Man’s best friend, Zombie’s Worst Enemy part 10

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Stacy had seen a cat once. No, twice. The first time was when she was a little girl. A fluffy black-and-grey Maine Coon as big as a small pit bull and mean enough to pick a fight with one. Old Hannah Brockie across the street put out food every morning for her, and dogs and humans alike knew to keep their distance.

Those prone to forget bore scars to remind them, Stacy’s six-month-old poodle “Killer” was no exception. Killer left his pride with that cat along with his eye. Madeline and Marco worried that a one-eyed dog would not be good protection for their daughter, but Stacy was old enough to know what that would mean for the young dog and refused to let go. At ten years old, Stacy took Killer to every training course that would have them.

The teachers confirmed her parents suspicions and more. Not only was Killer vulnerable on his blind side, he was fearful. Killer behaved as if the slightest bruise could give him another permanent disability. When zombie mannequins raised their arms and moaned, he cowered behind Stacy and whined. He didn’t even bark at the mailman.

If you asked Madeline Torres at the time, she would tell you that Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If you told that to Stacy Torres, she would say that Einstein never said that . It first appeared in 1981 in a guidebook for narcotics abusers. Maybe it applied to substance addicts, but it did not, so Stacy reasoned, to her. She much preferred a bit of wisdom that Abraham Lincoln never offered. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The first appearance was in a teacher’s guidebook by some nobody, but the concept was solid. Stacy tried the same thing over and over again until she got different results.

You couldn’t point to an exact moment when Killer filled the hole where his pride had been with a discriminating confidence. It took another three months, with classes six times a week, but eventually, Killer began to pass his courses. Then he started acing them. Then the anti-zombie dog teachers started asking if they could use him as an example for their other students.

Whenever Stacy tried to type a “p” or an angle bracket and remembered the pinky joint that did that was no longer there, she looked at Blas, who lost a lot more than an eye by the time he earned his new name. If he could be the best with one eye, one leg, and one and a half ears, she couldn’t very well complain about a missing pinky joint.

Blas didn’t have to deal with high school girls, though.

“How’s life in the Yakuza, koibito?” asked Julia Sano, glancing over Stacy’s shoulder as she accidentally typed a semicolon instead of a hyphen the five hundredth time. Stacy regretted agreeing to Mr. Gobi’s suggestion that the newspaper team should take a shared independent study during sixth period to work on The Romero Star together in the Romero High Library.

“You think maybe you’re ready to move onto your next bizarre phase, Sano? Sometimes I hear little kids want to grow up to be helicopters. That might be an easier lift than becoming Japanese.”

Jack spoke. “Oh woe. Oh woe. Oh no,” and Blas lost his temper and barked at him, earning Stacy and Julia a shush from the librarian and a growl from her five pomeranians. Any dog that could pass the grueling zombie dog certification could become one, and, God knows why, someone sued and won the right to submit teams of dogs to the certification together, so now Mary-Sue Reynolds, who looked more like she should be a student, could dedicate all her free time to training her pomeranian anti-zombie squad. If there was ever someone who took her dogs to more training than Stacy, this was it. Even off-duty, the Z-squad, who Mary-Sue never referred to individually, were in formation, so the growl came from a row of little puffballs that looked like one video copied five times.

“Bless your heart, Torres. I thought you of all people would appreciate somebody getting to understand her complex heritage.”

“Shut the fuck up, Sable.”

“Language!” Mary-Beth hissed, the Z-squad leaping to attention. She pat them all on the head, two at a time with both hands, and said, “at ease.”

Hidoiyo, how would you feel if I called you Stacy Bailey?”

“Everyone would think you were a weirdo, so I guess it wouldn’t change much.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Koibito. You hold so much hate in your heart. Always pushing people away.” She shrugged and sat down at the computer next to Stacy.“Shouganaiyo.

The other cat Stacy met was a tom named Tom. Calico-siamese or something like that. Short hair and a patchwork of different shades of brown and orange. He seemed to get along with the dogs that were a constant presence in the post-zombieism world. They would sniff him, he might tap his nose to theirs or he might just lay there like nothing was happening at all. If they wanted to play, he would politely ignore them. One day Dad called a meeting to explain that a dog a few streets down had eaten Tom the tom.

That meeting was Stacy’s first encounter with death. The unidentified dog just opened its mouth and put it slowly around trusting Tom. Then it clamped down and shook. Mom thought Stacy didn’t need to hear that detail at five years old or maybe ever. Dad said that she needed to understand what can happen when you trust too much.

Neither of those cats fit the description that embodied the cat mythos that Stacy’s culture had taught her, but she had seen so few that the mythos was mostly what she went on when she thought about cats. Cats are mysterious, mercurial creatures, she had been taught. One example she had heard is that cats are only around when you don’t want to find them. When you do, they vanish into darkness.

Today, Ethan seemed to possess this mythological property of what was rapidly becoming a mythological animal. Stacy would be damned if she was going to start asking around for him, but for goodness sakes, where did he hide himself?

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

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