The eyes continued to stare through her phone. Whatever those figures were, they didn’t advance. They were content to watch. She had her picture, so she took her phone back and shined the light on Blas. In the darkness, his one eye shined back at her. He stayed silent as instructed because he was a good dog, but the hair down his back stood, and he shivered. He didn’t need to speak to beg her to turn around and leave. What did he know about bad curricula and intelligent zombies? He just wanted her to be safe, and after everything that happened, she found herself inclined to agree.
The problem with Stacy and zombies was that Stacy wasn’t stupid. She had to admit she wasn’t exactly smart wandering into a makeshift graveyard alone at night, but even in these trying times she had her limits. There was eagerness for action and then there was eagerness to die. Any confusion between the two was shocked out of her whenever she flexed the last knuckle on her pinky and remembered it wasn’t there.
Stacy turned and walked away, promising herself she’d find a safer way to find out more. She didn’t walk twenty steps before Blas growled, and she clenched her teeth. “What is it, boy?”
A dozen feet in front of them, a zombie stepped into the light. Thin strands of white hair hung from its gray head, which lolled backward on its neck, its eyes looking down to see her. It raised its gnarly hands straight up before it, palms open. The universal sign of “I mean no harm.” Blas stepped forward, a growl rising in his throat, and Stacy considered what kind of zombie could possibly mean no harm. Ethan came to her mind, gaunt face solemn in his strange display case in the court.
She shook the image from her head, replacing it with an image where this thing led her directly into another horde to tear her to pieces. She raised her hand, ready to give Blas the go-ahead, but stopped, thinking of Mr. Gobi’s daughter in her little yellow sun-dress. She imagined her again, bloody hair, cackling while she joined the rest of the zombie horde picking Stacy’s corpse clean. It was hard to think of those as the same person. She didn’t want to kill anyone, but she didn’t want to be torn apart and eaten, either, so she tried a third option, perhaps the most bizarre of all. “Please step out of the way.”
The zombie groaned and lowered its arms nearly falling over from the effort. Its head lolled to the side and it answered. Sort of. “Friend.”
Stacy waited for more, but the zombie’s hanging head just stared at her like it had made a complete statement that she must now respond to. Stacy’s breath caught in her throat, and she looked toward her vulnerable rear. She couldn’t see anything but the flickering light of the campfire. Were the zombies still standing and staring? Had they forgotten about her? Or maybe now they were advancing. She strained her ears to listen, but could only hear crickets and frogs and her own dog’s low growl.
Stacy took in a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves. “Okay, friend, let me by.”
The zombie’s mouth opened slowly. “Ann,” it said. “Gel.”
“Angel… Angela?” it nodded a slow, diagonal nod. Stacy’s blood ran cold. Was this zombie there that day? Did it recognize her? If they ate strangers, what would they do to someone they actively hated? She looked behind her again at the impenetrable darkness. How close could they get before she would see them?
Blas took another step forward. “Blas, to me!”
The eyes in the zombie’s sideways head followed the dog as he backed up and stood before Stacy, ready to pounce. Another diagonal nod as it put its hand to its chest. “Jay.” It pointed to Stacy with a bony finger. “Stay.” “See.” It made a choking, moaning sound.
Stacy didn’t move, but she started to imagine a small pack of zombies hiding in the darkness behind her. His name is Jay. I should stay and see? Stay and see what? The zombie before her spoke again, croaking. “Safe.”
No wonder they didn’t talk much if it was this hard. All the more reason for Stacy to get out of here before she rolled the dice again on becoming one of them. “Listen. I’m sure it would be lovely for all zombies and humans to come together and sing Kumbaya, but right now I’m just-” Stacy saw no reason to lie. She glanced back and felt her heart hammer in her chest. “I’m scared for my life and I want to go home.”
Laboriously, the zombie shook its head. “Safe.”
Obviously you want me to think I’m safe, but how can I trust you? Stacy still couldn’t see anyone or anything behind her, but she was done taking stupid risks. Fuck. “My dog here really wants to tear your throat out. It’s kind of his thing. But if you stand aside he won’t get to. I’ll leave and we can forget this ever happened.”
“Ann.” “Stay.” “See.” “Friend.” It took a rasping breath. “Stay.” “See.” “Safe.”
Stacy stood her ground, swallowing, wanting to be anywhere but here surrounded by flesh-eating zombies. It’s self defense, she reminded herself, but she couldn’t release Blas yet. “Ok, I get it, I’m Stay See. Angela tried to kill me the only time I met her, so I wouldn’t call us friends. Plus, she’s dead.”
The zombie shook its head again. “No.” “g-gg” it gurgled. Then it closed its eyes and took a noisy breath. With another shake of its diagonal head, it put its hands out to one side. Right this way.
“Blas, stay between me and the zombie.”
Stacy crept past, Blas her dutiful shield. Soon, “Jay” was shrouded in darkness with all the other flesh-eating corpses. The way back seemed longer in the dark. At one point, her flashlight caught a silhouette of a dog with a single glowing eye, but it was gone before she could get a good look. Blas tilted his head when she looked down to confirm he was there. She reached out a shaking hand to pat his head. It’s fine, Stacy. Stress makes everyone a little crazy. It can’t be much further now.
When Stacy reached the foot of Forsythe Summit, her heart plummeted. Another dozen zombies blocked her path. Maybe she could send Blas to break another hole and make a mad dash. Before she could finish the thought, she noticed something else shining in the light from her phone. Tiny specks of light, almost like fireflies. Her blood froze in her veins when she saw what it was: Each zombie held a black handgun, glinting in the beam of her flashlight. A few of them hung limp in hands that seemed unable to lift, let alone aim them, but the rest were pointed at her and Blas.
Stacy put her hand in the air, struggling to breathe. and told Blas to stay. “Please. Don’t hurt Blas. He’s a good dog, but he doesn’t understand guns. If you get too close he might attack.”
A zombie with blue mold growing on his chin bent down. He threw a heavy steel muzzle, a coil of rope, and a roll of paper wrapped in ribbon on the ground in front of Stacy. She shuddered. She didn’t need an explanation for the muzzle and the rope, but she snatched up the paper. In the light of her flashlight she read the outside, in beautiful blue calligraphy.
To the esteemed reporter for the Romero Star, Estacia Isabella Torres.
Stacy shook her head in confusion, numbly sliding off the ribbon.
Your personal friend Reverend Angela Worthy invites you to a night of revelry with some of the most delightful and memorable human beings you will ever meet.