Shooting Trixie Miller makes me miss the bus.
The driver won’t wait, and it’s not like I can leave Trixie, at least not until Patrol shows up.
Of course, they take their sweet time finding my address. We live outside the safe zone, but we’re no less important in the case of a spotting. Even out here in the sticks.
A puddle forms under Trixie’s face, and I have to slide down to keep my jeans dry. Her blood is chunky, especially for a dead person, and it sticks to the porch wood like jello. One look at Trixie, and I know she was dead long before I shot her.
We knew she was missing — we didn’t know she’d turned.
While I wait for Patrol, I do another sweep. After all, Trixie never went anywhere without her entourage.
I step over bits of broken skin, and wonder how late I’m going to be to school. Patrol should have been here by now, but I can’t blame them for running late. When you tape a hotline number to every stop sign or lamp post in town, you’ve got to expect a few prank calls. If you live here in Laverne, you’ve got to expect a few more. This isn’t a false alarm, but the only emergency now is getting to first hour before Ms. Adams calls my dad again.
After checking upstairs, I follow the trail of acrylic to the back patio, where I found her, clawing at the screen. What’s left of her fake nails litter the tile, and I can’t help but crush a few as I step into the living room.
It doesn’t take long to see she was alone. Aside from Trixie’s corpse, the house is empty. Back on the porch, she continues to bleed, so I stand in the yard.
Her blood–odd as it is–doesn’t bother me. Her messy hair and torn up sweater are just details. I observe everything about her, from her dirt-caked fingers to her broken high heels. It’s what Daddy calls a “clinical perspective”. Sometimes you have to try really hard to be casual about the dead. Other times you don’t.
A distant rumble breaks my concentration, and I look up to see a shiny red Camaro rolling slowly toward the house. Patrol.
In this new world, everyone’s a deputy. Even Jake Evans.
It’s dual enrollment, in some kind of law enforcement program. The city can’t afford to secure everything outside the safe zone, so they give students like Jake college credit to respond to false alarms. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.
Jake rolls his early graduation present to an unbelievably slow stop, as if parking were an Olympic sport.
Before he gets out, I move to block his view. It’s an old habit from watching Dad, the way he stands in front of caskets, shaking hands and patting shoulders for too long. He can’t stop the dead from dying, but he does what he can to ease the moment. I wonder if Jake even knew Trixie. All the same, my arms swing out to cover his view.
“Sarah?” Jake is out of the car. “Why aren’t you in class? Don’t you have better things to do than—oh shiiiiiiiit.”
I start with the details. Like any spotting, it’s the specifics that matter. Jake’s no detective, but he’s with Patrol all the same.
“I found her at breakfast. Maybe—” I check my watch. “—half an hour ago. She was inside, moving through the—”
“Oh my god, that’s real.”
“She’s real,” I snap, surprised at the heat in my voice. I struggle for the other details, but now all I can think about are the notes she used to pass me and the way her voice sounded when she laughed. “Her name is Trixie.”
Jake doesn’t say anything.
“She was a senior.”
Finally, he mumbles, “She’s really dead.” At first, I think he’s disappointed, but then I see the car keys trembling in his hand.
“It’s okay,” I say, unzipping my backpack to fetch my .22. “She’s down. I was making breakfast when—”
“Whoa!” He flinches harder at the gun than he did at Trixie. Jake’s born and bred here, but his parents are Democrats, and from the looks of it, I doubt he’s ever even seen a gun.
Then it hits me. He’s not looking at it now–he’s looking at me.
Because I’m a girl.
“Where did you get that thing?”
“It was a gift from Daddy.”
“You…uh…you know how to use it?”
I glance back at Trixie.
If I had a gun for every tale Daddy told me over breakfast, I could arm the half of town that’s still alive. I’ve had to digest every vile, awful detail of Daddy’s business, all while digesting my oatmeal. And that was before the outbreak. When people started turning, I expected to find a rocket launcher under the tree, stuck with a bright red bow. Instead, Daddy slipped one of these into my stocking.
“He said I needed protection.”
Jake shakes his head, and I follow his empty stare to his empty waistline.
“Don’t you carry?” I blurt out, even though I know the answer. He may not like pistols, but it dawns on me they should have given him some options. A knife, a bat, something.
“Wait,” says Jake, “You said she was inside your house?”
“Why don’t you carry a weapon?”
“Sarah, how did she get—”
“What the hell Jake?” I’m shouting now. “What would you have done if this were an actual emergency? Because God knows you’re not going to hit her with your car.” Jake would sacrifice his left arm before he let the undead ruin his paint job.
He twirls his car keys around his finger. “I couldn’t get the form. Dad’s always gone and, well, Mom won’t sign anything from Patrol. She says they’re zealots.”
It’s a minute before either of us speaks. The truth is, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for guys like Jake to carry weapons. It doesn’t make sense that I want him to. I have to remind myself not everyone is cut out for survival, and I wonder how long it will be before Jake Evans ends up lying face-down on somebody’s porch.
In the silence, the drip of Trixie’s wound is a drumbeat.
“Do you at least know how to clean her up?”
“Um…” he mumbles, blinking at the red stained porch.
I’d do it myself, but Patrol insists on protocols. We’re not supposed to touch anything unless we’re trained, which is fine by me. Let them try getting blood out of wood.
