in this most immediate moment, he was grateful for silence. He wasn’t Dr. Aton Verne, out there saving the world in her dire hour, but this apocalypse was stressing him out.
The digital render for the monster truck was like something out of The Kardashians: diamond keychain and a woman in a miniskirt with a flute of champagne. Glamour obscured the horror. A graceful design belied 8000 lbs. of aggressive metal. A V16 engine could power through pedestrians. It could mow into a crowd….or the crowd could crowd the road. He dialed his twin and Aton answered from the hospital’s bowels. The basement lab at the Medical College of Ohio had a cavernous echo but it was soundproofed so Aton could speak freely.
“Dr. Verne, do you think your patients will disrespect the roadways?”
“They have lost all respect for the system. For all institutions, laws and other bullshit concepts such as obligation or shame or time. As for the roadway, that’s happening already.”
The American midwest was ground zero for a real life zombie plague, no surprise to midwesterners.
“It’s different from Cotard’s,” said the world’s expert on Walking Corpse Syndrome. “They do think they’re dead but, Atom, they are increasingly political. There’s an element of rebellion.”
Atom saw that in their rabble rouser auras. They were spreading flames.
He changed the subject — “What happened with Angelique? You dicked it up?”
“You could say that.””
“Are you her ruined Halloween?”
“She called me Ruined Halloween?”
A bruise bled from one brother to the other. Atom flinched at the leaky purple. He had too many feelings of his own. His misguided plan was off the rails. The Verne brothers were supposed to experience love but briefly, as an experiment. They couldn’t go blotto, simultaneously, with no lookout man or designated driver. Love was a potent drug and they weren’t sobering up.
“Forget about Angelique. It’ll be back to just us soon. Shane’s about to bail. He’s over it, bristling, growling. An hour ago, he told me he wants to tear my throat out.”
There it was: that sharp Dr. Verne inhalation, a teeth sound. Atom stirred his brother’s protective ire, but that other thing was better, where they got stoned and watched Westworld (even if they got so cozy that Shane plucked tinsel from Aton’s skull and then lived to tell the tale.)
“My guy took paint off my hair, kissed and sparkled me. Begged to suck me off but I had to go.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake.”
Atom was relieved by that dismissive sigh. Nothing to see here.
There was a clusterfuck at the crosswalk. Pedestrians clumped under a green light, jamming traffic. Abuse ensued from waiting motorists but Shane didn’t lay on his horn. He’d gone on critical mass rides before so he kept his cool. As one half of Halloween’s best couple, he had beatific patience. He got past the clusterfuck eventually but he hated to break loose. An immediate right meant leaving the sunlight, He wound up the concrete parking garage until he reached the “Team Verne” section.
Marked with green V’s, the reserved spots deferred status. Pathetic. For Shane, it was the kinky devotional feeling that came with parking under that name.
A revolving door deposited him into the lobby for Diamond Auto Design. Walls were paneled with sheets of automotive metal. Leather bench seats, recovered from vintage cars, formed a waiting area in the empty atrium. When Shane answered the ringing phone, the caller complained about the echo, but Aton had an echo of his own.
“Is Angelique calling me Ruined Halloween?”
“Huh? Like an official title?”
Aton said, “The ex showed up. Did she tell you that? He howled on the porch while we hid in her bedroom. I was trapped, naked and pacing in Frankenstein paint. I’m still pale green.”
She’d wrangled Aton into dressing up as Frankenstein. It shocked Shane that she pulled it off, an ambitious project. She’d even enlisted Shane into providing exact specifications for the suit. There was a single set of measurements. Inch by inch, the Verne twins were the same.
“So that’s that,” Aton said. “No magical night can make me forgo good sense.”
The word “magical” was a sequin sewn into a gruff sentence.
Shane said, “Monster and Missus looked super cute in the pics she sent.”
“Text me these cute photos. Now. Bye.”
In the photos, monster-newlyweds mugged under a canopy of spider web. Shane hit send and the romantic shots whooshed like the skytram; a blue bubble carried Frankenstein and his bride. Doc sent an immediate response: Mine. Private. Shh. Shane never tattled to Atom but the twins were on the friends and family plan; they shared a cloud and eavesdropped on one another’s thoughts.
