If it was Julia’s fate to die, let it be here, as Angela Worthy. She had never been so happy as in these last couple months. Behind the school, when Ethan threatened to out her even if it meant condemning himself, she thought it was a curse. She called Daddy and left one of her usual voicemails that would never be checked. Years of honing her skills of graphic imagery and ludicrous threats had never gotten his attention before, so it had become a game to see how awful she could make each call sound. For her, it was like screaming curse words into a pillow. “Ethan said he’s going to rat me out, Daddy. Pretty soon your little girl’s head will be spread out over the floor of a Safety facility. How do you like that?”
She set her phone to do not disturb and visited Party City to collect makeup and outfit supplies. Daddy’s little girl died a long time ago. When Mommy disappeared and Daddy stopped looking her in the eye, little Julia knew that she was no longer a Sable. After that, everyone treated her like an outsider. They looked at her out of the corners of their eyes and went silent when she entered the room. They scooched at the lunch table to make sure there would never be room.
There were exceptions. That boy with the red hair just wanted to talk about crabs. She could do that. Mr. Gobi… Oh, if she could have had a father like that. The rest wore their feelings on their faces. When she got sick, they knew. They didn’t know specifically that she had the infection, but they knew that whatever was wrong with her before was now even more wrong.
So when she took Jack and drove to Forsythe Summit, she had nothing to fear. What was there left for her to lose? Besides Jack himself. It was the only part of her plan that still made her queasy. What if they really did figure out how to make him attack all zombies except me? But when they found a cluster of zombies, Jack wagged his tail and rolled over for belly rubs. The zombies didn’t attack, either. Each one of them knew what it was to be an outcast. Julia had everything she wanted. Friends and her dog.
As time passed, Julia expected that she would become mute and decrepit like the other zombies. She hadn’t really thought about it until it didn’t happen. Julia remained alert, nimble, and articulate, and she found that her life in the zombie colony wasn’t a slow decline into non-sentience, but something else entirely. She took regular trips out to grocery stores (a different one each time so no one would follow her credit card trail and catch her) to buy her new friends food, which they appreciated. Then she talked to them and got to know them, which they also appreciated. Was there anything better in this world than appreciation? She quickly became a respected figure in the community, and, naturally, comparisons to the previous leader of the Forsythe summit colony began to arise.
“Ann” said Mor as he devoured a barbecue pork rib. He was an electrician who left his wife and child behind when his own dog chased him out of the house. He was one of the oldest members in the colony, and had been there longer than anyone else. He had an odd eye that reminded Julia of Jack. He was her favorite. Julia smiled and said “Julia.”
“Ann.” he repeated, and his colleagues, deep in buckets of chicken wings and packaged hamburgers, looked at him like he was crazy.
“Jew,” said one. Julia didn’t know what to do about the fact that the closest the zombies could come to saying her name made them sound like zombie Nazis.
“Ann!” Mor insisted, and the others slowed down. They looked at their food and at Julia.
Mor raised a fist in the air. “Ann!”
“Ann!” another thrust his half-eaten chicken leg into the air.
“Ann! Ann! Ann!” The zombies chanted.
“Wow, whoah!” Jack jumped in the air, hopping from one foot to the other in all the excitement.
Julia nodded her head, accepting their title. She wasn’t Angela, but she was their Angela.
Angela became expert in communicating with the zombies. Over the weeks she developed her own personal word completion software in her mind, and, with regular food and attention, the zombies themselves became more lively. Some even grew confident enough to reveal that they had special skills to offer. Mar rubbed her hands together often, and poked Angela until she could finally communicate that she could play a violin if she had one. Angela bought her one. Zo and Da, inexplicably, could sing, even though their voices gave out if they ever tried to make words. Tiny, skeletal Kay became the colony doctor. It was a challenge because she never talked, but she acted, and soon anyone who wanted someone to do something to make them a little less sick knew where to go. Joe knew how to build a barn, in case they ever needed a barn.
One day, Mor fell. It was no big deal. Zombies fall all the time, and they just get back up again. But Mor didn’t. Joe picked him up and carried him to Kay, who, with translation from Angela, diagnosed a stroke. There was nothing anyone could do. Soon, Mor’s body lay still in the woods, leaving the Earth with his wife and child miles away.
Mar rubbed her hands together and descended, but stopped when she saw no one else was feasting with her. She looked and saw that all eyes were on Angela.
The previous Angela told them to eat the fallen. Cannibal zombies. Angela Gobi had stuck to the tropes. The new Angela didn’t need to, though. As long as Daddy didn’t cancel her credit card, they would have all the food they needed. She shook her head. That day, she drove to a Home Depot, returning with a shovel, some nails, and plywood.
Once they had a burial for Mor, the zombies wanted more burials. Even if they didn’t have a body, they would just pile up dirt and put a plywood cross in it. Angela Gobi got the biggest cross of all. Once they were building plywood crosses with abandon, Angela decided, “Hey, maybe we do need a barn.”
When the barn was completed, Angela was so excited that she climbed into the loft and addressed her compatriots. “My friends, look what we have accomplished! Look what we can do when we believe in ourselves! Society has no use for us, but we make our own society!”
The zombies stared at her. Sometimes, despite all they’d been through together, she still couldn’t figure out what they were thinking. “We don’t need them because we have each other!”
Angela watched the crowd. Kay had her head down. She dropped to one knee and put her hands together. I’m their god. Angela thought, then she shook her head. No, she’s praying to her own god.
“We have all lost so much,” Angela tried to remember things she’d heard in the sporadic church ceremonies her mother had taken her to. “We are like Job. God tests us, and for our courage we shall be rewarded in heaven.”
“Aaa” intoned Kay, standing. It was the first thing she ever said, and Angela knew her role.
“We do not – “ Angela stammered, and tears welled in her eyes. “We do not need the love of mortals.”
“Aaa” Kay threw her hands in the air and shook them high, head pointing straight to the floor.
“We have the love of God!”
The rest of the congregation started to get excited now. Some more zombies groaned with Kay.
Angela spoke with a ministerial oration she didn’t know she had “We do not need others to tell us we are worthy!”
The zombies shouted together. “Wow! Wow!” shouted Jack, tail wagging so hard his whole body wiggled.
“We are worthy! We are here! We are worthy of love!”
Now Angela lay on a flimsy plywood table, blood running in rivulets down her face and dripping off the side. Kay mumbled “aaa” next to her, one shriveled palm on her wrist, another clutching a crucifix necklace Angela had bought her. How could Angela ever go back to that awful outside world of hate and judgement? Stores were one thing –she could grab what she needed, returning home to safety. If she went she would be at their mercy. She would rather die here. She closed her good eye, wincing with the pain.
Then she heard it. “Dad.”
She opened her eye again, but she couldn’t see anything but the forest canopy. “Dad.” the sound floated on the wind. Here and there her congregation spoke a word that she didn’t understand. Not in this context.
“Dad.” It was closer now. Kay mumbled her prayer once more and stayed with Angela, but she squinted at something in the distance.
“Kay, what is it?”
Kay looked at her, but their nonverbal communication didn’t have a word for what was coming. Kay stepped back and Angela panicked. “Where are you going!?”
Then she felt a presence. She looked up with her good eye and saw a man with thick spectacles and kind eyes, even wearier than she remembered them.
“Are you Angela?” asked Mr. Gobi.
Angela nodded, not even noticing the pain. He had come for her.
“Come with me to the hospital.”
All thought of noble death left Angela’s mind as tears stung her raw flesh. She was going to go back into the world. She needed the love of mortals. She needed it so much.
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