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Literature / The Corpse of Charlie Rull

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The Corpse of Charlie Rull is a 1959 short horror story written by Joseph Payne Brennan, originally published in The Dark Returners but also featured as the second story in 1980's in The Shapes of Midnight. It tells the short, horrific tale of homeless heart attack victim Charlie Rull who falls into a swampy pool saturated with radioactive chemicals unintentionally leaked from a laboratory near the dump where he lived. The radiation resurrects Charlie as an inhumanly strong zombie. Remembering nothing of his former life, Charlie feels only the pain of the radiation burning through his undead body. Filled with a vicious hatred for all other life, he proceeds to go on a murderous rampage through the nearby town of Newbridge.

As with Slime, a great audio version read by Edward E. French can be found here.

Tropes used in this story:

  • The Alcoholic: What Charlie was when he was alive. It's one of things which contributed to his fatal heart attack.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The hitchhiker is described as "olive-skinned."
  • An Arm and a Leg: Many of Charlie's victims get their limbs torn off. Charlie himself has an arm shot off by the cops at the end, among the other injuries he sustains.
  • Asshole Victim: Charlie's first and second victims. The first is a salesman who hits him with his car and initially decides to keep going after he mistakenly believes he's killed the undead tramp, essentially fleeing the scene of an accident in a hit and run. Charlie overturns his car and rips him to bits. His second victim is a hitchhiker who turns out to be a Serial Killer planning to murder whoever picks him up.
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  • Bloodless Carnage: Played straight with Charlie. Because he's a zombie, he has no blood to bleed. Completely averted with his victims, however; he ends up drenched in the blood of everyone he tears to pieces.
  • Came Back Wrong: Hoooo boy...
  • Da Chief: The police captain.
  • Determinator: As a zombie, Charlie very rarely gives up once he sights a victim. When Cynthia and her mother run inside the house as he chases them, Charlie slams himself repeatedly against the door as well as the side of the house in a frenzied effort to get inside. Although he succeeds, Cynthia and her mother escape out the front door and hide in the tall grass. At the end, when facing the cops, Charlie is shot. A lot. After becoming Half the Man He Used to Be thanks to the sergeant's machine gun, both his upper and lower halves continue coming after them until they just keep shooting him so much he literally falls to pieces. Even then, the bits and pieces of Charlie, infused by the radioactive chemicals, continue crawling around and writhing before finally dying.
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  • Disposable Vagrant: No one notices poor Charlie go missing after he dies and falls into the swamp, although it could simply be due to the short timeframe, as even his fellow homeless men only realizing anything has happened to him when he turns up at their campsite and attacks them.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: Charlie, obviously.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Charlie's encounter with the hitchhiker. The man turns out to be a wanted serial killer who'd been planning his next attack when Charlie stumbled across him.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The whole story (excluding the three days in which Charlie was immersed in the swamp) takes place over a single day and ends that night.
  • Eye Lights Out: When Charlie (finally!) dies (again!), his Glowing Eyes of Doom fade out.
  • Fainting: Cynthia's mother faints after seeing what Charlie did to her horse. Two reporters covering the cops' battle with Charlie at the end also faint after witnessing the severed upper body of Charlie continuing to crawl forward even after the sergeant shoots him in half.
  • Finish Him!: The police captain at the end, screaming hysterically after his men briefly freeze up.
    Captain: Keep firing, you fools! Keep firing! Did I tell you to stop?! Finish it! Finish it!
  • Five Rounds Rapid: The police captain's initial response to Charlie using ordinary rifles. When that fails, he has his sergeant unleash More Dakka with a machine gun, wbich cuts the zombie in two.
  • Freak Lab Accident: The only reason the chemical contaminants get into the swamp in the first place.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Charlie Rull was honestly just a down-on-his-luck homeless guy who never hurt a soul until he fell into the radioactive swamp.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Because he stumbles through the homeless men's campfire, Charlie's clothes catch fire and burn off, leaving him completely naked for his final battle against the cops.
  • The Ghost: Crazy Zack. He comes up a couple of times in discussion among the local homeless in Newbridge (he's apparently known as something of a mooch), and as Charlie is approaching three of his fellow tramps cooking dinner, they mistake him for Zack initially. Zack himself never actually appears. Considering what Charlie does to one of his three friends, he's probably glad he missed supper.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Zombie!Charlie's eyes are described as glowing.
  • Gorn: It's pretty nasty for a story written in the 50s.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Charlie gets completely torn in half by the police sergeant's machine gun. Both halves continue living and crawling around, until further fire shoots Charlie into so many pieces he ceases being a threat.
  • Helping Hands: When being riddled with bullets by the sergeant, one of Charlie's hands is severed and crawls around like "a crab."
