Kay, a stick-thin woman almost more skeleton than zombie, was a registered nurse before she caught zombieism. She dabbed an alcohol pad to Julia’s face. Blood and makeup dripped and the girl writhed on the makeshift wooden table. Stacy made a mental note as she stepped into the clearing that Julia’s name was Angela now, wondering how many times she’d need to remind herself. Kay caught Stacy’s eye and shook her head. There was only one question that shake could be meant to answer: Would the wound heal without a hospital?
Stacy swallowed and inhaled a breath. “Hey, Angela,” she crooned, channeling the memories of trailing after her mother in the hospital while she took blood and changed gauze. “We’re gonna take you to a hospital, ok?”
Angela spoke without moving her lips. “No.”
“You’re not going to get better here.” Stacy tried. Kay wrapped bony fingers around Angela’s wrist.
“No.” Angela tried to get up, but yelped in pain and stayed put. One blood-covered eye remained shut. The other looked at Stacy with fear. “They’ll take me. Safety Patrol.”
Kay shook her head. “They won’t,” said Stacy, “you don’t look like a zombie. You barely smell like one. You’ll be fine. It’s safer than staying here.”
Angela looked up into the trees above her. “What does it say to my congregation if I come and go as it’s convenient while they remain trapped here?”
Kay rolled her eyes. Unsure whether Angela was honestly concerned about the appearances of receiving lifesaving care or just being dramatic, Stacy pointed out the obvious. “Your congregation wants you alive.”
“I would rather die here with my people than in some facility where I’m little more than a gruesome object,” Angela hissed, orating even from a sickbed. Stacy and Kay exchanged glances, and Stacy pulled her aside.
“What if I just take her?”
Sitting at attention next to the table, Jack turned one eye to Stacy, flattening his ears and displaying rows of asymmetric teeth. Kay shook her head, and Stacy answered her own question. “She’d hurt herself evenmore trying to resist. I get it.”
Stacy stepped away to think. Was there anyone who could make Angela see reason?
The full moon glowed in the night sky as Mr. Gobi checked Costa Rica’s headlines, copying and pasting the Spanish articles into Google Translate for any hint of Julia’s whereabouts. When the knock came at his door, Cody yelped and he yanked open a drawer to take out his can of mace. “Come in.”
When he saw Stacy behind the door, he relaxed and put his protection away. “What are you doing here at this time of night?”
Mr. Gobi’s face went pale, and Stacy corrected herself. “I mean Julia.”
Now his eyes widened. A voice came from the main office. “What about Julia!? Did someone find her?”
Stacy whipped around and Blas snarled. “Crab boy!? What are you doing here at this time of night?”
Daniel’s whippet Charybdis barked back at Blas, and Daniel shot Stacy’s question right back at her. “What are you doing here at this time of night!? I was writing crab fact articles ahead of time so the paper wouldn’t run out if I suddenly disappeared like Julia and Ethan.” He added an extra edge to Julia.
“This has nothing to do with crabs, Crab Boy. You can keep working on your articles while Mr. Gobi and I talk outside.”
Charibdys and Blas arched their backs at each other, but Daniel patted her head and sat back at his computer. When Mr. Gobi and Stacy left the room, he and Charybdis crept after them. They looked down the long rows of lockers as Mr. Gobi’s bald spot and Stacy’s irrepressible brown waves disappeared down the hall and the outside door clicked open and shut.
Julia had always been nice to Daniel. Other people got upset or uncomfortable when he talked about crabs, like somehow liking crabs was wrong, but Julia, at least when she was with him, liked crabs as much as he did. She even whipped through her phone, trying to find crab knowledge he’d never seen. Occasionally, she even succeeded. If there was a plot to rescue Julia, he wanted to be part of it. He shuffled forward, tucking his red hair back behind his ear and pressing it against the door.
“She insists she’s a zombie and they’ll lock her up even though she has no symptoms, Mr. Gobi.”
An asymptomatic zombie? Daniel wondered, Is that possible?
“If dogs hate her smell, that’s enough of a symptom to get her in trouble. Plus, if you say Ethan has been trashing her on his blog, that could attract attention she doesn’t want.”
“Mr. Gobi! Right now we need to get her to the hospital!”
“Plenty of small, unventilated rooms in the hospitals around here to amplify a subtle zombie smell. If she’s right, you know that she deserves to choose where she dies.”
“Mr. Gobi, stop being so morbid! She’s not going to die if she gets the care she needs!”
“She’s not going to get the care she needs if they put her in one of those nightmarish facilities. I don’t know what you want me to do, Stacy.”
Daniel jumped back as a kick slammed into the metal door with a thud. During a long silence, Daniel texted a marine biology buddy Eduardo from Gurrero University.
Daniel: Hey, have you ever heard of somebody who got zombie lyme but never had symptoms beyond a mild smell?
He put his ear back to the door. Charibdys whined and he scratched her under the chin, shushing her. He had to strain, because Stacy was speaking quietly now.
“She renamed herself after your daughter, Sir. I want you to save her life.”
Eduardo: Yo Mr. Krabs, Whaddup? 🦀🦀🦀
Eduardo: That’s pretty wild, little dude. If you know this dude, Genny’s got a roommate who’s studying SP-12.
Eduardo: Let her run some tests, be pretty cool if we found a cure. 🤘
“What’s that sound?” Stacy hissed, banging open the door.
“What?” Mr. Gobi asked, holding Cody’s head in his hands. He wore a frustrated look, like one roused from deep thought.
“I heard pinging. Like, three pings.” She surveyed the empty hallway. She let the door close and turned back to Mr. Gobi, who stood and sighed.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Stacy banged open the door to the classroom. “Please don’t destroy the school,” Mr. Gobi protested behind her.
She glared at Daniel, who kept his eyes on his screen, typing random gibberish into his crab document as if to stop his fingers for an instant would give him away. “Hey, Crab boy!”
He twitched, turning to face her. “Yeah?”
“How long do you have articles for?”
“Uh, one a week…” he did a little math on his fingers. “two years’ worth.”
Stacy nodded in the open doorway as Mr. Gobi returned from his office to go with her. He walked through and she narrowed her eyes at Daniel. “Good.”
Then the door fell shut behind them, leaving Daniel and Charybdis alone in the dark classroom.
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