Dane grabbed Walter by the tail and pulled him back before he could sniff the towering electric fence surrounding Green Meadows Village. Then she punched a speed dial on her phone.
“You want me to infiltrate a zombie compound? That’s not in my job description.”
“I’ll pay you double.”
“I go into zombie colonies, you know–the ones that don’t have electric fences, armed guards, and cell phones to call the cops? Compounds? No.”
“I’ll pay you quadruple.”
“That pay ain’t gonna do me any good if I’m dead or in prison!”
“Goddamnit, Dane, your job is to do what I tell you to do! Octuple!”
This was well-trod territory. At this stage, they would usually start arguing whether next should be called “hexadecatuple” or “hexacosatuple,” but she short-circuited it. “16 times pay would be a start. Put it in my account right now. I should charge 32 times just for the risk I’m taking.” Dane put her arm down for Walter to scurry up onto her shoulder. “Even if I wanted to, I dunno how I would ever get past this gate.”
“I’ll make some calls. Oh, we need to keep it quiet, too.”
Dane put her hand to her head. “I’m a philosophy major with a shotgun, dude, not Agent 007. I’ll take whatever help you can give me.”
Writing on his laptop on the couch while Revenant slept on top of the kibble heap in the foyer, Ethan received a text from Green Meadows Village.
GMV: Please expect a brief power outage while we conduct maintenance on our grid.
Ethan kept typing in the dark, glad his mom had thought to get him a device with its own power supply. Revenant jumped up and sent kibble flying as he scrambled to the window to yap. Ethan looked up and saw a figure like a furry snake flit by. Revenant whined at the edge of the window where it vanished. “Forget it, Rev. It’s nothing.”
Revenant would not be dissuaded, though, and ran to the door. As Ethan watched him jump up and down, he wondered if the electric lock was functional during the outage. He got his answer when the door swung open..
“Ethan Stowe?” asked a woman in a trenchcoat, a ferret around her shoulders, a long black shotgun at her hip. “You’re not safe here. Come with me.”
Ethan took a deep breath, focusing on forming words instead of unintelligible grunts. “Who are you?”
“Mrs. Carson sent me.”
Ethan knew the family’s agent, a guy with an albino deerhound. He’d been instructed not to trust anyone else. “Where’s Kramer?”
The woman’s face was flat. “He’s keeping the perimeter. He’ll meet us outside.”
This was wrong. Kramer would leave this woman to keep the perimeter and come himself. Ethan tried to think what option would be best to keep that shotgun hanging off this stranger’s hip instead of pointed at him.
“We don’t have much time,” said the woman, and Ethan nodded. The silence became too much for Revenant, who began to bark again. The woman lifted her shotgun and Ethan cursed his slow wits. “Put your hand over your stupid little dog’s snout. I’ve heard enough yapping.”
They crept out of the house, Ethan muffling Revenant’s barks into squeaks. They made it to a hole cut in the close-set wires of the electric fence and crawled through. The electric fence receded behind them, and the woods became all-encompassing. He tried to think how he might get out of this situation. “My mother can double…” His breath caught in his throat.
Dane laughed at that – a one-tone snort. “She definitely could, but that’s bad business.”
Ethan took a deep breath. “Why are you in this business?”
“Shotgun pays better than a philosophy major.”
His desperate mind grasped at a thread. “What does… Kant have to say about that?”
“Kant said rights are based on humanity.” she answered. “They don’t apply to the walking dead.” She pulled the trigger.
In a flash, Ethan fell to the ground as the shotgun fire rang his ears. In his next motion he threw Revenant at the woman. The dog managed to get purchase on her shirt and scratched and bit at her face before she could knock him away. Ethan yanked her feet out from under her and leapt on top. He grabbed for the shotgun while Revenant wrestled with a ferret twice his size, yapping the whole time. Ethan pushed the muzzle away from himself, unsure if it would be able to fire again right away or if it needed a reload. The yapping must have got to the woman because she split her attention for half a second to kick at Revenant, and Ethan yanked with all his might.
Shotgun in hands, he had no idea how to reload, so he just brought it down on her head. She grunted in pain and shoved him off of her, but as she tried to stand he swung it like a baseball bat and connected with her head once more. “What am I doing with my life?” she mumbled as her eyes fluttered and she collapsed to the ground. The ferret broke off from Revenant and chittered over her unconscious body as Ethan and Revenant sprinted away, Ethan pulling out his phone to order an Uber.
The Uber driver gave him a look, but he had a dog with him, so how could he be a zombie? That thin disguise wouldn’t last long; there was only one place that would welcome him now. Ethan figured people could track him via Uber, so he had the driver drop him off several miles from his true destination. Just close enough that he could get there before the end of the day.
As the sun cast its first rays on a Waffle House off a highway in the middle of nowhere, he guzzled a super-sized cup of water and wolfed down a half-cooked hashbrown with flaky omelettes. He ordered another, and memorized the directions on his Google map. He held the button on his phone to turn it off and swore never to activate it again for anything less than an emergency. Armed with only a take-out bag of greasy breakfast food and as many bottles of overpriced water as they could carry, Ethan and Revenant would walk the rest of the way to Forsythe Summit National Park.
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