Stacy did the right thing and nothing happened. No reward, no acknowledgement. Her good deeds weren’t even punished. No one had reached out to her about whether Ethan had made it safely to Green Meadows Village. No one mentioned anything about Princess. In the saga that played out with the Carson-Stowe family, apparently she and Princess had both been forgotten. Princess herself was inconsolable. She no longer hid in the corner, but wandered the house aimlessly like she had forgotten how to be a dog. Any room you entered you might find Princess there, standing in the middle, her fluffy white, black and brown butt facing the door. When you came in, she would look back at you and whine. Mom and Dad called it “getting Pelusa’ed.”
Still, Stacy had done the right thing, and she knew where to go when she needed someone to rejoice with her in her own moral behavior and the good fortune of others.
When Stacy came into his office with the good news about Ethan’s exoneration, Mr. Gobi seemed to have something else on his mind. From behind his thick-rimmed spectacles, his gray-green eyes looked right through Stacy and to the wall behind her. “Good.” He mumbled.
Stacy felt a heat inside her. This was not the Mr. Gobi she knew. She narrowed her eyes, offering him a chance to redeem himself. “Ethan isn’t going to be executed. That’s a little better than ‘good.'”
Mr. Gobi reached out for Cody and found his head. He looked down and patted him for a long while. Finally he turned his eyes back to Stacy and really looked at her, smiling like he was seeing her for the first time. “You’re right. It’s wonderful. I know you were worried about him. Will you visit him in the quarantine hotel?”
Stacy’s heat became a chill. She hadn’t thought about visiting him. She was still riding the high of winning the trial and hadn’t even thought to consider what would come next. She still couldn’t return Princess. No zombie dogs could go to a quarantine hotel for obvious reasons. Ethan’s family was paying her to take care of Princess, would they expect her keep caring for her until she got old and passed away? Would she even get enough privacy to tell Ethan that Princess was okay without putting her in danger all over again? Did Ethan want to see Stacy when he could barely speak? Did she want to see him?
“I hadn’t thought about it,” she admitted.
Mr. Gobi nodded and grew solemn. “He may be in there a long time. He’s not your charge. You should take care of yourself.”
Stacy blinked, her anger rising again. This was not the Mr. Gobi she knew. It was not the time for Mr. Gobi to be forgetting himself. Everyone who knew him respected Mr. Gobi because he was consistent, collected, and compassionate. He wanted to make sure everyone who needed an ally had one. He would never tell Stacy to abandon a friend in need.
An awkward silence followed, and Mr. Gobi once again changed his face. “You are good and sweet to have done so much for him, and you should visit him if you want to.”
Unspoken words lingered in the air, and she hated Mr. Gobi for them. She looked down at Blas. What if she had given up on him? He tilted his head to the side as he looked back at her with his one black eye. He would be dead twice over. She would have some other dog. How could she have some other dog and not Blas!? She shook her head. “Who am I talking to right now? Don’t you care about Ethan?”
“I care about you,” said Mr. Gobi. More unspoken words. Why didn’t he just say what he was thinking!?
Stacy boiled over. “He’s a human being! We can’t just give up on him!”
Mr. Gobi stood from his chair, gently pushing it back to make room, and loomed over Stacy. He spoke so quietly, Stacy wasn’t sure if she was hearing his voice or just reading his lips. “Please take a moment to consider who you’re talking to before you lecture me on commitment.”
Daniel Cobbe had just arrived in the office and taken his seat when Stacy burst out of Mr. Gobi’s office. She glared at him and his stupid red hair. Oblivious, he watched his whippet Charybdis take three steps to the side and snap her jaws to the left. He fed her a treat and looked up. He met Stacy’s gaze with blue eyes, the smile falling away from his face.
Blas growled. Stacy drew in a breath and screamed. “I. Hate. Crabs!!!”
Stacy couldn’t make anything go faster with Ethan’s predicament, but she could move forward on one thing – the zombies of Forsythe Summit. It was getting colder now, and whether due to elevation or just the time of day, the temperature fell further as she climbed. Blas had given up trying to prevent his alpha from going wherever she pleased and tailed morosely behind her, howling intermittently in piteous protest.
Stacy reached the bottom of the restricted side of the summit. She remembered the video – zombies with building supplies traveled to the right, so she took a right. She pulled out her cell phone and turned on the flashlight. Blas’s howl turned desperate until Stacy shushed him and he hunched over and crept after her, head below his shoulders.
As the night grew darker, Stacy felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. She raised her own shoulders for warmth and waved her little light back and forth in front of her, trying not to imagine that every flitting shadow was a zombie coming to kill her. She was looking for evidence of building, and she almost ran into it. Sticking up from a mound of dirt were two planks – her height – nailed together in a familiar shape. “Blas, it’s a cross.”
Stacy shined her flashlight on the cross and read one word in scrawled block letters “MOR.” She shined her flashlight around and found more crosses on mounds of dirt. “MAI,” said one, “GREY,” another, “TEE.” She went further and found a big mound, bigger than the others, with a cross big enough that it had several diagonal two-by-fours supporting it. “ANN” it said, “LEADER, SISTER, FRIEND.”
Then she noticed it. Far off further down her path was another light, flickering. It was too far to see. She squinted, then pulled her tripod and a lens from her pack, affixing them to her phone. She set the contraption down, hit “night mode,” and adjusted the zoom as far as it would go. With a little fiddling, she got a picture. She couldn’t make out a lot even with the zoom, and the night mode made everything look green. Nevertheless, she saw enough.
The light was a campfire. Figures stood around it, at least a dozen. Each one stared directly at the camera.