Stacy’s morning passed in a blur, punctuated by class change bells and Blas’s sonorous barking. She fought to keep down a rising fear that something horrible was about to happen to Julia. Worse than a slow, painful death from an infected gun wound? She had almost chosen that death.
That’s who Julia is, Stacy told herself. The voice in her head sounded strangely like Ethan. A drama queen. Don’t let her get in your head.
How did things even come to this? Stacy wondered as Mr. Gobi assigned a pop quiz and disappeared into his office. Julia welcomed Ethan with open arms and he shot her in the face.
The image of Ethan tied to a wall in a barn with a little dog licking his face rushed to her mind, and she had to restrain herself from leaping from her desk. Holy shit! You forgot about Ethan! How long before one of the congregation decided they were done playing nice with him? She stood from her pop quiz and left the room. Mr. Gobi will understand.
Blas whined in the car the moment they turned right out of the school parking lot. Left went home, but he knew making a ruckus would not convince Stacy to turn around. He sank into his seat, eye to the back, in the silent protest that characterized their visits. Stacy ignored him, cracked the windows, and headed up the switchback path. “Julia is fine,” she said to herself, trying to imagine the questions the zombies would ask. “She’s still in the hospital.”
“Angela is fine.” Stacy would definitely want to use their name for her. There was a good chance nothing would do. Should she tell them Angela said to set Ethan free? It was a risky move. Besides, if everyone came together to argue about letting him go, there’d be a horde surrounding her if things didn’t go her way. Better to simply spring him and get out.
Through the graveyard, towards the barn. The light of day was still strong, and the zombies wouldn’t attack her on sight as long as they thought she was still Angela’s guest. Inside the barn, she turned and saw the little dog sleeping against Ethan’s leg while he dozed. Nothing much else to do. A heavyset zombie with a pistol hanging from his discolored trousers waved at her and approached. She wished she could remember each and every member of the colony’s name like Angela did, but she didn’t. “She’s going to be fine,” Stacy smiled, and the zombie’s crooked grin was heartwarming, despite the circumstances. She hated to become their enemy again. Maybe Ethan would be ok a few more days.
She looked back and saw his eyes on her. One of them had a dark purple bruise around it that hadn’t been there before, and she gasped. She looked at the guard. “Did someone hit him?”
The guard’s grin grew wider and he gave an impish shrug. This was less heartwarming. “We agreed you wouldn’t hurt him.”
He gave a look of surprise and pointed at himself. Then he shook his head. Stacy glared. Whether he was saying he didn’t hurt him or he didn’t agree not to hurt him was immaterial; she needed to get Ethan out of here before a zombie was saying “who, me?” over his bullet-riddled corpse.
But how? She glanced at Ethan, who had been silent this whole time. He can barely talk either, she reminded herself.
She hated to do it, but she asked the guard to remind her of his name. “Joe,” he grunted. Even zombies didn’t like being forgotten.
“Joe, could you round people up to come to the barn? I want to let them all know the details of Angela’s recovery.”
Joe didn’t give it a second thought. The moment he was out of the barn, Stacy grabbed the pocketknife she’d picked up at home and cut Ethan and his little dog free. “Party’s over, Ethan. We’re leaving now.”
Ethan didn’t need telling twice. He was stiff from his imprisonment, or maybe progressing zombieism, but he was on his feet and rushing after her in short order. As they sprinted away, a couple zombies groaned at them, but none with guns. They climbed the mountain and a wave of nostalgia crashed into Stacy. It only got worse when she saw the sun setting over the little street, shining its last light on the tiny houses and cars that not so long ago had been the scene for Ethan and her first kiss. She’d hated his stupid, pushy joking, but now that he was silent and angry, she missed it. She even missed his cocky posturing and his dumb, fluffy, stuck-up dog. The dog whimpering in a corner of her house was nearly as unrecognizable as her former companion. She knew it was impossible, but she still liked to imagine the boy and his dog reuniting someday. Maybe everyone could be together again. Maybe she and Ethan would make up and they could try again. No zombies, no shotguns; just a normal couple.
By the time they reached the car, they found Blas scrabbling at the window, his eyes wild, his barking loud despite the muffling car. Stacy jerked her head all around for the encroaching threat until Ethan tapped her on the shoulder and pointed at himself. She swore under her breath, and he shook his head. “Sorry.” It was the first word he’d said since she’d arrived. As usual with zombies she had to guess what exactly he was apologizing for. Probably for getting Blas agitated. She figured he needed some time before he could be articulate enough to explain in detail why he chose to shoot Julia in the face.
It’s ok, she wanted to say, but no. Why was she thinking about making up with him? It was not ok to shoot someone in the face. She pulled out her phone and ordered an Uber.
Stacy gestured for Ethan to keep his distance and she unlatched the door to the sedan. Blas snarled and thrashed, his muzzle pushing the crack open. “Down! Down!” she shrieked, putting all her weight on the door. “No!” She let up for an instant and the dog exploded out, a furry whirlwind of zombie destruction.
“Gotcha!” Stacy shouted, yanking Blas’s head back by his collar. She dragged him away and held him back from Ethan, throwing him the keys.
Ethan climbed into the passenger seat. His face was paler than she’d ever seen it before, from more than just zombieism. He looked down for a long moment, like he was going to just sit there and cry. “Go home, Ethan,” was the kindest thing Stacy could say in that moment, while she used both hands to hold back the latest in a long line of entities that wanted her ex-boyfriend dead.
She didn’t let Blas up until the car was out of sight. Uber activity wasn’t much around here, and she saw it would be another half hour until hers arrived. With an anxious eye on the mountain that might produce a gun-toting zombie horde at any moment, girl and dog sat on the curb and waited.