Blas de Lezo had one eye, three legs, and a chunk missing from his left ear, and he was the best zombie protection a girl could ask for. A scraggly poodle with no tolerance for nonsense, he exuded an aura that kept not only zombies, but other dogs and other people away, and that’s how Stacy Torres liked it.
The lid sewn shut over Blas’s empty eye socket twitched as Princess Penelope Blackwater Stowe walked into the classroom, leading her charge, Ethan Stowe. Layered in glossy black, white, and brown fluff, she sat at attention at a desk a desk ahead of Stacy and Blas and two to the side. Unaccountably graceful for someone who had grown so much in the last year, he followed, his styled hair shining more than his dog’s. A pretty dog for a pretty boy. Blas blew an audible breath out through his nose, and Stacy agreed. A pretty meal for a gang of zombies.
Every quarter at Romero high school started with the safety seminar. There were a lot of rules, but they were illustrated with cool footage of dogs taking down zombies.
- Keep your anti-zombie-certified dog with you at all times. Dogs are not susceptible to the zombification effects of Lyme disease and serve as a barrier between you and a zombie. (video of a cocker spaniel standing between a young man and a green-tinted woman with scraggly blonde hair and a vacant look.)
- Although zombie bites are the most sensational means of catching Lyme disease, Deer ticks are the most common vector. Before zombification sets in, symptoms may be subtle and include joint pain or swelling, dizziness, and shortness of breath. (diagrams of deer ticks over a background of zombie carnage)
- In wooded areas, do not stray off the path. Animals that have become accustomed to eating zombies may not take the time to distinguish you from a fresh one. (video of a coyote taking down a pale fat man in a red plaid hat carrying a shotgun he clearly could not remember how to use)
- Pretending to be a zombie is irresponsible, dangerous, and illegal. All dogs are trained to attack at significant signs of zombie behavior. (video of a man lifting his arms in front of him and getting knocked down by a whole pet store’s worth of canines)
Lunch break. The woods behind the school were the best place for wildlife and/or zombie photography. Stacy and Blas wandered along the path, she with phone at the ready, he with head low to the ground, nostrils flared. Someday, she was determined, she would get a video into one of those instructional videos. They showed at so many schools, it had to be a path to quick riches. Easy money if you weren’t scared of the woods or stupid enough to get bit.
Blas lifted his nose and growled, turning his head to the left to look behind him with his good eye. Stacy followed his gaze and saw a lanky figure in the distance, a fluffy collie by his side, pointing a cell phone, way off the trail. Blas’s eye turned to her, and she could swear he was telling her, “Don’t do it. Stay on the path.”
“What if that’s the video, Blas? The one that’ll make us rich?”
Blas’s expression did not change.
“I know how to be safe,” she snapped, shaking her head and plowing towards the princess and her gangly prince.
Ethan had not tucked his pants into his socks like Stacy. Anything could crawl up there and give him lyme disease. The moment he saw Stacy, he papered over his excitement with an affected coolness. His whole body slackened in one go, and his boyish grin became a roguish smirk.
“Oh, hey, Stace.” Why did boys call her “Stace?” She had never introduced herself as “Stace.” Was fewer syllables supposed to convey more confidence? It reminded her of her little brother who just couldn’t pronounce the whole word and called her “Stayff.”
“Hey Eth.” she mumbled, looking for what he was seeing. “You should be on the path.”
Then she caught it. The bear stood two feet higher than the rotting boy. He wore the last tatters of a basketball jersey on his wrinkled gray-green flesh. Stacy recognized the number 24. “Did you get a picture? We should tell the Borde family we found Michael.”
Princess growled out of the side of her snout facing Stacy and Ethan put a finger to his lips. He took a step closer, stretching his phone as far out as it would go.
“Yo,” Stacy said taking his free arm. It was warm, and the hairs on it made her skin tingle. She took a moment to get her senses back and finished her thought. “This is going to get dangerous real soon if that bear sees us.”
Ethan turned his head back to look at her. For a tense moment, he just stared, unable to comprehend what was happening. Princess and Blas stared each other down. Finally he spoke. “Let go of me, what are you doing, weirdo?”
Stacy blushed and released her grip, and he took his arm back and shook it out and rubbed it. Geez, she didn’t grab him that hard. Delicate flowers, this pair. He took another couple steps forward. He explained his reasoning, “that bear will eat that walking corpse and have no interest in us. This is a golden opportunity.”
“Who’s to say he won’t want a fresher meal?” asked Stacy, stepping forward with him.
“Bears are scavengers,” he explained, as if that hadn’t been covered in the Advanced Safety class she’d aced last year and he’d slept through.
“But they prefer fresh meat,” she finished the lesson for him.
Ethan shifted the phone to his other hand, then waved Stacy away with his now free right hand. He rotated his wrist like he was working out the kinks. I didn’t even grab you there, moron. Princess and Blas almost bumped together in their efforts to put themselves between the two people. The bear and zombie Michael looked to be in a standoff.
Ethan cradled his phone in his hands awkwardly to keep it steady, and Stacy pulled out her pocket tripod. Blas stepped away towards the trail and gave a quiet but insistent woof. Soon Princess was with him, and they whined and growled at their charges to no effect. Stacy attached her telescoping lens to her phone camera and Ethan stepped forward again.
The bear finished its pondering and brought one huge paw down on Michael, who crumpled to the ground. It sniffed the air and thought some more. Then it turned its head to look at Ethan.