In the Sable mansion parking lot, Stacy leapt out of the way of a hurtling wheelchair. Julia ground it to a halt with an audible screech of rubber on pavement and yanked her joystick to the left. The chair spun in place like a top, rendering Julia a whirring blur. Stacy felt nauseous just watching it until Julia let the joystick return to center, gently nudging it until she faced her partner in crime. Half her face still obscured by bandages, she offered a rakish grin. “This thing can go from zero to ten in half a second.”
Stacy would demand to try the wheelchair herself if they didn’t have a job to do. “Will it work in the forest? The plan is to go from the zombie camp to building Z directly through the woods. There aren’t any trails.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Julia waved a hand, “Help me into your car and I can show you how to fold this thing.”
Jack and Blas sat on opposite sides of the backseat, each turning their blind side to the other. Or maybe Blas had his blind side to Jack and Jack was staring intently at Blas. It all depended on which of the wolfhound’s eyes was odd.
In the passenger seat, Julia’s good eye glanced at the road, at Stacy, at the trees and other cars flying past. A little smile curled across her face, and she fidgeted in her seat. She seemed happy when she was Angela, but this felt different.
“You okay, Julia?” Stacy asked.
Julia didn’t answer for a moment. She turned her head to Stacy. “Yes.”
“Okay.” Stacy didn’t know how to continue, and the car was silent again.
“I will be ok.” Julia amended, “Everything will be ok when we have the cure. Everything will be right again. No more zombies, no more monsters, it’ll all be like it was.”
Stacy kept driving, and Julia kept talking. “Ethan will be human again, because of me. I put him in this situation, I saved him. It all works out. He’ll have to forgive me.”
Julia’s all’s-well-that-ends-well logic aside, Stacy thought about what she saw in the Stowe house and wondered if even the premise was true. No one could save Ethan if he refused to accept the cure. The road was clear, and she glanced up at the sky, the sun high above, thinking about a tactful response. “Because of us,” she said.
Julia’s smile broadened. “Yeah. Julia and Stacy, saving the world. Together.”
Stacy considered this for a long time, until Julia’s smile began to dip into something less confident. The last thing she wanted was an emotional breakdown in the middle of negotiating with the zombies. Were they friends? Julia had a list of crimes almost as long as the other Sables, but after the last couple weeks, it was hard to casually hate people. Everyone was going through their own struggle. Right and wrong were real things, but Stacy herself didn’t always distinguish them. If Angela Gobi killed and ate people and still deserved love… Did she deserve love? Was Mr. Gobi just crazy to be so obsessed with his zombie daughter? Maybe Ethan was right, and she was foolish to put any trust in any Sable, no matter how noble the cause.
Stacy glanced at Julia, who looked on the verge of tears. You need to keep her steady until this is done, Stacy. Did it really matter if Julia thought they were friends? It wasn’t lying if she just let her assume it, right? Stacy smiled, putting up a fist. “Let’s make it happen.”
Julia’s smile returned as broad as Stacy had ever seen it, and she drove her fist into Stacy’s. Her anemic knuckles felt cool against hers. “You know it,” she agreed, sighing with relief.
Stacy and Julia knew something was different when a mile from the park they heard distant warbles of twanging guitars. For the first time since they started visiting Forsythe Summit County Park, they had to look for parking. Stacy slowed her sedan to a crawl and navigated through a throng of revelers. Congregations of men sporting trucker hats and beer bellies grilled hamburgers on ranges atop the beds of their pickup trucks. Bleached blonde women bustled about, distributing beers and arranging condiments on checkered folding tables. A man in a blonde mullet received a berating from a young woman with a knotted t-shirt exposing her midriff, and carefully folded his confederate flag to return to his car.
One food spread, including baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and mayonnaise-laden potato salad in rectangle aluminum dishes, blocked their way forward, while the careless crowd filled in behind. Stacy was used to being surrounded by white people, but that was the kind that pretended to read books about being a minority ally and verbally abused each other for not being woke enough. The kind of white person surrounding her now she did not often see. Her father had encounters with these sort of white people in Idaho, and the way he told the stories, he barely survived.
Stacy’s heart began to race and she wrestled the impulse to ram on her accelerator and drive straight through the crowd back to safety. Without intending to, she caught the eye of a skinny old man in an oversized cowboy hat with what looked like an antique revolver in his hand. Stacy’s blood flowed backwards as he approached and used the butt of his gun to tap on her window. She sat frozen as he gestured downwards. “Stacy” said a voice beside her, but it felt distant. “Stacy!”
Julia reached over and before Stacy could react, she had cranked the window down. “Howdy, gals,” the man said, tipping his huge hat. He bent down and propped himself up on one elbow in the window, gun just sitting there like it was part of his outfit. “I suppose you two are here for the raid?”
“Um.” Stacy’s mind raced. What was happening? Had someone found the colony? Were they going to have to move the zombies in the middle of a firefight?
As the silence extended, the man’s smile dimmed. Stacy began to see the rest of the guns. A hunting rifle hung off a beer-swigging man’s back. A musclebound man with short-cropped hair sat in a chair cleaning an assault rifle. A leather holster hung on the hip of a matronly woman slicing a sheet cake that itself had a picture of a gun. Rendered in icing, it fired two bullets toward the head of a green cartoon zombie. The text read, “First Raid! Congratulations, DoubleTap!!!!”
Blas growled, and Stacy saw the man’s head had entered the window. Tobacco smoke and liquor rolled off his beard as he spoke. “Control yer dog.”
“Blas, be quiet,” Stacy muttered, and Blas’s growl deteriorated into impotent whines as the man flared his nostrils.
“Sumthin’ smells funny in this car.” He stuck his head in further, and Stacy pressed herself into her seat as his eyes roved, like he would find a zombie hiding in the back seat. Julia’s nose wrinkled as her own eye widened. Stacy’s heart beat like a hammer, staring at the gun, seemingly forgotten, perhaps coincidentally pointed straight at her.
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