The high-security studio wasn’t any safer than the others, just a way for Diamond Auto Design to gouge gross clients. Shane entered his card, his code, his thumb. Jeez. The elevator took him to the basement where Atom paced on a sea of white gloss. This sterile room would soon come alive with noise and hydraulics. Every detail of Verne’s design would be carved into the models, interior and exterior, exact life-size versions. A semi would deliver 12,000 pounds of clay and Shane’s crew would be squeezing past each other. Back here. Behind ya.
Shane said, “Sweet. Let’s see this baby go digital.’
Atom hit the remote and leaned forward on his hands. The metal caddy was packed with heavy tools. It bore his weight, though the wheels moved slightly on their castors. On a large screen, a digital render played; The Beast was spinning on a minimalist stage. The design’s sublime beauty was a testament to Verne’s talent, because the client specs were reckless. During a climate crisis, they wanted a V16 gas guzzler, built like a tank, with bulldozer tires. In the next render, stairs unfolded from the cabin and a passenger boarded it like a jet. This wasn’t the concept-car render. They meant to put this on the road.
“Um. I assumed we’d scale down from concept. No stairs needed.”
Atom said, “Nah. They want a front grill made of Valyrian steel. Pronged.”
“No way, man. That’s like hostile architecture. We agree on that kinda thing.”
“Shane, it does not matter what we believe politically. This client is a douche with a douchey customer base and we’re just part of the douche machine, making this douche-mobile.”
Why couldn’t he live in another time and do this job he loved, with this man he might, before cars jumped the shark and became kinda indisputably evil?
The shop window was festooned with sausages and decorated with flesh: Twirling meats, pickled feet and spiral hams; a hanging rack of ribs and chicken carcasses like Christmas ornaments. The festive effect was intensified by the red neon sign:“Fine Meats, Native Dearborn Family Since 1912.” A disembodied pig head looked up at Angelique but she was oblivious. Pissed.
He presented her with orange stars and a flask from last night that they hadn’t touched because Atom had said “Whoa. Feel that? Let’s just be drunk on us.” She took a deep swig and passed the flask. He surveyed her outfit: baggy Bill Nye tee and liquid latex leggings, neon green. The Venus flytrap scarf was embossed velvet. Silky scarf-fringe swirled around chubby cheeks. At her temples, around her hairline, she was white-green-violet, painted pallor of an undead bride, complexion of a reanimated corpse.
She said, “Aton slipped through my fingers.”
“That’s his thing, I think.”
“I had him green and glittered, in a tight suit. He looked good. I was at the height of my powers.”
“I bet. So where’d ya lose it?”
She said, “He has powers of his own. Status orgasmus? On night one? Who does that?”
In between the butcher shop and a boutique, a tiny record store started to rumble. The Scientists opened hard with that thumping reverb. We had love! We had love! Angelique took his hand and led him to the front. By some kinda magic, she managed to do this without stepping on toes. She had a way with crowds. Strangers doted, touched her, complemented, it looked hellish to Shane, but it was Angel’s gift. She invited them to love her and then she loved them back.
Angelique leaned into a bright green mohawk and whisper-screamed – Blades of grass! The woman beamed like a child who’d been handed a kitten. In this way, they amiably made their way to the stage, so close they could smell what the band had for lunch. Shane knew that sandwich; the Gutty from Mudgie’s Deli in Corktown. Corned beef, smoked brisket, salami, pastrami and bacon. The singer’s hot breath plumed around the mic. We had love! What a waste! A riotous crowd danced: denim & leather; sweat, smoke & beer. Angel smelled like fruity perfume and day-old sex. Green Mohawk had a fluffy scent – that invisible kitten she cuddled. A disco ball turned in the window reflecting the bricks, catching the red neon of the butcher’s sign. The crowd bounced, jumping collectively, Checkerboard linoleum took the beating. Shelved records anchored the room. Love’s waste was mourned in shrieks and grievous howls; hoots and excited yelps; sound like unfurling ribbons of intestines. The shaman clutched his guts. He threw his body around spasmodically. The crowd leapt with him. An exorcism.
A feral cat darted into a narrow gap between two buildings, a short cut to the alleyway behind the row of brick storefronts. Shane followed. Back here, beauty was a beat poem: busted tires, broken glass; a rusted fence line. A garage door was a giant horny happy face in red spray paint. The singular, skeletal tree held onto a few orange leaves. Shane straddled the butcher shop drain. Piss was nothing compared to the bloody ooze that the rusty hole had seen since 1912.
