On the hunt for the dead, Stacy felt alive. She descended further and further into the wooded valley, she felt as if any moment she would run into a story every bit as good as the Thinking Bear. Her loyal dog Blas De Lezo followed close behind her, whining his complaints and whipping his head back and forth to keep the forest in view of his one eye. What had been the edge of excitement in the safety of the trail was now full-blown exhilaration.
After the initial panic, Blas shifted his energy toward sniffing. He was no less intense, trotting behind Stacy with all the grace a dog with a missing foreleg could muster, with his curly blonde head down and his black nose inches from the ground, still turning left and right in a wide arc to keep his eye out for danger.
Stacy kept watch for something else, and she found it. Sticking out from under a pile of leaves was a bone. Stacy stopped and took a closer look. The bone was too thick to be a squirrel or bird. “Blas, check this out. Do you think it’s a piece of a deer?” Blas padded forward and sniffed suspiciously. Gently, he put his mouth around one end of the bone and pulled it out from under the leaves. It was longer than she had expected. Blas looked at Stacy with one dark eye and whined.
Stacy’s attention was elsewhere, though. Further along in the same direction as the bone was another. It looked much the same as the first, although Blas seemed to hate it even more. Another bone was not far away, slightly shorter, stuck in the ground, with another just like it behind a rotting log. “What animal spreads out a carcass like this?” Stacy wondered.
Long, thin limb bones can come from all sorts of creatures, but the next bone’s wide, rounded shape Stacy recognized. “Blas,” she asked, “deer have pelvic bones, right?”
Blas didn’t understand the question, but he knew how to answer. He took a fold of Stacy’s jeans firmly in his mouth and tugged so hard she nearly fell over. Then he turned around and started sniffing back the way they came. Stacy followed with the odd sensation that the path they were taking was different somehow.
“Blas, where are the bones?” she asked suddenly. “Did you move them?”
No that was stupid. Of course Blas didn’t move the bones while she wasn’t looking. She fought the urge to run headlong forward, which would certainly leave her lost in the woods. Blas would get them back to the summit.
As Blas continued forward, he began to whine again. Soon he wasn’t sniffing the ground at all, but the air. He whipped his head back and forth and started to growl as he trot-hopped forward. Stacy kept close, willing herself the courage that had consumed her just minutes ago. When she herself started to smell what Blas was smelling, the last ounce left her.
It was a moldy, sour smell. It smelled like a cross between old meat left the refrigerator and the school locker room. They cleared a hill, and they saw the source. Spread out perpendicular to their way back to safety was a wall of zombies.
In shades of pink, green, and purple, the zombies represented every stage of decay. If not for the hideousness of seeing decaying corpses on their feet, one might appreciate the veritable rainbow of life growing on these bodies. Some had orange and pink mold growing on their faces or arms, others had gouges removed from their flesh, perhaps from the zombie that first infected them. Most frightening were the ones that didn’t look too much different from regular humans, just paler with sunken eyes and a vacant expression. All eyes were fixed on Stacy.
Stacy had learned in safety class how to outmaneuver stupid, slow zombies, and it would be no problem to make a wide circle around these to get away, except that, when she looked left and right, Stacy didn’t see where the wall ended. In fact, as it stretched out, it seemed to curve a little towards them.
Blas saw no more reason to be stealthy and barked at the zombies, who shambled forward slowly. Even more slowly than they had to. Some of these zombies could run if they wanted to. One zombie in a mud-spattered sweater had one of his black dress shoes fall off. The foot went with it and he stumbled on his new stump. The others looked back and stopped until he caught up. Stacy watched a woman with long brown hair like hers matted to the back of her faded yellow sun dress with dry blood as she grabbed the man and helped him get steady, groaning something unintelligible.
In the commotion, a centipede crawled out from a patch of yellow-green fungus on her forehead, down across her lips and neck to her arm. Stacy watched as it crawled down to her hand and onto the object it clutched. It was a pelvic bone. Definitely human.