Pushing Julia in her wheelchair, which had tossed her twice when she tried to use its motor feature to climb the half-log steps, Stacy’s chest heaved and her legs screamed in agony on her hardest climb yet up Forsythe Summit’s switchback path. Jack padded alongside them, keeping one eye on Julia and one eye looking out over the distant houses and roads, in case something might fly in to attack his Alpha. A pit sat in Stacy’s stomach – when they left the house she hadn’t considered that the parking space could be dangerous, and now she’d had no option but to leave Blas there. Once the raiding party learned that Julia and Stacy had lied to them, would he be safe?
She pushed the thought out of her mind. The violent ones were going to be far away from the parking lot, and they hated zombies, not dogs. They wouldn’t hurt Blas. If he was a Democrat dog, all bets were off, but he wasn’t wearing his “sensible gun restrictions” collar, so he should be good. This is what she told herself.
Julia had swapped her manic grin for a look of grim determination. It took thirty minutes to get to her congregation, so they had less than that to convince them not only that an army was advancing on them but that their best course of action was to retreat into the welcoming arms of a corporate research facility. Facilities didn’t have a reputation for being the nicest place for zombies, so their work would be cut out for them.
“You’ve got this, Julia,” Stacy gasped.
“Can you push any faster?” was all she got in reply.
Katherine “Kay” Davis hated guns, but if it saved her people from themselves, she would shoot a deer. Even in complete serenity, her hands shook, and as careful as she was, she stumbled through the woods instead of sneaking. Today, though, somehow, she had a beautiful buck in her sights. He lifted his heavy-antlered head slowly from the babbling stream, and she let off a shot.
The buck uttered a cry of alarm as a flash of crimson blossomed on its rump. As it turned to leave, Kay panicked and fired in its general direction until nothing escaped her weapon but impotent clicks. The smell of spent gunpowder filled the air as the animal disappeared into the woods. Besides “Aaa,” there was another word that could leave Kay’s mouth and never get stuck, “Fuck.”
Kay never wanted to be the colony’s Ann. Under any other circumstances, she would have rejected outright even the position of acting Ann, but when that monster with a shotgun shot Worthy and Stay-See brought Dad to take her away, there was no other choice. Second place was an open field, and she’d seen enough presidential elections to know you couldn’t just throw your own popularity behind someone else and make them the clear winner. Between being responsible for this miserable colony and leaving it to chaos, she chose responsibility.
Unfortunately, no one could replace Ann Worthy’s primary skill – going to grocery stores and buying food. In one short week they had already gone through their perishable supplies and were subsisting on beef jerky and canned beans. Under the stress of rationing, some of the congregants with the manual dexterity to operate the can opener were getting arrogant. When fights broke out about who deserved another serving of pork ‘n’ beans, Kay had to drop whatever she was doing and open the can herself.
Behaving like humans only worked when you had the resources of humans. She knew this, but she would rather everyone in the colony starve to death than admit the alternative. Nevertheless, what was at first a quiet murmur had become all too audible, and each day the cries grew more insistent. The colony communicated mostly with gestures and monosyllables, but they understood their meaning. We need to start hunting again. Deer are too fast, bears are too strong, all animals are too smart.
Kay believed if her parishioners would just stick with deer hunting long enough, they could get one, but there was more to the resistance than lack of confidence. Unspoken in each complaint, after each failed deer-hunting expedition, was a fundamental belief borne from decades of films, books, and video games that through hundreds of images offered near consensus on one point: Zombies eat people.
“Ann,” spoke one parishioner behind her, and she sighed. Why couldn’t deer be as easy to sneak up on as she was? She turned to address Joe, and pantomimed operating an imaginary can opener.
The heavy man shook his head. “Ann.”
Kay pointed to her chest and raised an eyebrow. Joe shook his head again. He thought for a moment, and pantomimed his head exploding, putting grey fingers against his skull and fanning them out. “Ann.”
Kay’s breath caught in her throat. She pointed to the ground, and Joe nodded. Thank God, she thought. Thank the almighty Lord in Heaven she’s all right. She placed her palms together before her “Aaa.”
Joe mimicked her prayer, “Aaa.” He turned and led her back to camp.
There in the barn, wrapped in bandages and sitting in a wheelchair, was Angela Worthy. Gripping the handles of her chair, stooped and gasping for breath, was Stay-See, the girl who broke the shotgun monster out of jail. Kay suppressed a scowl. With a finger, Kay could have a bullet in her head. She was too fast to capture alive, but maybe if they shot her in the leg. Then again, with no medical supplies that would be as good as killing her.
But Kay was in the wrong mindset. Angela was alive. Angela was here. If she still trusted Stay See, so did Kay. She took a deep breath and opened her arms in welcome.
Angela spoke. “Kay, we don’t have time for pleasantries. There’s a cure for zombieism, but we need you to help us test it so we can distribute it broadly. You have to follow us through the woods to Sable Engineering campus and we’ll take you to the lab in Building Z where you’ll be well taken care of. We need to move fast, because a local militia is on its way to kill you all.”
Kay’s eyes widened, and she and Angela stared at each other for a long moment. She blinked and tried to think of how to express her thoughts. She let her mouth hang open and her whole body go slack, lifting one corner of her mouth in a bemused sneer.
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