The bear tilted its head to the side to ponder its new visitors. Blas crept up to Stacy and put his teeth around a fold in her loose jeans, administering a gentle but insistent tug. Stacy glanced toward Ethan and saw Princess, eyes on Blas, approach. She opened her long jaws, displaying long teeth that looked comical on such a fluffy body, but hesitated at Ethan’s fancy slacks. She’s afraid to mess up his pants? In a less tense situation, Stacy would put a hand to her head.
Instead, she watched Princess meet Blas’s eye and cower. She slinked forward and, ears back, placed her silky puffball self between Ethan and the bear. Ethan’s gaze remained on his phone, pointed at the bear, which fell to its feet and took a step forward.
Princess emitted a strange growl, almost more of a whine, and quiet enough that the bear might not even hear it. It was as if she simultaneously wanted to scare it away and not be noticed at all. Ethan was oblivious, and Stacy reached over and grabbed his phone.
“Hey!” He shouted, and all three animals’ ears twitched. Stacy picked up her own recording equipment, not bothering to take it apart, and pat Blas on his patchy head. Blas let go of her pant leg and they started to back up together, but Ethan didn’t join them.
Without his phone separating him and the bear, Ethan now looked to be paralyzed not with carelessness but fear instead. Princess had already given up on making him see reason and was committed to her position between him and danger.
“Hey, moron.” Stacy said, louder than she should have. Then, “oh no,” as the bear began to move. Princess let out a strangled yelp that should have been a bark as the bear ambled towards them. Blas took Stacy by the pant leg once more, but she swatted him away. He growled, hesitated a moment, and ran forward to join Princess.
Blas barked with confidence. Sonorous, threatening noises. He was already a big dog, but he sounded like one twice the size. A dog twice his size was still smaller than a grown brown bear, though, and the bear continued forward as if on a casual walk through the woods.
Next to Blas, Princess found her own voice, and what it lacked in sheer volume it made up for in ferocity. Ethan looked as surprised to see his puff ball nearly foaming at the mouth as he was frightened by the bear.
The bear itself set its eyebrows. Its relaxed expression left and it stopped. It rose up on its hind legs and released a guttural bellow that sent Ethan falling back onto his butt and for a moment silenced the two guardians. By the time they picked up barking again, they sounded like yapping terriers against the bear’s thunder.
Nevertheless, the bear fell back to all fours and swiped at the air. It grumbled and made a ponderous turn in place before heading away, its generous rump shrinking into the distance.
“Beware the Thinking Bear of Romero High” read the article in the proof copy of the school newspaper. Front page. Stacy barely heard Mr. Gobi the head of the journalism club congratulate her for her gripping story while his malamute Cody panted and sniffed at a stoic Blas. She had sent heavily watermarked clips of her footage to various safety video outlets, and chewed on her fingernails waiting for their response.
“You have a promising career ahead of you,” Mr. Gobi continued. “With your skills for finding a story plus your talent for videography and writing. Yes, a very bright future indeed. So don’t get so wrapped up in the outcome of this one video.”
When Stacy said nothing and continued refreshing her email, Mr. Gobi changed the subject. “Since there’s a focus on zombies this week, I think it’s a good opportunity to put in the latest information about the disease.”
“What’s that?” Stacy asked, not looking up from her phone.
“Lyme disease doesn’t always lead to zombieism. Many people lead long and productive lives with Lyme without even slightly becoming flesh-eating undead. Could you research some history, too? For a long time Lyme didn’t cause zombieism at all. There’s probably a lot of interesting things to say about how diseases mutate and become more dangerous.”
“Everybody already knows all that. Can’t you just give the puff pieces to Josh?”
“First of all that’s not nice to say about Joshua. Secondly, you might be surprised. There’s a lot of stigma going around, and with a piece like you have here, you’ll have the whole student body’s attention. One of the noblest goals of the newspaper is to educate and fight ignorance,”
Stacy ignored him. “A zombie’s a zombie. If they’re not chomping down on their neighbors yet it’s just a matter of time. If not, it’s still not worth the risk to protect someone who was stupid enough to get bitten.”
Mr. Gobi frowned at this. “Stacy Torres, I’m surprised at you!” Then he changed tack again, “maybe I’ll just give this article to Julia. I’m sure she can find a pithy few words to get the point across.”
Julia Sano was a hack with a smelly old wolfhound who took other news articles and summarized them in an unaccountably popular segment that had a permanent home on page 2. Her latest “article” was
White house medical team says President is free of zombieism and in excellent health. “Grrrrruurrrgh,” agrees President.
Stacy glared, “I’ll do it. People will be so educated they won’t know what to do with themselves.”
Mr. Gobi grinned broadly as Blas snapped at his malamute. “I’m sure they will. Another matter, we have a new applicant to write the weather section.”
“We don’t need a weather section. Anyone with Google can look up the weather.”
Blas growled at the malamute who hid behind Mr. Gobi’s legs. “Yes, they can, but sometimes they would rather open up the newspaper to find out the weather.”
Blas advanced and Stacy grabbed him by the collar and scolded him. “Bad dog. Leave Cody alone.” She turned back to Mr. Gobi, “no one under five hundred years old.”
“Ms. Torres, sometimes a newspaper must make compromises. Adding a weather section is a small one. Please look at the resume and come to my office if you see any compelling reason why we cannot welcome this young man onto our staff.”
There had better not be any such reason was the obvious subtext. Stacy considered reversing her position on Blas attacking Cody. That wouldn’t solve anything. She accepted the resume and turned back to glower at her computer. After Mr. Gobi and Cody left, she looked at the paper. One line in she wanted to dip it in hamburger grease and feed it to Blas.
Meteorological enthusiast and aspiring journalist applying for the weather columnist position at The Romero Star.