Blas snored beside Stacy as she lay awake in bed. How many people she knew were secretly zombies? Was it that easy to hide the symptoms? What else were zombies capable of if they could collect tools to build things? It was terrible what happened to Ethan. Now that he was gone, she was single again. She had never been in a relationship before, and only now did she understand that she didn’t like being the hardest girl in school. Not that she wanted to be easy, but… She reached out to put a hand on Blas’s gently rising and falling belly. She wasn’t alone. Mom always said that there would be plenty of time for boys when she was a rich professional.
Stacy didn’t notice the night go, but abruptly it was morning. Blas liked to keep sleeping while she took her morning shower and got her clothes on, but then she shook him awake. He grunted and yawned in complaint, but got to his three feet and hopped off the bed. He and Stacy descended the steps and she poured him his kibble and herself a bowl of corn flakes. Mom and Dad prohibited sugary cereals. Sometimes other students assumed that her mother cooked her breakfast, but both her parents left for work before she woke up.
Ethan’s dad probably cooked him breakfast. The cornflakes went down Stacy’s throat untasted as she daydreamed about fresh eggs and sausage. Hashbrowns and waffles and french toast slathered in maple syrup. Mr. Stowe knew how to cook. Based on that one supper, he probably could make a breakfast better than she could imagine. A chill went down her spine when she remembered the look on his face seeing what had happened to his son. There was no returning from where Ethan had been taken, but probably he’d get to live the rest of his life in a fancy quarantine hotel. Mr. Stowe and Mrs. Carson could visit him there. It could be worse.
Blas climbed through the dog door and Stacy opened the human door and followed after him. He relieved himself in the yard and caught a smell of something. Stacy knew the look. Blas turned his head left and right as his nose twitched. He put his nose to the ground, and soon Stacy was following him. She would be late for school, but right now she wanted a distraction from the chaos of the last few days. One in three people has lost someone to zombieism. It had always been just a number to her. Did this count as losing someone? Mr. Stowe had lost someone, but had she? Was Ethan a person she had and could lose?
Blas kept sniffing, and Stacy’s familiar neighborhood melted away. They walked all the way to a busy road, and Blas whined until Stacy came to cross with him. “Good Dog” she said, thinking of the unlikely woman who gave her the money to save his life. She had never been able to properly thank that woman, with her long dark hair and pale face. After two brushes with death, Stacy doubted Blas would have a third miraculous survival. She knelt to grab Blas and hug him, but he whined and struggled and she let him go. He continued in his straight line. Where was he taking her?
The road turned, and the sidewalk ended. Blas continued in the grass as heavy trucks roared past, displacing the air and pulling at his fur and at Stacy’s clothes. As they walked, Blas looked back occasionally, and Stacy nodded at him. “I’m still here.” She checked her watch – they had been walking for an hour. She ran through the classes she had that day in her head in case there were any important tests she was missing.
When they reached a lake that Stacy didn’t even know was there, she saw a rabbit at the water’s edge, putting its tiny grey head down to drink. Rows of black birds sat on the telephone wire on the other side, gazing down at them. Stacy’s stomach turned over, and she started to feel nervous. Blas bolted at the rabbit, but when it escaped, he returned to his trail.
Soon they arrived at another neighborhood. Stacy saw a beagle pawing at a window. When it saw her it barked, but Blas barked back at it and it disappeared behind a white lace drape. He looked back at Stacy again, and she asked him, “where are we going?”
He had no answer, but she was not going to give up now. Call it sunk cost fallacy or whatever you want. Stacy was now just as committed to following this scent as Blas was. They walked until they reached a steep hill, which they climbed together. Stacy wondered if Mr. Gobi was going to have a panic attack when both she and Ethan turned up missing so shortly after Julia vanished. He could hardly keep the newspaper going with just Josh. She was getting ahead of herself. They were going to find what Blas was looking for and then take an uber back to her car and go to school.
They had reached another neighborhood, one with three story apartment buildings with stained concrete landings. A man sat on a car seat removed from its car and set in an overgrown yard. He smoked a cigarette, eyeing them while his dog, a bony golden retriever missing patches of fur, snarled. “come on, Blas, let’s sniff a little faster,” Stacy suggested.
The morning sun was high in the sky when they reached the end of the plateau. The ground sloped down again, and in the distance, Stacy could see the towers of downtown Romero. Had they walked that far? Blas picked up his pace, though, and she had no time to consider it. When they came to a little strip mall, Blas took her behind a restaurant called Gem of Peking. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of rotting fat, but Blas barked.
Nothing happened, and he barked again. Stacy squinted to try to see what he was looking at, but she only saw a heavy green dumpster. As she watched, though, an animal crawled out from behind. Its brown and white fur was matted against it, and it cowered like a rat. Blas took a step towards it, and it whined. When he went to it and started licking it, Stacy risked stepping forward. Why did Blas take me all this way to see this dog?
Then she saw it – this creature was so bedraggled and miserable she was almost unrecognizable, but there was no doubt she was a collie. There was only one collie Blas knew. Stacy couldn’t understand why she was here, but she knew her name.
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