“They went over it at the beginning of the year, but…” Jake runs his fingers through gel-soaked hair. “I, uh, ditched a couple of times.” Then he fixes his hair back into place. “I can ask Mr. McCree. He’s got a closet full of—I don’t know—chemicals and stuff?”
He’s looking at me, or more importantly, at my gun.
“Do I look like your supervisor?” My voice is still a little hot, so I slip the .22 back in my bag to take the edge off.
“I’m sure he’ll know what to do,” says Jake, but instead of reaching for his phone, he continues to stare at me. Obviously, he hasn’t come to terms with me storing my pistol next to my three ring binder. “You’re not bringing that to school, are you?”
I zip up my bag.
“Hold on a sec,” says Jake. “How do you get it past the metal detectors?”
It’s a legitimate question, but I have more pressing matters than explaining covert zombie survival for High School seniors. “I flirt with security,” I say, with a heavy roll of my eyes. “Come on Jake, I really need to get to first hour. Can you give me a lift?”
Lucky for me, it doesn’t take much to change the subject, because now Jake is staring in a different direction, down the empty road that leads into town. “Did you miss the bus?”
Obviously, Jake’s never had to worry about post-zombie public transportation. It doesn’t help that my house is the last outpost before the fence line, and the driver never waits for me, assuming he even bothers to make the stop. His bulletproof vest is cleaner than Jake’s car, and his sunglasses cost more than Trixie’s shoes. I swear to God, if we’re not on board and seated in thirty seconds, he acts like he’s going to call in a napalm strike.
It’s the city’s fault. They hand out security jobs like candy on Halloween. Any loon who wants to fight the apocalypse can pretend he’s a badass while making minimum wage. Meanwhile, Daddy says the school board put the real money into transportation. They got enough from the government to purchase a small tank, so they wasted it assembling the world’s most unnecessary bus. It’s yellow and black, like they used to be, but thick with steel plating, armor, and bulletproof glass. In case the undead start their own militia.
“Honestly,” I say, sounding a bit too much like my father, “the bureaucratic nonsense that you have to—”
Jake cuts me off. “So you did miss the bus.”
“The driver’s an idiot.”
“Sarah, it’s three miles.”
“Oh my God — I’ll give you gas money.”
“No,” he snaps. “That’s not what I mean.” He looks at me like he’s forgotten he’s two inches shorter and a grade below me. The concern in his voice would be sweet, if I could get over the fact that I used to take his lunch money, and sometimes, his lunch. Jake’s not exactly a big-brother type. “It’s just that—”
He starts over. “Of course—I mean—yes. I’ll give you a lift. But you have to be more careful. It’s three miles, Sarah. You can’t miss the bus.”
“Fine.” I swallow. “You’re probably right.”
The truth is, I stopped worrying about missing the bus when guys like Jake started protecting us. Besides, a crowded bus is what Ms. Adams would refer to as potential energy — one bite, and every student on the route is officially expelled.
“Seriously Jake, I’m really late.” My physics teacher isn’t known for bending the rules, especially when it comes to me. My excuses, like the spottings, have worn thin in the last year.
I hurry to his car, and to my surprise, Jake opens the door for me.
“She won’t…I mean she’s not gonna…” He doesn’t take his eyes off Trixie. “She’s dead—right?”
I tell him she was dead before I shot her, but judging by his face he misses the irony. “Just get in,” I say.
A second later he starts the car and manages a three point turn that doesn’t nick his baby on the fence line. Once he’s cleared the brush and dirt, he manages to hit the speed limit.
Neither of us says a word on the way to school. A couple of times I open my mouth, thinking I’m going to tell him something else about Trixie, but nothing comes out. The truth is I don’t know what to say. She hasn’t been Trixie for a long time, and I don’t mean because she turned.
As we approach the safe zone, I think about the new Trixie. The one who went missing. The one everybody knew but me.
She still called me, but only on my birthday. She brought her new friends everywhere. Including my party. It didn’t take long for someone to realize Daddy forgot to lock the basement door again, and the smell of formaldehyde lingered while I opened my presents alone.
At the security gate, Jake slows to a stop, but fellow Patrol member Parker Thomas waves him through all the same. Most Likely Not To Give A Shit doesn’t even look up from that stupid baseball cap. Nice to know the boys at Patrol watch out for each other, even if they don’t watch out for the rest of us.
I want to argue, but honestly, I’m too tired. Protocol or not, I’m inside the gate.
Jake circles the lot twice before finding a wide space with no cars on either side. Finally parked, he asks if I’m okay.
“I won’t be if Daddy finds out I’m late again.”
“No,” he says. “I mean—”
“It was bound to happen,” I say. “Sooner or later, someone was going to turn.”
He acts surprised.
“Look,” I deadpan, “it’s not like it’s the end of the world.”
Jake doesn’t laugh. He gets this confused look on his face, the kind people wear around funerals when they know everybody but the deceased. Next, he clears his throat. “You said her name was Trixie?”
I open my bag and check for yesterday’s homework.
“Was she your friend?” asks Jake.
I unbuckle my seat belt. There are fifteen minutes left in first hour, and if I hurry, there’s a good chance I can sneak past the metal detectors and still be there in time for today’s assignment.
“Thanks for the lift,” I say, and I’m outside the car, pulling my bag over my shoulders and crossing the parking lot.