Deep inside her heart of hearts, underneath her ratty clothes and unkempt hair, Stacy Torres was a good little girl. She hurried Blas into the backseat of her station wagon, left a message for her mom, and started driving.
An hour later, Madeline Bailey Torres got a break from her shift at Halperin Memorial Hospital and took her phone out of her cubicle for her daily fifteen minutes of Instagram. “Oh!” she screamed, dropping the phone on the floor and startling Gabriel so much that the greyhound’s silver hair stood on end as she leapt to attention. Six minutes later Madeline had a cover for the rest of her shift. She and Gabriel got in her Corolla and drove twenty miles above the speed limit until she reached San Alejandro Hospital.
Madeline Torres knew her way around an ICU, not that it did her any good. Her baby blue scrubs and bright pink Halperin Memorial ID shone like a spotlight among the San Alejandro grays and she had to present herself in the waiting room like everyone else. In just twenty minutes, though, Gabriel perked up and Madeline’s little girl walked through the door.
With the pinky on her right hand formless under layers of bandages, Stacy walked out stoic. She looked every bit the unflappable survivor she and Marco had raised her to be. Then she saw her mother, and the walls came tumbling down. “Five percent!” she shouted, “Five percent, Mom! It’s only five percent!”
Madeline wrapped her arms around Stacy while Gabriel licked blood and dirt off of Blas. “You’re going to be fine, baby. You’re going to be fine.”
“One hour and thirty-seven minutes. Less than two hours is five percent. I did it. I did it. I’m gonna be fine.” Stacy cried.
Madeline held her only child in a vice grip, as if to physically fight zombieism’s threat to tear her away. “Baby, baby. You did good. You’re going to be fine.”
The heads of the Torres clan did not have secret conversations that Stacy had to listen to through her door. Marco Iglesia Torres called a family meeting to be held after supper. Nothing harsh was ever to be discussed during dinner, so the family devoured a plate piled high with shredded chicken tacos in silence.
No dry food for the dogs tonight. Densely packed chicken filled their bowl. Marco’s pit bull Ignacio and Gabriel stood aside and let Blas eat first. By zombie protection dog standards, his feats had earned him several chapters of an epic poem and maybe a statue in his likeness or two. If only any of them could sculpt or write. Tonight the honor of licking the plates in the dishwasher would be his alone.
Stacy tried to eat slowly to forestall the terrible punishment her father would surely layer on top of the experience of nearly getting killed and losing the tip of her pinky finger. She could not stall forever, though, and eventually, Marco spoke.
“Estaciasita, you did not follow the rules laid out for your safety.”
As a small child, Stacy learned that her father was more gentle when she spoke Spanish. She didn’t know that she knew this, but whether she realized it or not, when Father was mad, Stacy became Estacia, and Estacia spoke Spanish. “Lo siento, papa. Tomé una mala decisión y nunca olvidaré esta lección.”
Marco loomed over the table, a head taller than either his wife or his daughter and stockily built. The light behind him literally put the two in his shadow.
“Si, you have learned your lesson. You did the right thing going to the hospital and calling your mother right away, and it may have saved your life. You have been punished more than enough already.”
Before Stacy could wrap her head around this mercy, Father continued, “Entonces, this meeting is about what we are going to tell people.”
“We will tell them that you fell on the trail and your finger could not be saved.”
“¿Papa, pero, puedo hablarles de los zombis inteligentes? ¿Sin mencionar mi herida?”
Mom took Stacy’s hand in hers under the table and Stacy stiffened. Mom did that to soften a blow.
Marco spoke, “There will be no mention of zombies. You never left the trail. Entiendes?”
Stacy swallowed. Father did not take a light hand to discipline, but he had never interfered with her reporting. Intelligent zombies that lay traps – the public had to know!
Stacy’s mother squeezed her hand again. “Entiendes, Estacia, mi amor? Your reporting is important, but you know the school’s policy on zombieism is very strict. If you have a record of being bitten, students and teachers alike will interpret anything as you becoming a zombie. We can’t afford to put you in private school.”
Stacy yanked her hand out from Mom’s. “I know that, Mom.”
Marco set one hand down on the table with just enough force to make a loud noise. “This is not just about you, Estacia Isabella Torres. Think of what a zombie bite means for your family. People already say that we come across the border just to swell the zombie population. If this gets out, you will be under twice the scrutiny, and everyone in this house will get a second look.”
“Naciste en Idaho.” Stacy complained, knowing her Father’s response before she said it.
“I cannot wear a badge of Idaho on my face. Do not forget they called the neighborhood that I was from ‘Little Mexico’ and in Boise you may as well have come from Juarez. Be grateful that you are light-skinned, but do not be careless because you assume the law will be on your side. We cannot control what people at the hospital may say, but we must do everything we can to make sure no one thinks that we are zombies.”
Stacy glared at her father, more comfortable blaming him than a hyper-vigilant anti-zombie society that until moments ago could count her a pious adherent. In the end, though, beneath her stony glare and her rebellious attitude, everyone in the room knew that Stacy Torres was a good little girl. The “New intelligent zombies lay traps, safety curriculum needs updating” front page that would make her famous would never be published.
If she personally could not get the recognition, that didn’t absolve her of the duty to get the word out. Laying face down on her bed with Blas de Lezo laying on top of her and Gabriel and Ignacio licking either hand, Estacia Isabella Torres would just have to find another way. It would take the help of someone much more reckless than she.