I stayed where I was. I’d finally found a purpose for my life, a way to deal with my loss, and he wanted to take that away from me. Newsflash, Cole Holland. I won’t let you. I wouldn’t be fighting the zombies with him—so what. I wouldn’t learn trade secrets from him—so the heck what. I would do everything on my own.
I stomped into the living room. First thing I noticed was that Justin was gone and so was the dark-haired girl who’d doctored him. Mackenzie, Frosty and Bronx were gone, too. I found Kat on the couch, two-fisting bottles of beer. She was paler than before, trembling even.
Having dealt with my father in all the stages of his alcoholism, I knew how to handle her—with force. I pried the bottles from her kung fu grip and waved my fingers. “Keys.”
“I’m driving you home.” I kept the fact that I’d had only a few lessons and hadn’t yet gotten my license to myself.
“Oh, all right. He always does that, you know,” she grumbled as she dug in a hidden pocket of her dress. “Jumps to obey Cole’s every command. Go, Cole says, and he goes. You need to fix that. I mean, I was hoping you’d distract Mr. Authority, keep him busy so that Frosty could crawl after me properly.”
“I think Cole just dumped me,” I grumbled back. I didn’t think; I knew. At least the hurt was fading. I was even numbing out. “Besides, we weren’t really dating.”
“What! He dumped you? Justin must have beat him senseless.” She held out a glittery key chain in the shape of a cat. “There’s no other reason he’d do something so stupid. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him!”
“Thank you for the vote of confidence, but he just wasn’t into me enough.” I took the key and helped her up. She swayed, so I wound my arm around her and ushered her toward the door. No one tried to proposition me. Had they, I might have shoved their noses into their brains.
“Let’s get married, me and you, and have a thousand babies together,” Kat said. “That’ll show ’em!”
“What a fantastic idea. Let’s talk about it in the morning.”
Outside, cool night air stroked my arms and face. Clouds had appeared en masse, obscuring the moon—I jerked to a halt. There was my rabbit. Bigger than before, even brighter, holding something small and round in its hands.
“What’s wrong?” Kat asked. “Is your car phobia acting up again?”
“Something like that.”
“You’ll do fine. My car likes to steer itself, hence the reason for my crashes. But seriously, you won’t have any trouble.”
“We should—” I saw a flash of movement behind the far tree…saw the train of a dirty wedding gown…smelled the rot.
Too soon, I thought, ice crystallizing in my veins. The zombies shouldn’t be out tonight. They should be resting.
“Is that cloud spinning or is it just me?” Kat asked.
I glanced at the rabbit. The round thing in its hands now had hands of its own—clock hands, tick, tick, ticking away. It had come to warn me, I realized. Not about a car wreck, but about the zombies. The time had come; they were here.
“Go inside, Kat. Don’t let anyone out here, okay?” I gave her a push toward the door. I figured—hoped, prayed—Cole, Reeve’s dad, someone, had doubled up the Blood Line thing around the perimeter. I wasn’t sure how that worked or how long it lasted, but figured the more the better.
“Don’t ask questions. Please,” I said. “Just trust me.”
Grumbling under her breath, she obeyed, tripping back through the front door to hopefully guard it. As I stared at the shadows around the trees—dancing now, multiplying—I dug my phone out of my pocket and dialed Cole.
No answer. I was dumped to his voice mail. Avoiding me? Whatever. I left a message. “I think the zombies are at Reeve’s.” As I spoke, I used my free hand to reach for the blade in my purse.
A body lumbered into a thin ray of moonlight—followed by another and another. I gulped, fear spiking through me. “Scratch that,” I added, then did a double take when I spied my little sister flickering into view beside one of the zombies. She was pale, still in her pink tutu and wringing her hands together. “They are here.” Click. “Emma?”
“Go inside, Ali,” she said, and vanished.
“I can’t,” I replied anyway. Right now, I was the only one capable of seeing the zombies, the only one capable of defeating them—and yes, I was beyond inexperienced. But this was what I’d wanted. A chance to save the world.
For better or worse, I’d take it.
Off with Her Head!
The first set of problems popped up rather quickly. One, I had no idea how to shove my spirit out of my body. The journal had mentioned “faith” as the cause of the separation, yes, but how was I supposed to develop faith? Or was I supposed to yield to the power inside me—power I couldn’t feel?
Two, I had no idea what would follow if I succeeded but Kat failed, and someone came outside and tried to talk to my unresponsive body. And let’s not forget that Kat could succeed, I could fail, and someone could walk out the unguarded back door just in time to die.
