Man’s Best Friend, Zombie’s Worst Enemy Part 43

Stacy jerked awake in the waiting room, Mr. Gobi and the dogs snoring beneath and beside her. Each had his own pitch and cadence of snore – Mr. Gobi’s a snort on the uptake and quiet on the outbreath, Cody flexed his paws and whispered quiet yaps, and Blas grumbled and growled even while asleep. Over the Rice city skyline, the sun was just beginning to rise. Was Angela still in there?

She cracked her neck and stretched her back. She stood and crept to the reception desk. The nurse on duty had long hair tied back in a red bandana and wore the haggard look of a night worker near the end of her shift. They’d had to use Angela’s given name to access her insurance. “Is Julia okay?”

The nurse said nothing. She turned to her computer and pulled up a record. Her tone was matter-of-fact. “She lost a lot of blood, so they’re keeping her here for observation.”

Stacy nodded and trudged to the coffee table. She poured tepid coffee into a paper cup and belted it down. Then she pulled out her phone and resumed researching Ethan’s wild claim about the Sable family and zombie lyme disease. It was hard to believe it could be true. Surely someone would already have taken them to task by now. Then again, Mr. Gobi’s depressing story about the public response to SP-12 in general had sobered her. She was building her life around journalism – the process of finding and disseminating the truth. But if nobody cared, was it all a waste?

Finding claims about the Sables and Mutual Holdings Ltd. on the Internet wasn’t hard, but verifying them was a different matter entirely. Half the complaints were not that zombies were unfairly marginalized but that they weren’t marginalized enough. They raised questions that were perfectly reasonable if you didn’t think of zombies as people: Why are there colonies of cannibalistic undead shuffling around major woodland parks in the US? Don’t we have a military for invasions like this?

Delving more and more deeply into online forums, Stacy learned that if you were what was called a “rot-heart” or a “zommunist”, you’d quickly attract the ire of various loose-knit coalitions – No Necro, Kill The Dead, Pro-Life, Staydead Society, Doubletap Group, and more. Every once in a while, one or more of these groups came together and raided a “horde” as they called them. Despite the overwhelming and deadly image these groups portrayed of the zombies, actual footage of raids tended to look more like a party. The armed militia drove into wooded areas until the trees got too thick and emerged to chase down their slow-moving, unarmed targets on foot. One thick-bearded man in a trucker hat shook a grey severed head in front of a camera with one hand, clutching a beer in another. A cacophony of dogs snarled and barked in the background. “You ain’t gonna terrorize Yalobusha County no more, rotters! Doubletap! Woo!” 

Conspiracies abounded from these groups. Mainly they assumed that the government was behind the disease, which was designed to weaken the US population for an eventual totalitarian takeover. They considered SP-12 rights groups little more than paid saboteurs to confuse the issue of the invasion and prevent an organized defense. It made perfect sense that Angela Worthy had picked up weapons for her own congregation.

After a couple hours of this, Mr. Gobi still slept. Based on his look before, Stacy wondered how long it had been since he had gotten a full night’s sleep. She went back up to the desk and asked if she could see Julia. The night shift had ended and a new receptionist was on duty who positively shone by comparison. In baby-blue scrubs, she smiled at Stacy and asked for her name. Then she looked at her computer and informed Stacy with contrition that only family could visit Julia right now.

She returned to Mr. Gobi. They would both be missing class if they didn’t get going soon. As she moved to shake his shoulder, she saw from the corner of her eye a middle-aged man walking through the sliding door. It was hard to say at first why he caught her eye. He wore a black business suit paired with a sage green tie, and his black hair was short and styled.  

She watched the man, puzzling over what was so interesting about him. He seemed familiar somehow, but she couldn’t place it. Then a silky black afghan hound walked in behind him, her hair hanging in tresses all the way to the floor. Stacy stared at the spitting image of the dog from that fateful day that Blas was nearly killed, then saved by the same mysterious woman. Then the man asked the receptionist about Julia.

She didn’t hear what the receptionist said, but the man’s voice was loud, the voice of a man accustomed to giving orders and having them followed. “Yes, she’s my daughter.”

The hound left her mind. Stacy grabbed Mr. Gobi’s shoulder and shook. “Keith Sable is here,” she hissed. “He’s going to take Julia.”

Mr. Gobi looked past Stacy at the man as he followed a nurse through the doors into the ICU. He looked back at Stacy. “Good. Glad to see him take an interest for once.”

Stacy shook her head. “No! This is what Julia was afraid of!”

“Angela,” corrected Mr. Gobi with a smirk.

Stacy swore under her breath. “Angela was ready to die before she would get sucked back into the normal world. What’s more normal than her dad!? Do you think he’s just going to let her wander back out into the woods?”

Mr. Gobi glowered. “There is nothing normal about that man.” Then he brightened. “But he’s here now. We saved her life. It’s done. I think she’ll be happy to see her father. If he wants to keep her against her will, he’ll have to imprison her in her room. I don’t think he’s going to do that.”

Stacy stared at Mr. Gobi, who looked back into her eyes. “Our work here is done. We should clean up and get to school.”

The doors to the ICU opened. A bandage covered half of Angela’s face as Mr. Sable wheeled her out. She didn’t look overjoyed to see her father, but she also didn’t look like a kidnapping victim. As they wheeled forward, Jack and the deja vu afghan hound trailing behind them, she stared forward like a sullen child.

“Wait!” Stacy cried out. When the father and daughter looked at her, the sparkle in Angela’s eye was gone. Just her expression made Stacy feel like whatever temporary phase Angela represented, she was gone, and Julia was her anxious, unhappy self once more. 

Julia said nothing. The afghan hound glared, and Mr. Sable waited for her to explain herself then asked, “who are you?”

“I’m her friend. We took her here. We saved her life.” No thanks to you, she didn’t add.

“Thank you.” he said. Brusque like she’d brought him the latte he ordered.

Julia remained silent, and Stacy tried to think of some way to salvage the situation. She looked back at Mr. Gobi, who furrowed his brow at her, just as confused with her behavior as she was. What even was the right outcome here? Julia was happy being Angela in the forest with her zombie friends. Her father was taking her straight to the society she wanted no part of. The society she had nearly chosen death over. But this was her father. She had no right to make demands of what he did with his young daughter, but she felt she had to say something. “Take care.”

As soon as the idiotic words were out of Stacy’s mouth, Julia’s good eye focused a ray of hate in her direction. I didn’t betray you! Stacy wanted to scream, but she stayed silent. The evil eye stayed on Stacy until Julia’s father pushed her through the door and they and their dogs were out of sight.

Gray Paw Print Clip Art at - vector clip art online, royalty free  & public domain

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By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

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