Ethan didn’t show up to school that day. If he was going off on another mysterious jaunt, he could at least have the courtesy to return her camera. How much longer was she going to have to wait to check these videos? Stacy tapped her pencil and chewed on her lip throughout her classes while Blas growled just low enough not to get a teacher to ask him to be quiet. As soon as they got out, they drove to Romero North.
She didn’t know how she was ever impressed by this ridiculous house. What did a family of three need with this much space? Who knows how many other kidnapped dogs they held in their other rooms? If Ethan didn’t even have the courtesy to apologize for his family’s behavior, let alone telling her what was going on with himself, it was certainly through between them. At least he was smart enough not to try to pretend everything was normal. She just needed to get that camera.
Mr. Stowe answered the door, looking much less handsome than she had thought at first. Who could like that preppy pretentious look, all button-downs and khakis? She had been so stupid. For his part, Mr. Stowe looked pretty stupid as well. He looked like she had just risen from the ground before his eyes.
“Stacy?” he looked left and right.
“Uh,” said Stacy. “Yes. Is Ethan here?”
Mr. Stowe’s confusion left, and his face became solemn. “I was going to ask you the same question.”
Mr. Stowe had an app that tracked Ethan’s car, but the app suggested he had parked on the side of I-40 and just sat there for over sixteen hours. Mr. Stowe summoned his massive dog Duchess, and in their separate vehicles they all drove to find it.
Stacy’s heart fell when she came upon the car. The sleek blue Roadster was empty. The only sign was a gift basket with her wildlife camera. Mr. Stowe swore under his breath and opened the door with his own key. He reached inside and operated the control panel to bring up the dash cam footage.
The blood left both of their faces as they watched Ethan frog-marched into a “Safety Patrol” vehicle. Safety patrol didn’t keep you for more than a couple hours, though. That’s all the time it takes to do an SP-12 test. Then they let you go.
If you’re negative.
“Mr. Stowe?” Stacy asked.
“False positives happen all the time,” Mr. Stowe blurted, anticipating her question. He pulled out his phone, and as it rang, he said “Mary will get this sorted out, don’t you worry. Why don’t you take this gift basket? That’s your camera, right? I’m sure it was meant for you.”
Stacy had no appetite for anything in the gift basket. She barely had the stomach to watch the zombie videos. Ethan’s fate had no bearing on her, so why was she face down on her bed, hanging her hand down for Blas to lick? Julia leaves suddenly, then Ethan disappears? The whole thing was a frightening jumble, and it made Stacy want to hide under her covers. She forced herself to get up and look at the zombie videos.
Even with the filter it was thankless work. Zombies showed up, but intelligence was a harder sell. Mostly they just shambled around and fell over. She counted eighty four videos of one zombie with so much mold it looked like it was wearing a fuzzy green body suit pacing back and forth, starting a new video each time it left the screen. A pale, skinny zombie and another one whose head was barely more than a skull with bulging bloodshot eyes crossed paths and tripped over each others’ feet, falling into a groaning heap. A zombie tried to creep up on a squirrel, but when the creature scampered away the zombie seemed to try to pounce and ended up sprawled in the dry leaves.
Stacy clicked through until Tuesday, when the sightings began to pick up. Starting at 3 in the afternoon, just about every few minutes another zombie shuffled past. They went left first, then after thirty minutes or so, the same zombies came back right carrying things. The fuzzy body suit zombie carried a big stick. Stacy recognized the sweater-wearing zombie with his missing foot. He could only carry a hammer. Where had he gotten that? The next had a bag of nails, and several more carried stacks of two-by-fours.
Stacy reached for the gift basket and withdrew a heavy gold-trimmed box. She withdrew the heaviest chocolate she had ever lifted. When she bit into it, it tasted like somebody had put in a sheet of metal. She pulled it out of her mouth and saw a gold pattern in the candy. Rich people were all about gold, everyone knew that, but this was the first she’d heard about eating it. It didn’t taste good, but she and her parents could get a laugh out of it.
She kept watching the zombie videos, but nothing else interesting happened. Could a zombie carrying a hammer be newsworthy? Nails? Certainly not a big stick. Zombies weren’t supposed to be tool users, but it still stood to reason that “Zombie Carries Stick” was not a headline that would catch eyes. Stacy carved off a slice of fancy white and purple marbled cheese from a log from the gift basket. It was weirdly soft. She tasted a piece and wrinkled her nose. She checked the label. Goat cheese? She pushed the rest out of the package and dumped it on the floor.
She watched Blas sniff at the cheese and then swallowed it up in one bite. He burped with satisfaction. At least someone could enjoy this gift basket. If Ethan was a zombie, how had Julia known? Was it related to how much Ethan seemed to hate her? The rapid one-two nature of their disappearances might not be a coincidence.
That wasn’t a story, though. If Ethan showed up again she would thank him for the gift basket and they could be cordial friends. No matter what, she needed to keep moving forward with her intelligent zombie story. The new question – what are the zombies building?