At least the solution to both points was the same: I had to draw the zombies as far away from the house as possible.
A live wire of raw nerve endings, I drew on a growing well of courage and leaped into action, clutching my blade as I sprinted toward my enemy. “Lord,” I prayed. “Give me strength, speed and maybe one of those hazmat suits.”
Just before I reached the first two zombies—and oh, sweet heaven, there were eight more just behind the line of trees that separated the Ankhs’ property from the forest—I shouted, “Dinner’s ready! Come and get me!” and veered left.
A chorus of grunts and growls erupted, each zombie veering with me, following as I’d hoped. As I ran, I glanced over my shoulder—then had to glance again. Bridezilla had honed in on me, moving faster and faster with every step. Her Groom of Doom wouldn’t be too far behind her. He never was.
I shifted my scope—and boom, there he was. Buy one, get one free. Though one of his ankles was twisted at an odd angle, he had a surprisingly swift gait, practically gliding over the ground.
Either whatever damage was done to the body before death followed into the spirit or Cole and friends had fought him before and hurt him, but he’d gotten away before the death-glow.
If they’d failed to defeat him, what chance did I, the novice, have of success?
Can’t think like that.
Because I was watching what was happening behind me rather than my step, I slammed into a tree and ricocheted backward. Stars winked in every direction as I fought to suck in a single molecule of air. Panic threatened to overwhelm me. Get up! I’d seen a few episodes of Animal Planet. I knew what happened to stationary targets.
I floundered to my feet. Another quick look behind me, and I yelped. Too close, too close, they were way too close. I sprinted forward, effectively avoiding the tree.
Come on, Bell. You can do this. I could lead the zombies through the forest, camouflaging myself within the foliage and waiting until backup (hopefully) arrived. Except Cole had mentioned that trip wires littered the forest outside my backyard. I’d bet there were traps out here, too, though how an intangible spirit could trip a tangible wire, I wasn’t yet sure. But I could probably trip them no problem.
The forest was out.
Maybe I could make a dash for the road, praying any cars that came by would stop, let me in and speed away. But then again, involving innocent people in cars would defeat the purpose of not involving the innocent people inside Reeve’s house.
The road was out.
Great. I had nowhere to go.
Okay, rethinking. Reeve’s dad was the suspicious type. There had to be cameras inside and out, as well as all along the property line, monitoring everything, and someone in the know had to be watching the video feed. Mr. Ankh had certainly caught Kat and I soon enough.
So…I’d have to brave the forest, traps and all. If I stayed within a few hundred yards of the house, I would hopefully avoid the bulk of them. I could try to corral the zombies in one location and, if possible, burn them with my hand the way Cole had done.
Sometime during all of this, Mr. Ankh would surely find me.
I quickened my pace, leaves and branches slapping at my cheeks. With the lush canopy overhead, I lost some much-needed moonlight, as well as all the light pouring from the house. Darkness engulfed me, causing my fear to spike. Still, I kept my eyes on the ground—in front of me this time—searching for anything man-made that might be snaking from the thicker tree roots. I didn’t want to find myself dangling from a branch, an all-you-can-eat buffet for every zombie in the area.
I noticed a bushel of brittle leaves ahead and wondered if they had been purposely piled to hide something, considering the rest of the area was pristine. I hopped over them. Two seconds later, I heard a whoosh of air, a grunt. Glanced back. Sure enough, the Groom of Doom had been snagged and now hung upside down, unable to fight his way free. Sweet!
If only the others had been caught, but no, they drew ever closer to my heels. Faster, faster I raced, my heart pounding like a jackhammer. Adrenaline rushed through me in a great flood, causing my body to sizzle and sweat to drip down my back in rivulets. My bones vibrated and my injuries ached.
Despite my condition, the zombies would not defeat me. I wouldn’t let them. I would fight them, no matter the pain or outcome. I would—
The heat inside me mutated into a chilling cold. My steps never faltered, I never changed course, but I suddenly felt lighter, freer, my steps surer. I glanced backward only to see my body frozen in place, one foot in front of the other as if I’d stopped moving midrun.
The zombies ignored my body as if it were merely one of the trees around them.
Faith. I’d somehow exhibited faith and I was now in spirit form. Yes!
I sprinted to the right, too close to a thick trunk but not caring because I assumed I’d mist through it…until the jaggedness of the bark scratched my arm. What the heck? Even though I was without the solid covering of my body, things like wood would still be solid to me? That wasn’t logical—or fair.