Celebrity Chef Zombie Apocalypse
It was the middle of the afternoon and Robert Turner was busy taking in the finer points of his boss's latest incentive scheme.
“You've got seven days,” his boss was saying. “If you haven't got what I want by then, you're fired. Got that? Fired!”
Robert's boss was an ass-hole who loved nothing more than to point his finger at his staff and tell them they were fired, so Robert knew his boss wasn't bluffing. He did his best to appear positive.
“Yes, Geoff, I've got it. I'll think of something, don't worry.”
His boss smiled.
“I'm not worried. You're the one who should be worrying, not me. It's your job that's on the line.”
Robert felt his guts twist into a knot.
“You're right Geoff,” he said through gritted teeth. “I'm the one who should be worrying, not you.”
As Robert stood up to leave, his boss smiled again, “Oh, one more thing, Robert, run along and get me a cup of coffee, will you? There's a good chap.”
“Of course, Geoff,” Robert said meekly.
He went into the corridor and bought a coffee from the vending machine, white with two sugars, just how his boss liked it. He paid for it with his own money, as he always did, in a vain attempt to curry favour. His boss's coffee habit was costing Robert twenty-five pounds every week. He knew he ought to ask his boss for the money to pay for the drink but he couldn't. The pattern was now too firmly established to break it.
Freddy Barnes was hanging around near the vending machine. He grinned when he saw Robert.
“Paying for our boss's coffee again, are we Robert?” He asked.
“Geoff paid for mine this time,” he said. “We take it in turns.”
“Course you do,” he replied, his voice laced with sarcasm.
“We do take it in turns,” Robert insisted.
Robert lowered his head and silently mouthed the word “tosser.”
He was fed up of Barnes making remarks about his loserish behaviour but there was nothing he could do about it because Barnes had been promoted over him.
When the vending machine had done its job, Robert took his drinks and walked away with as much dignity as he could muster. He briefly considered pissing in the coffee he'd just bought, but he knew deep down he was too much of a suck-up to ever do a thing like that. Instead, he took the coffee to his boss, then, cursing himself for his grovelling behaviour, he went back to his own office to contemplate the task he'd just been given. It's impossible, he thought sadly.
The organisation he worked for, Fave Repeats TV, (known as 'FRTV'), was an obscure digital channel sandwiched between 'Naked Babes Live' and 'Gay Rabbit Chat and Date'. It was dedicated to the endless re-running of ancient TV shows which it bought on the cheap. FRTV never wasted its own money on the production of new shows.
No-one in their right mind would ever have watched the repeats shown on FRTV, as every man, woman and child in the country had seen all of those shows at least a dozen times already. Anyone who clicked on that channel by mistake would usually click off it right away, without even waiting so much as a second to see whether they liked it or not. This made Robert's job near impossible. He was charged with coming up with gimmicks to make the repeat shows appear fresh and interesting, so as to entice people into watching them, and to make the air time more appealing to advertisers.
His boss's latest demand was insane, or at least that's how Robert saw it.
FRTV had just bought the rights to the shows of the former TV celebrity chef Floyd Rampant as a job lot from a liquidator. Rampant had once been a big name in the telly chef industry, but he'd died in tragic circumstances and had long since been forgotten.
Robert's boss had just told him he had seven days to come up with a proposal to make Rampant's cooking shows seem fresh, new and exciting. As those shows had first aired in the early eighties, and had been re-run countless times already, this was like asking Robert to skate up the north Face of the Eiger, backwards, while stark ballock naked and blindfolded.
Robert racked his brains until it was time to leave, but he couldn't come up with a single idea that might possibly persuade anyone to watch the former celebrity chef's exploits yet again. He couldn't see any older viewers tuning in, because they'd all seen Rampant's shows at least a dozen times already, and he couldn't see any younger viewers tuning in, because the shows, which had been ground-breaking in their time, were now no more than quaint anachronisms from a bygone age.
At five o'clock he tidied up his desk and left the building. He climbed into his car and glanced at his place of work through the windscreen. FRTV was housed in a soulless box on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Croydon. It depressed him just to look at it. He desperately wanted a job in one of the more successful TV companies that could afford to work from sexy premises in central London, but he knew he had no chance of landing one of those jobs unless he somehow made a success of his present job. This was an unlikely prospect. Indeed, in his heart of hearts Robert knew he would probably be sacked by this time next week.
He thought about his growing mountain of debt, his rent, his never-ending struggle to pay his bills, and wondered how he would cope without his job. He imagined himself being evicted from his house, saying a tearful farewell to his housemates, and joining the ranks of the homeless on the cruel streets of Croydon. He felt as if he was standing in the path of a juggernaut and there was nothing he could do to get out of the way. If only I had some power to change the course of my life, he thought. I'm not asking for a lot. I just want enough money to get by for now, and a career with prospects. That's not too much to ask, is it? Then he shook his head and put his key into the ignition.
He was about to turn the key when he heard a bleeping noise from his mobile, informing him he'd just received a text message.
