Stacy had hoped that being back with people who loved him, with good food and easy access to a shower, would help Ethan, but somehow he’d gone off the deep end. On a head that listed to one side, his eyes stayed shut. His whole body was gaunt and the same grey as his hands. Even his lips were dark grey, but he wasn’t all colorless. Flecking his black hair were fine tendrils of blue mold.
With an effort, as if he had not in a long time, Ethan forced his eyes open, and Stacy gasped. They were nearly all white, the brilliant green irises that once sent her heart swooning barely visible under thick cataracts. They roved around the room, searching. Ethan drew a deep breath, and for a moment, he sounded like himself again. “Stacy, where are you? Let me see you.”
“I’m sorry, Ethan,” Stacy whispered, jumping when the head wobbling on his shoulders jerked in her direction. “We’re going to cure you.”
Ethan took another breath. Then another. He just kept breathing. Slow in, slow out, like rhythmic bellows feeding a dying flame. “… no hope for me, Stacy.”
Stacy’s fear snapped to anger and she stamped her foot. “You don’t know that!”
Ethan looked as if he would lose his balance. He fell and caught himself with one foot. Stacy leapt back with a shriek. He straightened again, now a step closer, breathing. “…good …hear …your voice.”
Stacy’s whole body was tensed to spring away at the next sign of danger. “They have a cure, Ethan! We’ll make you better!”
Ethan stared through those empty eyes, his black lip curling into a sneer. “The Sables… give… the Sables… take away.”
“Mr. Sable is not a good man, Ethan.” Stacy admitted. “But the cure is real!”
“Don’t be … puppet.” Ethan muttered.
This was too much. Stacy raised her voice. “Excuse me, Ethan? I’m no one’s puppet. I’ve weighed the situation and I’m deciding to save your fucking life!”
“I’m … DEAD!” Ethan bellowed as he took another step from the bed. He stumbled and had to grab the mattress to stay upright. He took a breath and struggled to make his points economically. “Don’t pretend … resurrect. Avenge!” He snarled, baring perfect teeth gone yellow. His gray hand clenched into a fist, but Stacy set her jaw, determined to make him see reason.
“You don’t know what the cure can do! Please, just give it a chance!”
“Not listening…” Ethan’s breath was shallow now, a tinge of a groan returning to his speech. His face twitched with the effort of speaking. “No justice… No account… abil… ity”
She shook her head. “What happened to you, Ethan?”
“Sable… bad… justice.”
Stacy remembered the fluffy collie crying and staring into corners in her house. “Ethan, if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for Princess.”
Ethan’s expression softened, and for another few moments he just breathed. “Julia —” he bit the first word, “— complete…ly… cured?”
Stacy considered lying. All she had to do was say “yes.” Then Ethan would get the cure and everything would be better, even if he still smelled like a zombie. Surely he would forgive her for the lie that saved his life. Or maybe he wouldn’t.
“She has just a little zombie smell.”
Ethan said nothing, then, “so that’s… her other dogs… they attacked her… me see Princess… lie.”
Stacy’s anger evaporated her fear. She stepped forward at the edge of the door. “I’m not LYING! I’m not a PUPPET! Stop INSULTING me!”
Ethan shut it in her face. She turned the knob and shoved it open again, “LET ME SAVE YOUR LIFE!” she screamed.
Ethan lunged for her.
“Puppet!” groaned Ethan as Stacy leapt back from his clumsy swipe. The odor of fermented food filled her nostrils and she turned away to run down the stairs. “Li…ar!” he shrieked, wheezing, limping after her, cloudy eyes wide, gray arms outstretched.
“Stooge…” moaned Ethan, losing momentum as his body swayed back and forth, his legs barely keeping him from toppling to the floor. “Justice…” He stood at the top of the stairs when Stacy reached the library. On the other side of the heavy wooden door she heard the scratches, whining, and strangled barks of her protector.
Little Revenant stood between Ethan’s legs, barking high-pitched yips at nothing as his master considered how to descend the stairs besides falling. Tears stung Stacy’s eyes. Ethan would never make it back inside his room if she let Blas out now. She had to believe the cure was real, that he could still make it. She made a show of grabbing the door handle. “You know what’s on the other side of this door, Ethan.”
He stayed put and took in a deep breath. Then another. “No matter … crime,” Ethan doubled over coughing, then took a few deep breaths. “Powerful… evade… conse…quences.”
Stacy relaxed and felt foolish, like she had been threatening an asthmatic boy on crutches. “They’re not a unit, Ethan. The Keith Sable that did all this is dead, and the system that he created has tied his descendants’ hands. Each one has a laundry list of crimes all his or her own, but if we’re going to fix this broken world we’re in, we have to accept imperfect allies.”
Ethan growled so loudly it got Revenant yapping again. He grabbed the ornate wooden banister and took one unsteady step down.
Stacy stamped her foot. “Go back in your room, Ethan. I have to let this dog out to take him home, and you don’t want to be around when I do.”
Ethan glared down and took another step forward, stumbling, both hands on the banister keeping him from tumbling. He righted himself and growled, looking almost ready to throw himself down the steps just to prove to them they couldn’t trap him. The sight was so pathetic that Stacy realized she wasn’t afraid at all. She could barely even be angry. She took her hand off the doorknob. “When we have a cure you’re welcome to it.”
The note of pity in Stacy’s voice pierced the last of the haphazard barriers he’d erected around his pride. No amount of moralizing could change that he was nothing more than a rapidly decaying rat in a cage. He stumbled back up the steps trudged back to his room, and shut the door behind him. Looking out his window, he watched Stacy load Blas into her car and drive away before he pulled the covers over his head.
He considered Stacy’s claim that he would someday see Princess again. That wasn’t the Stacy he knew, lying to get people to do what she wanted. Something had gone terribly wrong between her and Sable, and she’d turned to the dark side. Everything that monster had already done, and now he was corrupting Ethan’s friends one by one. Anger replaced his shame, but impotence was his staunch companion.
As the energy came back to him, he pulled the covers off again. He put one foot on the floor at a time. Revenant ran circles around him, yapping as he stumbled to the computer. He put his face right up against the screen until he could barely make out the letters.
<DoubleTap Group – Pory County>
MrNormalHuman: The voting zombie colony that wants to get rid of your guns is in Forsythe National Park. Climb the switchback to the peak and continue down beyond the trail. Turn right and go straight past the graves. You’ll know you found it when you see a barn.
MrNormalHuman: Light ‘em up, boys.
Ethan slumped back to his bed and drew the covers up and over him, relishing the gentle embrace of darkness.
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