His jaw twitched and his chest was warm. For one whole year, that trophy was theirs. Shane was from Ottawa Hills and halfway athletic, so he’d been handed a lot of bullshit trophies. He was genuinely opposed. He never even used the emoji. But he’d set his sights on that winged phallus and he wanted it more than anything. Somewhere, in a top-secret archive, their photo would join all the past winners. No one could take that from Shane, whatever happened. He leaned against the sun-warm bricks and called his boyfriend, because that was a thing now.
“What’s up, Zabat?”
“Nothin. I’m just….ya know….ET phones home.”
An amused chuckle. Atom liked that.
Shane bubbled: “Do you like me? I like you.”
“Yah, you’re my guy. Ya make a good helmet.”
“I really like you. And like, you might love me back, Verne. Ya ever think of that?”
“You rollin, Shane? Please tell me it’s the orange stars from last night.”
“You said we didn’t need ’em. You called us a ‘natural high of inimitable transcendence.’”
Atom groaned. If he said dorky things, he never wanted to hear about them again.
“Look, Aton doesn’t know what’s up with these lesions. It could be a drug. Don’t take anything from anywhere until we know for sure. You’re good though, the orange stars are from Aton.”
“Doc makes his own X?”
“But what was it last night? Love?”
“Um. Felt like that, huh?”
They’d been totally sober but the room had broken into disco shards as two personified cars kissed in a storm of orange confetti. It was like a solar eclipse; light laid differently on the world. A different sound. A different feeling. Shane felt like he’d been dropped onto a planet from Star Trek where people still wore vests or played flutes but, otherwise, they were somehow experientially different from earthlings. On that holographic planet, tiny crescent moons winked on the green leaves of every tree because each little bit held the whole. Shane was a leaf winking with tiny moons. He’d felt the moon on his skin even though it was high in the sky and seemingly inaccessible. He’d felt Atom in his body for as long as he’d had a body.
Shane apologized — “I wolfed out this morning. I was just like…hot.”
“I like you wolfy. I like you hot.”
“Atom, I have a real bad, real big lie and also, there’s some serious mental health issues.”
“Hey, babe? My brother’s pills make ya blab. That’s their nefarious purpose.”
“They make you admit that you love someone?”
“No, they make you share secrets.”
Shane pressed his mouth to the bricks, a kiss. At Atom’s end, the Cadillac’s engine gunned.
Shane confessed: “I’m over imbibed. But we’re scared to get an uber.”
“Yep, I’m comin. Drop me a pin.”
The record store was cleared out but the crowd milled out front. The sidewalk teemed with hot bodies and fast talkers. A shared high! They’d experienced something special together and now they couldn’t bear to disband. Stormy Records and Velvet Elvis Vintage had a symbiotic relationship. If Angelique bought a new record, she needed a new lewk to go with it. Today’s find was a 1969 Marc Bolan archival recording, an early peek at the tippy-toed vamp-riders and Martian novelists that populated his glam rock era but in a scaled back Flat Duo Jets style. Shane opened a purple door and called to Angelique. She exited the dressing room in blue suede platforms, like one of Charlie’s Angels. Her karate kick covered the width of the tiny store. Silver lightning bolts flashed – two iridescent zigzags.
He said, “Atom’s coming.”
She said, “Sorry I was a baby about the uber. I’m easily spooked today. Maybe because Aton did me in with an orgasm and now he’s not even gonna do it again.”
“Oh yea. We took crazy Aton pills that make you tattle so watch your tongue around Atom.”
Her mouth was a big O. She unzipped the boots and kicked them off. Heavy wooden soles landed with a hard thud. He scooped them up, determined to purchase that powerful karate kick feeling. That was something he wanted for her. He waited with his wallet while Angel slipped into the dressing room and stripped off a psychedelic jumpsuit. Grunting complaints were a running commentary: it ain’t easy, being so chubby, and squeezing into skintight latex but baby it’s worth it for the high shine. Shane fussed with pricey jewelry made from fordite. The rare gem was Detroit born: streaked layers of automotive paint scraped from the factory floors. Angelique stepped from the dressing room, shinier than ever, in a fresh coat of lip gloss. Shane cringed at his reflection and returned a pair of expensive sunglasses to the rack. Angel snatched his wallet from the counter and leaned across the glass to shut the register. Shane was the oblivious richie who didn’t notice it hanging wide open.
