Penny banged through the door at fifteen ‘til sporting two days of beard growth.
“Did your razor run away?” I asked, climbing off the couch.
“I told you I didn’t feel like going out,” he said.
“And I said I was paying you, so shut-up.”
He collapsed into the space I vacated, throwing his long legs over the couch arm and crossing his ankles.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” I said, whacking him on the back of the head with a rolled up magazine.
He cringed, rubbing the spot where the magazine connected. “Can’t you leave me alone while you get your shit together?”
“It’s in the car,” I said, drawing out each word.
“That’s what you’re wearing?” he asked, slumping back down.
“Yeah, no, that’s not going to work. Get up.”
I grabbed my keys off the reception desk crowded with discarded magazines and supernatural encyclopedias. Penny’s booted feet thunked as he swung them to the floor.
“Why can’t you be a normal girl and freak out about how you look?” he grumbled.
“Because we’re going out to hunt zombies, and for that I look fine,” I gestured to my long-sleeved black t-shirt, jeans, red leather jacket, and boots.
He clicked off the office lights as we trooped through the doors. “If this were a video game, that shirt would be three sizes too small,” he said.
“It would basically be nipple pasties with leather pants and stilettos.”
“Your hair would be to your waist. No ponytail. If you can’t keep your hair under control and fight off the undead, you don’t deserve to be called a woman,” he tugged at the short strands of hair at the nape of my neck.
I shoved him away with a laugh and we climbed into the car.
It was a fifteen minute drive from the center of town, where my office was, to the woods that ran behind the Speedman’s home. We listened to screamy rock music the entire drive—Penny’s choice.
I turned off the highway onto a gravel road that ran through the woods, pulling off into a small clearing between the trees. We exited the car in tandem, crossing to the popped trunk, where I lifted the carpet square to reveal an arsenal of guns and knives.
“Pick your poison,” I said, grabbing a 9mm pistol and a machete.
He flexed his right arm, muscle bulging. “I already brought my guns,” he said.
“Ugh, seriously?” I asked. “I’m putting a douche bag jar in the office.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” he said, grabbing an axe.
I snorted. “C’mon. The dead are waiting.”
“And I’m the one that needs a jar,” he said, taking a few steps before stopping, arching his neck, and pointing his face towards the sky. The lids dropped over his blue eyes and his chest began expanding and contracting in slow and even bursts.
After a minute his eyes popped open, glowing with the light from the flashlight app on my phone. He took a few strides forward, bending to examine bent twigs on a tree.
“Something passed this way,” he said. “Not sure if it was a zombie or a deer.”
“It’s funny how those two things are often confused.”
“What exactly are we walking into here?” he asked, wrapping his hand around my arm to stop me from going further into the woods. “I don’t plan on getting eaten any time soon.”
“Don’t you think it’s interesting that these zombies haven’t attacked anyone? According to Mrs. Speedman, they’re just hanging out in the woods.”
“You have a theory?”
“Of course,” I said. His hand dropped from my bicep.
I led the way into the woods, the phone illuminating the few feet ahead of us. Once upon a time, heading into a dark forest to hunt for zombies would have terrified me. Now, the wisp of wind-shaken branches, the crunch of dry foliage underfoot, the shifting of shadows, was nothing but a typical night of my life.
We walked in silence; my eyes trained to the forest floor, searching for footprints and an excess of broken branches.
“Stop,” Penny said, but before I could question him, he put his finger to his lips. I wasn’t sure what he heard, but the ground in front of us was a churned mess of mud and tree debris.
“Do you smell that?” he whispered, grip on his axe tightening.
I inhaled, but all I got was the sweet scent of rotting leaves and crisp night air. Even though I didn’t smell anything, I trusted Penny’s instincts. I grabbed the gun, clicking a bullet into the chamber.
We inched forward, the gun and I a little bit ahead. A breeze kicked up, making the branches around us toss and pitch, carrying with it the heavy scent of decaying flesh.
Our next steps were slow and deliberate, feet placed in strange, uncomfortable positions between tree roots and forest plants to avoid drawing unwanted attention.
We inched around the trees until we could see the roof of the Speedman house in the distance—and a seething mass of the undead.
They grumbled and growled in a knotted horde straight ahead of us. I stopped, startled by the abrupt transition between no zombies and ohshitzombies.
I forgot that Penny was right behind me.
His torso slammed into my back, his legs wrapping around mine as he lost his footing. The gun and phone toppled from my fingers, skidding along the forest floor, as Penny and I crashed to the ground. Branches snapped underneath us, mingling with the oof sounds bursting from both of our mouths.
My face smashed into the cold dirt, the crackled edges of dead leaves poking into my skin. Penny’s face was against my neck for a few seconds, but then he rolled away. I scrambled to my feet, hands scrabbling to find the gun.
We no longer had stealth on our side.
A burst of light—Penny picking my phone up from the ground—made the shining metal of the gun gleam.
. My fingers wrapped around the lukewarm metal, and I stood, ready to fire.