Morty and Dolores

Morty and Dolores
Photographs from Bigstock. Photo montage by William Shunn.

Morty and Dolores are the names of the ghosts haunting the house in which we are hiding from zombies. We don’t know the names of the zombies. We have a complicated relationship with Morty and Dolores because they hate zombies just like we do, but they’re also trying to scare the shit out of us.

I think Morty and Dolores are new to haunting. As with a child learning an instrument, we need to be patient so that someday they can shine, but so far it’s merely irritating. Lately they’ve taken to turning the TV on when we’re trying to read, or turning it off when we’re trying to watch. Some afternoons they might flush the toilet . . . for hours.

One time, Morty was rattling the doors of a credenza hutch that housed a collection of gaudy knickknacks. Inside, the glass figurine of a unicorn with a top hat tipped over and broke. The unicorn was left to suffer the indignity of a missing top hat and only half a horn, but that’s nothing compared to the relentless belittling Morty had to suffer at the hands of Dolores. This was the first incident that got us to pay attention, and when they stopped bickering long enough to notice our apprehension, they refocused their haunting technique to a more verbal approach. They targeted their threats directly at us—until they didn’t anymore:

“I stand over you when you sleep! I’m in the sheets with you!”

“Louder, Morty.”

A sigh. “I’m in the sheets WITH you!”

“They can’t hear that.”

“They can hear me just fine, Dolores.”

“Try saying something like ‘Wait ’til I get my hands on you.’ ”

“I can handle it on my own, Dolores! Why don’t you go flush the fuckin’ toilet again?”

During these arguments we can glimpse a vague translucent specter hiding out in a ceiling fan, and we yell out, “We can see you!” Dolores usually responds, “No you can’t!” just before the apparition disappears.

It’s clear they don’t want to be rid of us at the expense of trashing the place, but they don’t want to kill us either. They’re worried our deaths would turn us to zombies and we’d tip over more knickknacks. They want us to leave, and who could blame them—it’s their house, after all—but we spent hours boarding up all the windows and doors when we arrived, which was hard work, and it’s like they can’t be bothered to break a sweat just to get us out of their house? Sometimes I truly doubt their commitment.

This house was not our first choice. While making our way up the street, pursued by the mercifully slow-moving hordes of the rotting undead, we broke into no fewer than five houses. House One—which in retrospect might have been just fine—had a funny smell that we weren’t comfortable with. Somebody had burned some broccoli in the microwave, and man, yuck. House Two had numerous large picture windows that would make it hard to safeguard, and Houses Three and Four were hard to fortify because we really fucked up the back doors when we were breaking in.

We felt just awful about House Five. We had gotten so good at wantonly breaking into homes in broad daylight that it became a point of pride; it didn’t occur to us to make sure there weren’t already occupants. To avoid destroying another door, we sought a window that would be low enough for easy entry but high enough to be just out of the zombies’ reach. (Not that zombies are short, but their slowness undermines any desire to work harder than they absolutely need to. Morty and Dolores would probably be horrified to realize they themselves have a zombie-like work ethic.) We landed in a mustard-yellow kitchen and were greeted by a living fellow with woeful posture wielding a large baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. He swung wildly, striking what could generously be described as “nothing.” The pandemonium that ensued in that moment was too overwhelming to let us articulate that we were friendlies, and in the confusion our words belied our intent:

“We’re here to hurt you! Wait, that’s not right.”

He took another swing that appeared very damaging to the air. “Get out of my house!”

We attempted another plea. “All we want is to take your life!” Nuts.

The man was not skillful with a bat, perhaps because of his posture, so our defense strategy was to lurch and wobble awkwardly around the kitchen and hope for the best. This dance went on in a circular fashion for long enough that it started to feel fun. As if something had just occurred to him, the man abruptly stopped to feel the quiet breeze coming in through the window. He lowered his bat, arched his crooked neck to look up at us, and asked:

“You don’t happen to be chiropractors, do you?”

And with that, the uncharacteristically diligent zombies reached exactly far enough through the window to pull the man outside and rip him to shreds. We took advantage of this distraction and quietly saw ourselves out the front door, grabbing a hammer and some other useful blunt instruments on the way. Who wants a mustard-yellow kitchen anyway?

