Zak and his family lived on the edge of a subdivision that stretched along a forest. There were rumors that developers were buying up the land to put in more houses, but for now it was the home of animals and the kids who lived along it. Zak had played in and explored the woods for years so he knew his way around, even at night.
The group of zombies with Zak’s parents had headed south. Keeping under cover of bushes and trees in the edge of the woods, that’s the direction the boy and zombie poodle headed. The sky was starting to lighten in the east but for at least another hour they had the advantage of darkness. Not even the brightest streetlights could penetrate the woods.
They made good time and for several minutes the crackling of sticks under foot was the only sound. Zak could walk silently during the day but in the dark he couldn’t see exactly where his feet were landing. At least there were no zombies around.
“Mmmmmmnnnnn.” Zak whirled around in time to see Jeffrey start shambling toward a dog in the backyard they were passing. “Mmmmmmnnnnn.”
“Jeffrey, come! Here boy, get a biscuit!” Zak didn’t have a biscuit, but Jeffrey would always come running when he’d hear that word. Except now when it seemed like all he had on his mind was brains. Dog brains. The basset hound in the backyard had no idea what he was facing, and walked forward wagging his tale.
Zak uncoiled the bullwhip as he caught up to Jeffrey and looped the end through his collar, then started dragging the dog back to the woods. And now the hound in the backyard decided to sound the alarm and a loud baying filled the air.
The light over the back porch came on and through the curtain Jeffrey could see someone unlocking the door. “Oh great,” he thought, “now I get to explain to someone what I’m doing in their backyard.”
The door opened and an older lady in a pink bathrobe and bunny slippers stepped onto the porch. She scratched at her hair and a big clump of it fell out onto the steps. Zak’s eyes widened as he saw the blood glistening in her hair and she started to speak.
Dragging Jeffrey behind him Zak took off into the woods while the lady chanted “Brains!” over and over behind him. He was past the edge of the woods and ducking past a tree when he heard the dog in the backyard yelping, then heard a crunching sound, and then heard nothing at all.
Panic welling up in him like it would never stop, Zak kept going deeper into the woods until he couldn’t see any of the houses. He ran until he was out of breath and had to stop. He shrugged off his backpack and slid down against a tree. He hugged his knees to his chest and tried to catch his breath as Jeffrey lay down next to him and put his snout on Zak’s foot.
Remembering the attacks on his street earlier and then hearing the end of the dog in the back yard just minutes ago brought home the seriousness of his situation. “This might not be as easy as I thought,” Zak whispered to Jeffrey, who thumped his tail a couple times.
Zak sat in silence for a while as his pulse and breathing returned to normal. The sun was rising and even among the trees the light was coming through.
“Okay, enough stalling!” Zak jumped to his feet, startling Jeffrey who leaped up and moaned. “Mmmmmmnnnnn.”
“Jeffrey, let’s figure out what to do next so we can get Mom and Dad before they get snacked on.” Zak unzipped his pack and rummaged around until he came out with three balls. He always thought he came up with better ideas when he was juggling.
Standing among the trees Zak started doing a 3-ball cascade and kind of stared off into the distance. He could feel his mind start to churn away when he was interrupted by the sight of Jeffrey falling over with a soft thud. Zak stopped juggling and knelt by his dog.
“What’s wrong, boy?”
Jeffrey’s eyes looked unfocused and he was as stiff as a board. Zak checked the hole in his skull but it was still taped over.
Just like that, Jeffery was back. He jumped up, shook his head, and grinned at Zak like nothing had happened, which didn’t cause Zak to worry any less. Something bad had definitely happened to his dog.
Zak stood back up and kept an eye on Jeffrey, but he seemed back to normal. Throwing the balls back into the air Zak started to think of ways to rescue his parents.
This time Zak was looking right at his poodle when the dog’s eyes went unfocused, he stiffened up, and fell straight over.
Zak stopped juggling and his brain started going a mile a minute. He waited about 10 seconds.
“No freaking way!” Zak shouted at Jeffrey, who jumped up and leaped around as fast as a zombie dog can leap around. Throwing and catching one ball Zak carefully watched his dog. Jeffrey watched him back and wagged his tail.
Zak switched to a 3-ball cascade and then threw the balls into the air with a loud laugh when Jeffrey fell over again.
“Zombies can’t look at juggling! It confuses them some way. Maybe that’s why they walk slow, because they can’t take stuff that’s fast, like juggling balls!”
Zak paced back and forth in front of his comatose dog trying to figure out how he could use this new found power in the best way. Jeffrey once again blinked and came back to life, no worse for wear.
Grabbing the leash from his pack, Zak fastened it to Jeffrey’s collar and then tied it to one of his belt loops. “No running off trying to get dog brains, that’s bad. Bad.”
Zak put on his pack and picked up his new weapon – 3 juggling balls. With those he should be able to walk right through all the zombies and have about 10 seconds before they came after him again. And since they moved so slowly, that should be plenty of time.
“As long as I don’t drop the balls,” he reminded himself quietly.