As if he didn’t know the Vernes, or have his own relationship with Aton, she explained that zombies bailed on the whole ball of wax. They left lovers and abandoned jobs. She said, “I bet the clerk heard the band rocking the roof. Probably wandered off. They do that.”
She meandered to the door and disappeared into a sea of zippers and leather. He waited another 5 minutes before leaving a folded hunner beneath the register. Outside, the dying light was the color of marigolds. Two crows watched the crowd from a telephone pole. Night was coming in fast. The temperature dropped. Saturated by the golden hour, almost sparkling, Angelique held court. She entertained the masses with an urban legend: a special ladies-only climax, the status orgasmus. But first, a peek into Dr. Verne’s private business.
“I just wanna love Aton Verne except he won’t let me in. All the dreams I had about him before we met, all the practice runs, but I still can’t get it right. I am the writer on her 13th draft.”
A leather-clad stranger shouted: “End with an asteroid! Just kill everyone!”
“I’m a grown woman and a feminist. I could manifest a devoted fellow who pays my electric bill but nooo, gimme Doctor Zombie with his evil clone and his status orgasmus moves. Gimme the mad scientist who makes blabby love drugs in his secret lab. What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing! You’re the living doll!”
“But also, what is wrong with him? You don’t status orgasmus a woman without warning.”
Green Mohawk shouted: Amen!
A man had urgent questions: “What is this status orgasmus?”
“It’s a legendary orgasm studied in scientific circles but rarely experienced…and lemme tell ya, buds, it is maybe not something for mass consumption, that’s what I’m thinking.”
The professor slipped into gear, her voice rising. People were gawking at them. Someone pointed to Shane and used the word pretty. He shifted uncomfortably. The wind picked up, blowing Angel’s hair behind her, a ripple of red.
“Status orgasmus explodes your mind. You leave your body. Untethered to reality, you experience selflessness. You believe you are dead.”
The crowd moved closer.
“You come back to life. Maybe not for a few days, fully. I mean, I hope. Do I look okay?”
She clowned for her audience. A melting corpse face. A zombie moan. Two outstretched arms with decorated nails at the end – neon green, bubbling beakers; always on theme.
Someone shouted, “The living doll must live!”
Angelique held a hand to squinting eyes, searching the crowd.
A woman asked, “Where does one get this undead orgasm?”
Another said, “When do you come back alive?
A third said, “Who is doing this to people?
The listeners pressed closer. They wanted answers, not brains, but Angelique didn’t know shit. She also knew too much. It was a combustible situation. Even the weather was closing in on her, the setting sun, the wind, the cold night. A man reached for her blowing scarf, fingering the long fringe. Shane shouldered him aside. He swung his arm, creating an arc of space; in each hand, a lightning bolt boot. Heavy soles knocked into each other.
Angelique shouted into the wind: “Oh no! I got carried away! I’m outta hand!”
Around the corner, a fordite sparkle – sun on the hood of a 1967 Cadillac Eldorado. Long and black with blood-rust interior. Shane kept love there; he’d tucked a swoony letter between those red leather seats. It was too much for his heart so he left it with the car for safekeeping. He lived for glimmers of that Cadillac: steering wheel turning in an open hand; silver mirror reflecting a black shirt collar. The Caddy pulled to the curb. A heavy door opened over rainbow stained concrete and Shane tossed the boots inside. He shoved Angelique into the back, as a bodyguard does to a besieged star who has agreed to sign autographs. She immediately demanded the radio. She dove over the seat to fiddle with the dials but Shane blocked the knob with his hand. This car was a quiet place, a sacred place. Shhh.
“We Had Love” was originally published in Open Sewers, a Berlin mag, in October of 2022, as part of PZR’s Halloween Blow Out. As the Chariot card in the Pink Zombie Rose tarot, this story will be included in Major Arcana, a collection of 22 Pink Zombie Rose stories.
About the Author
Dia VanGunten is the creator of Pink Zombie Rose, a series of comics, texts and graphic novels. (Major Arcana is coming soon!)
Dia is the founder of Cream Scene Carnival and the OG carnie.