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: When his heart attack comes on, Charlie just keels over dead on the spot.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: At one point, Charlie happens upon three fellow homeless men who recognize him. Naturally, he attacks them. One of them attempts to reason with him, insisting he's never crossed Charlie, and reminding him that they shared a drink just that past New Year's. Charlie responds by tearing him apart.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: After the hitchhiker/Serial Killer, Charlie sights and gives chase to a little girl named Cynthia, however her mother grabs her up and escapes with her. After failing to find either of them, he satisfies himself with killing their horse. Upon seeing what's left of it, Cynthia's mother faints, leaving her daughter unprotected; fortunately for Cynthia, Charlie has by this time wandered away into the woods and forgotten about her.
  • Infernal Retaliation: After killing one of the homeless men, Charlie becomes fixated on their campfire and attacks it, catching his clothes on fire in the process. Although the flames fail to hurt or kill him, and end up burning off his clothes, he staggers around searching for more people to kill before the flames goe out and leaves a trail of fire everywhere he goes as a result. Eventually half of Newbridge's forested areas go up in flames.
  • Losing Your Head: Charlie's severed head continues living for a bit after the sergeant shoots it off.
  • More Dakka: After the initial volley of rifle fire severely hurts Charlie's face, the police captain orders his sergeant, manning a machine gun, to have a go, and his fire completely cuts Charlie in two.
  • Never My Fault: The salesman who hits Charlie with his car blames Charlie for the accident.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The one good thing that comes of Charlie's rampage is that he saved whoever would've been the serial killer's next target when he makes said killer his second victim, although, being a zombie, he of course neither knows nor cares.
  • Nightmare Face: Being a bloated, radioactive corpse, Charlie has a pretty nasty-looking face. It gets worse after his fight with the knife-wielding hitchhiker, who slashes him several times and even cuts off his left ear. And then even worse at the end when rifle fire from the police tears half of his face away.
  • Ninja Pirate Robot Zombie: Charlie is an inhumanly strong, radioactive zombie hobo serial killer.
  • No Name Given: Most of the characters are identified solely by their roles/jobs; the salesman, hitchhiker, the three tramps, the captain and his sergeant all don't get names. In fact, the only named characters in the story besides Charlie are Cynthia Mellett and her mother, Mrs. Mellett, as well as "Crazy Zack."
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Although Brennan describes in pretty grisly detail how Charlie kills and dismembers his human victims, were aren't told what happened to the horse. Only that the sight of it causes Cynthia's mother to faint.
  • Nuclear Nasty: It is radioactive chemicals which brings Charlie back to what could charitably be called life and makes him inhumanly strong.
  • Off with His Head!: Charlie tears the salesman's head off attempting to pull him from his overturned car. At the end, the police sergeant's machine gun decapitates Charlie completely.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Charlie is resurrected by irradiated chemical contaminants in the swamp water he falls into, and isn't interested in eating his victims, only mindlessly killing them, like a Rage virus victim in 28 Days Later (minus the Technically Living Zombie part; it isn't called "The Corpse of Charlie Rull" for nothing). He is constantly in pain from the radioactive energy coursing through him, and commits violent acts as a means of expending that energy. He is also driven by an intense hatred of all life that isn't in the same kind of pain as him.
  • Out of Focus: The scientists at the lab where the radioactive chemicals came from.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted. The local police captain and his men very quickly believe survivors' stories, and their hastily thrown together defense involving rifles, machine guns and searchlights is able to sufficiently deal with the killer zombie hobo.
  • Power Glows: Because he's infused with radiation, Charlie emits a kind of Sickly Green Glow in the darkness.
  • Serial Killer: What Charlie becomes. His second victim also turns out to be a serial killer himself, and is in fact planning his next crime before he gets interrupted by Charlie.
  • Sinister Switchblade: The Serial Killer hitchhiker who ends up as Charlie's second victim prefers murdering people with a switchblade. He even uses it against Charlie in an effort to defend himself, to no effect.
  • Super Strength: Due to the radiation which brought him back to life, Charlie is strong enough to not only rend fully grown adult humans to pieces, but he can also lift up entire cars.
  • Swamps Are Evil: When he dies from his heart attack, Charlie falls into the fetid and polluted swamp near the junkyard where he lives. Due to the pollutants from the nearby research facility's Freak Lab Accident, said swamp is just a lifeless expanse of dead plant life, devoid of any animals. Between this and Slime, it seems Joseph Payne Brennan really had something against swamps.
  • Theremin: Used in Edward E. French's audio version.
  • Villain Protagonist: As with Slime, the story is told almost entirely from Charlie's point of view and ends right after he gets killed (again).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never learn the fate of the other two homeless guys Charlie attacks. It's likely they escaped while he was killing the third and/or while he was attacking their campfire, but some clarification would've been nice.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Because the resurrected Charlie hates all life, he has no qualms about chasing after a little girl named Cynthia and attempting to kill her. Fortunately, he fails.