Emma has only one guard shack left before she releases her brother into the zombies-only zone, or the Z-Zone, as the locals call it. Along the way she keeps Sam docile with a plastic container full of raw meat and the only six commands he knows to obey. He doesn’t understand what’s about to happen to him, but she does. If only letting him go was as easy as saying goodbye.
Spike stands, pen still poised above the paperwork to get Sam into the Z-Zone. He just stands there, arm still, hand still, not even shaking, as the pen hovers four inches above the form.
It’s like he’s waiting, like he won’t go on, until I explain.
“I mean, we don’t talk about that day in front of…Sam.”
“Sam?” Spike asks, looking more closely at the driver’s license I’ve just handed him. “It says here his name is Reginald Saxton Graham the Third.”
I shrug. “After everything happened, and the virus left him like…this…the only name he’d respond to is Sam.”
Even now, he looks up when I say it. Spike sees it, frowns, and chews his lower lip.
“Whatever,” he huffs, returning to his paperwork. “I mean, I love my brother to death, but if he chomped on my folks’ brains, killed ’em right in front of my eyes like this one here, I wouldn’t be treating him all warm and fuzzy like you are, that’s for sure—”
I feel something brush against my side and turn to Sam. “Stop!” I shout, more at Spike than at Sam.
Just the same, it’s command number four. Sam growls and Spike backs up, holding the entry form into the Z-Zone up in front of his chest.
“I. Told. You,” I say through gritted teeth, biting down harder on each word as I wedge myself between the two boys. “We. Don’t. Talk. About. That. Night.”
“Got it, got it,” Spike squeaks, hastily handing over the paperwork.
I cut a glance at Sam, who stands firm, rigid, inches from the front of the guard shack and one lunge from sinking his teeth into Spike’s skull.
“Back,” I say, gently, resisting the urge to touch him. Do that now, when he’s a tight wire like this, and he could go off: absolutely, irretrievably, epically off. Better to pry him away, using the fifth—and next-to-last—command.
“Back,” I urge him, showing him as well as telling him. “Back.”
At last Sam flicks me a glance, buried in the depths of his deep gray eyes, and takes one, then two steps back, to follow me as I step softly away from the guard shack.
“Amazing.” Spike’s beef-jerky breath is hot on my neck. “I’ve never seen one obey like that before.”
I flinch, because it sounds like he’s talking about a dog. Then I look up into his big, blue eyes and see he’s smiling, tentatively, or even…approvingly. “How’d you get him to do all that?”
I’ve got my paperwork in hand. Our work here is done and I really should be going, but as clueless, as dumb and vapid and vain and thuggish as he is, Spike might be the last person I ever see. So I answer him, as if he really cares.
As if I really care.
“It just takes time,” I say, watching Sam stand stock-still there by the guard rail. It’s yellow, with black stripes, and Spike leans on the business end. It’s the end he’ll have to lift up for us when it’s time to let Sam walk into the Z-Zone, never to return.