Zak and Amie walked for more than an hour in the middle of a group of zombies. Every once in a while the zombies would capture another person and by the time they reached their destination there were eight captives in the group.
When he saw where they were headed, Zak stared and whispered to Amie in amazement, “What is that?”
Before them, floating in the river and tied to the shore with huge ropes, was a large rectangular structure almost 200 feet long and at least 50 feet high. A walkway led from the shore into a dark doorway just above the waterline.
“It’s the new riverboat casino they’re building. My Dad helped do the electrical work on it and said when it’s done he’ll…” Her voice drifted away as she remembered everything had now changed for her.
The zombies were now herding all the captives toward the walkway leading into the bottom of the half-finished riverboat. Zak made sure his juggling balls were handy as he and the rest were shoved through the door into the darkness.
There was a lot of stumbling before their eyes started becoming accustomed to the dark and by the time they could start to see shapes, a door slammed shut behind them and the new prisoners found themselves locked in a large room. A row of narrow windows near the ceiling let in enough light that they could see dozens of men, women, and children sitting against the walls or wandering around the room.
An older man came up to the new group and said, “Welcome to Zombie Casino, where your money isn’t the only thing you’ll lose.” He laughed a little as he said it, but when none of the newcomers joined in it trailed off. “Okay then, just so you know what’s happening here, every hour or so the zombies come back and grab a few people and take ‘em away.”
Amie asked while trying to hide a quaver in her voice. “Where do they take them?”
“We don’t know, but nobody ever comes back.”
Zak had been looking around the room, trying to spot his parents, when he heard a voice from the corner, “Zak, is that you?”
Even as his heart leapt at the thought of his parents finding him, he realized it was the voice of their neighbor. “Oh, hi Mr. Hanover,“ Zak tried not to sound disappointed as he headed toward the old man, “Have you seen my parents?”
Mr. Hanover had lived next door to Zak for as long as he could remember, and paid Zak to mow his lawn during the summer when it was hot. His neighbor put a freckled hand on Zak’s shoulder, squeezed it, and said, “We all came in together very early this morning, but I haven’t seen them for several hours. They were some of the first people taken out after we got here.”
Zak felt tears spring to his eyes and turned away from Mr. Hanover. The zombies had already crunched his parents; he was too late! His neighbor was trying to tell him something else, but Zak moved away like he was on autopilot until he got to the wall, turned around, slid down, and put his head in his hands and cried.
He didn’t know how long he sat there, but at some point he became aware of a scuffling sound and then someone screamed. Zak leapt to his feet and watched in horror as two women and a man were hustled out of the room by a group of zombies, the door slamming shut and locking behind them.
Zak jumped as Amie grabbed him from behind. “Zak, we have to figure out a way to get out of here before they come for us!”
Zak knew he’d feel sad about his parents later, but right now wasn’t the time — if they didn’t escape soon it would be too late for all of them.
He walked to the center of the room, raised his voice, and said, “I have a plan to get us out of here.” A couple people looked at him and then away. Most people didn’t pay any attention at all. “I said, I have a plan to…” His voice trailed away as he realized nobody was listening.
“HEY, you zombie meals just waiting to die!” Amie moved up next to him and yelled loud enough to hurt his ears. “Unless you want to get killed or turned into zombies yourself, LISTEN UP!” Her eyes blazed as she glared around the room. She had everybody’s attention. She motioned for Zak to go ahead.
He gave her a quick smile and then turned back to the crowd. “I know it’s going to sound really weird, but we have a way to confuse the zombies long enough for us to escape.” People were finally listening and moving a little closer to hear what he had to say.
“Zombie brains can’t handle fast moving objects, which I discovered when I juggled in front of one and he fell over.” Zak didn’t mention that it was his poodle he first tested it on. “I call it getting bamboozled. If we can be ready to juggle when they open the door next time, I think we can all escape.”
There was murmuring and a couple snickers around the room and Zak could tell most people thought he must be crazy. Mr. Hanover stepped forward and said, “Listen up, I’ve known this boy his whole life and if he says he can bamboozle zombies, then I believe it! Besides, what do we have to lose?”
“Mr. Hanover, you know how to juggle, I remember my Dad taught you last summer.” He handed his neighbor three balls from his show bag. “Anybody else here know how to juggle 3 balls?”
A teenage boy from the back of the crowd waved his hand and said, “My mom here can juggle!” The lady standing next to him blushed and said, “I haven’t juggled in quite a while, but if it means getting out of here, count me in!”
Zak passed 3 balls back to her and when nobody else said they could juggle, he laid out his plan. “Amie and I will be at the door when the zombies come in the next time. As soon as they get in we’ll bamboozle them and Amie will head down the hall toward the exit. Everyone will follow her and we’ll put a juggler in line about every tenth person. I’ll bring up the rear and make sure they can’t attack us from behind.”
The four jugglers spent the next 45 minutes practicing while everybody else stood in a loose line ready to head for the door. Finally, someone near the door said, “I hear footsteps!” and Zak and Amie got ready. “Remember, let them get clear inside before we take them down!”
The door swung open and three large zombies shuffled in, intent on grabbing more humans to crunch.
“Now!” said Zak and he and Amie started juggling. The zombies looked back and forth and then…
THUD! THUD! THUD!
All of them dropped and the captives cheered! “Amie,” Zak said, “lead everyone out to the shore. If you drop, just grab it and start again.” Amie headed out the door and people followed her. “Don’t crowd her!”
After 10 people, Mr. Hanover began juggling and followed the line out of the room, and the captives kept going. The zombies in the room started to come around, but Zak juggled right in front of them and they dropped again. Finally, Zak was the only one left and he juggled while walking backwards out of the room, and then backwards down the hallway making sure nobody could come up behind them.
As the dimness around him brightened he realized they’d made it to the exit and turned to see the last person step onto the shore. The only zombies around were a few laying unconscious near the captives. “C’mon, Zak,” Amie called out, “we made it!”
Zak stopped juggling and said, “I have to find out for sure what happened to my Mom and Dad. You go on ahead.”
“Zak, no! Come with us, we got away!” Amie started back for the riverboat casino and Zak grabbed the edge of the walkway and shoved the end away from the ship, splashing it into the water.
“You’re in charge of them, Amie. Take them into the woods and hide. I know you can do it.”
And with that Zak turned back to the darkness of the zombie headquarters and strode down the hallway into the inner part of the ship.
He was going to find his parents, or else!