One last address up the block, we finally came upon our current dwelling: a modest Dutch Colonial with a raised foundation, perfect for deterring a bunch of grabby walking corpses. It even had an antique rocking chair on the front porch, the kind that makes one feel welcome even before they attempt to forcibly enter. To avoid a situation like the one at the neighbor’s house—and as long as the zombies were still busy feeding on him—we rang the doorbell first and peered in through the sidelights. Since the coast seemed clear, we tried the front door, which was unlocked. Home seemed closer with every nefarious act.

We searched the house for dwellers, unpleasant odors, and any wood furniture that could be used to barricade entrances, while calling out to possible inhabitants quietly, so as not to be heard outside. No response later, we were chopping up tables—and we left a note on the front door:

To the owners of this house:
We have boarded the place up from the inside. We are very sorry. There is another house next door that we can guarantee is not occupied. Please accept our offer of that house in lieu of your own.

Then we sealed the door with some nails and the seat of the rocking chair.

We’d hit the jackpot. This place was well stocked and very homey. Family photos and homemade cross stitching adorned the walls, and the breakfast nook was home to twenty years’ worth of certificates for “The County’s Best Apple Turnover.” The kitchen cabinets were filled with canned goods and dry grains, there was plenty of water in the fridge, and a bushel of fresh picked apples rested on the elegant but not too overstated marble countertop. A loaf of bread had been very recently baked and was resting on the window sill, though it was now covered in splinters and sawdust. It was as if the house had been expecting us.

After checking out the pinball machines in the basement, we came back upstairs and discovered that all the remaining furniture had been rearranged.

Ghosts was not our immediate assumption, but we were dismayed nonetheless that perhaps our apocalyptic Shangri-la was too good to be true. Who could have suspected the furniture here had the ability to rearrange itself? We had claimed this house not just because it was well-stocked with canned goods and apple turnover awards, but also because it had a hospitable reading area and the TV was set up in the corner and gave the room a good flow, even though it can be risky to set up furniture on an angle like that. We didn’t have time to be disheartened by this development because—


A pillow. Followed by several more pillows: THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP.

Pillows were ejecting themselves from an adjacent linen closet, of their own accord, and striking us at a slightly disagreeable velocity! When the supply of pillows was exhausted, duvets and fitted sheets came next, though at a clumsier trajectory. That’s when we heard Dolores’s and Morty’s voices for the very first time:

“Throw harder, Morty!”

“Would it kill you again to lend a hand?”

“You should tie them in big knots before you throw.”

“Forget it, Dolores. I’m trying something else.”

That’s when we were pelted, very briefly, with apples.

“Morty! This is so wasteful.”

Our confusion, for the moment, gave way to pity. Someone lived here after all, and we had intruded. There was no conceivable exit at this point, so we thought about acting scared in order to make them feel better, until they revealed themselves to be very judgmental and not deserving of our sympathy.

“Dolores! We need to get rid of these people.”

“Don’t do anything rash, Morty. We just cleaned all these carpets.”

“Tell me something I don’t know, Dolores! We gotta be very delicate here. Anything happens to them, they come back as walking corpses, and that only compounds the problem.”

It seemed appropriate at this point to interject: “How do you know we won’t come back as ghosts, like you?”

There was a pause as Morty and Dolores realized we could hear them. Finally: “Because you got no class! Dolores, let’s try the toilet thing you mentioned.”

Even if the house weren’t so perfect for us, we’d still stick around out of spite.

We like it here. We try to leave the living room as infrequently as possible, because every time we come back they’ve moved all the furniture again. So we come and go in shifts. We try to keep things harmonious by being inclusive; sometimes when we’re cooking, we’ll call out to Dolores for advice on making apple turnovers. All we ever get in response is something like “Be careful with that knife, you’ll cut yourself,” followed by “Get out!” Likewise, Morty cautioned us the other day to “Watch your step, those stairs are slippery,” and after a moment, “We’ll steal your soul!” Sometimes the nervous jitter in their voices makes us worry they’re going to somehow trip over their phantasmic selves and accidentally drop something heavy on us. And though it occurred to us recently that, when we were first hammering boards over the windows, we might have heard Dolores screaming “No, not the mahogany!”, we remain in good spirits. Sometimes we look at the boards on everything and wish we’d been less haphazard in our haste to secure the house. Sometimes we think about taking the wood down and putting it back up again, nice and straight and symmetrical, and maybe applying a nice varnish. But, you know.

Fuckin’ zombies.  




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