Henderson loved his early evening naps. This was because they were preceded by a stroll down the road which allowed him to watch his neighbours as they arrived home from work. There was something he found wonderfully gratifying about seeing them all looking exhausted from their labours when he'd spent his entire day lolling around and doing very little.
In particular, he enjoyed the sight of Brian Cartwright staggering wearily up his garden path. Henderson took a delight in the fact that Brian was a sewage contractor who always arrived home caked in shit and looking pissed off. Even though Brian lived at number seven, which was at the other end of the road, at least ninety yards away, Henderson could smell him keenly, and he kept his distance.
When Brian had gone indoors, Henderson chuckled to himself and made his way back to his own drive at number forty- three, which he shared with forty- one.
Seeing Brian had reminded him of how tired he was.
It was nap time.
Robert let go of his ignition key and took his mobile from his pocket. It was likely that the message he'd just received was nothing important, he told himself, but he ought to check it before he set off, all the same.
He swiped the screen and opened the message. It was from his uncle Ted.
Robert was puzzled by these words. He racked his brains to work out what they could possibly mean. It was a long time since he'd seen his uncle and he couldn't remember what they'd last talked about, so he had no idea what uncle Ted was referring to, or what he might have done.
Robert felt guilty at his recollection of their last meeting, which had been many months ago. He knew he ought to make an effort to see his uncle Ted more often.
Ted was a lifelong bachelor who'd never had children and he often spoke of Robert as if he was his son. Robert was the only family that Ted had left.
Robert promised himself he'd visit Ted more frequently in future, perhaps once a month, or even once a week if he could stand it, just to make sure the old guy was okay and that he had company now and again. Then he racked his brains. What was it his reclusive uncle, Professor Ted Forsythe, could possibly have done? What could have got him so excited that he'd felt compelled to send a message about it to his nephew which ended with five exclamation marks?
It was a hot June evening and it looked as if it was going to be one of those rare evenings that remained hot until midnight. Robert's car, which had been baking in the sun all day, was like the inside of a gas oven which had been turned up to the maximum setting. He was sweating profusely in his pin-striped suit, even though he'd been sitting in the car for less than a minute. As soon as he got the engine going he switched on the air-conditioning and turned it to 'chill', then he put the car into gear and set off on the A232 towards his home on the other side of Croydon.
The air-con unit needed pressurizing and even when he turned the fan up to full, Robert found it didn't make a blind bit of difference to the temperature in his car. If anything, it seemed to make the car warmer instead of cooler, so he switched the air-conditioning off and wound down a couple of windows instead.
It was the rush hour; there were delays at every set of traffic lights, every junction and every roundabout. Most of the journey proceeded at a crawl. This forced Robert to inhale huge quantities of exhaust fumes. It also gave him plenty of opportunity to dwell on things: his job, the insane project he'd just been given by his boss, and his uncle's enigmatic message.
Gradually, during the course of the journey, Robert was able to make sense of the message.
Uncle Ted was a retired scientist. When Robert had last seen him, he'd had a crazed look in his eye. He'd said something which Robert had found implausible, although admittedly very interesting.
Uncle Ted had claimed he'd been on the verge of making an astonishing medical breakthrough – namely, bringing the dead back to life. He'd been working on a machine to put his theories into practice. He'd referred to it as the 'Lazarus Engine.'
Robert could only assume that Ted's message meant he'd finished work on the Lazarus Engine and believed he was now in a position to raise the dead.
Robert shook his head at the thought of his deluded old uncle Ted.
That's what comes of being a recluse and living alone, he told himself. You go stir crazy.
Robert was a natural sceptic. He didn't believe a word his uncle had said on the subject of the Lazarus Engine. He tried to forget about his crazy uncle and his crazy uncle's crazy machine, but he couldn't. For some reason his mind kept coming back to it and giving him crazy ideas of his own.
What if, he wondered, my uncle really can raise the dead? What wondrous things might be possible?
There was one possibility he could think of which would work to his advantage.
If the dead really can be brought back to life, Robert thought, I could use Uncle Ted's machine to raise Floyd Rampant from the dead. Then I could give Rampant a contract to appear on FRTV to introduce his own ancient cooking shows, the shows FRTV has just bought the rights to. Having a dead chef as a front man would be a television first and it'd be a sensation. It'd pull in viewers by the hundreds of thousands, maybe even by the million.
Equally importantly, it's a gimmick that'd cost very little to put into effect. The only new footage I'd need would be Rampant talking to camera. That could be done on the cheap.
Rampant last worked twenty or thirty years ago. He won't know how much the world has changed since then. If I can sign him up as soon as he's been resurrected, he'll probably agree to do the job for '80s money, which will be chump change.
Robert smiled to himself at the thought of all of this. He knew it was all nonsense, of course, and nonsense on stilts at that. No-one, not even his phenomenally clever uncle, could possibly bring the dead back to life. But it amused Robert to think about it, and the more he thought about raising the dead, the more Robert felt he ought to visit his uncle and look into it, just in case.
Raising the dead might be impossible, but if there was even a small chance of it happening, Robert wanted in on it.
After all, the Lazarus Engine, if it worked, could be used to resurrect more than the dead.
It could be used to resurrect Robert's ailing career.