First frost. The very event anticipated by us inhabitants of number 7 Lucky Lane. Crouched in front of the gate, I waited for the word to go. I pinched a frozen blade of grass and watched my warmth melt the ice.
Life among the undead wasn’t bad enough for my father today. A smart man would have said, just off the damn thing and move on. But no, today he wanted to capture one. Goddamnit.
Chris, my older brother by two years, crept along the fence toward me. I turned to talk to Dad but he faced the other way. Theo, Chris’s best friend since, well, forever, ran along the fence headed toward us.
“Dad, what’s the point? It’s dead,” I said.
“Anna, the point is,” he whispered while he peered through the fence slats, “it’s Calvin.”
“I don’t think--”
“And,” he cut across me. His breath fogged the space between us in the chill morning air. “I owe it to him. Besides, I need to know.”
Theo reached the gate, climbed the apple tree, and peered into the street and churchyard beyond. “All clear,” he whispered.
“Right,” Dad said. “We all know what to do. So let’s go, and be quiet.”
My sister Susan fitted an arrow to her bow and stood over me. I glanced up and for a brief moment our eyes met. Bitch. The word floated through my mind. Time, that cure for all hurts, rendered hazy my memory of the events which caused our rift. Silly, but the anger remained.
Dad unlocked the gate. Mindful of the squeak, he pushed forward, careful to hold the door just right. We filed out and proceeded down the street.
“There he is.” Chris nodded toward Calvin.
My heart pounded as I stared at the beast, which had once been our neighbor. Pallid skin hung loosely over an emaciated frame. No longer a rich ebony, its skin had begun the transformation to moaner grey. Shit, that means it’s at least three months dead. How the hell did it find its way back here?
“Damn, I can smell it from here,” Theo whispered as an ammonia rich stench of decay wafted over us.
It’d fed recently. I shuddered.
“Shhh, there’s two more in the churchyard,” Dad said.
Far away, but uncomfortably close. We had three minutes tops, to collect our quarry and get back under cover. “Okay, let’s do this,” I said.
I handed Dad our fireplace tongs when we entered Calvin’s yard. The moaner that had once been Calvin had its back to us. Theo stomped past me and leaped in front of the beast.
Theo used his machete to cut off one, then the other of its outstretched hands. Dad and Chris seized its arms. Theo ran forward and grabbed its head by the ears.
“Quick, Anna,” Dad grunted.
I wrapped my dog’s runner chain around its chest, slipped the clasp into the eyelet and drew the chain taut.
“Pull,” Theo yelled when his hands began to slip off its head.
I heaved with all my strength. Too hard, I realized after the fact. The moaner toppled onto me. I slammed to the ground. “Ooof,” escaped my lips. My lungs seized. I struggled to inhale, but breath eluded me.
Dad fell on top of us, his face inches from the beast’s mouth. Chris lifted his foot, smashed down, and crushed the moaner’s jaw. Dad rolled off. Theo grabbed it by the legs and pulled it off me.
Theo and Chris seized the moaner’s arms and yanked it upright. Dad took the chain from me while I fought to breathe. I flailed on the ground, desperate to draw a lungful of air. At last, I pulled a ragged gasp, seized the tongs from the grass and staggered to my feet. Lungs on fire, I circled in front of the moaner and grabbed it by the neck.
“Two on the road,” Theo said. He dropped its arm, and followed by Chris, went after the new threat.
Dad and I worked the beast toward the road. Its handless arms, stripped of menace, flailed to no purpose. The monster snapped its jaws and thrust its neck forward in a vain attempt to reach me. I pushed it backward with the tongs while Dad pulled on the chain.
Chris and Theo made it to the gate. After I passed through, Chris shut the gate and snapped the lock closed with a reassuring click.
“Anna, the tree.” Dad nodded to the gumball tree in our front yard.
Theo and Chris took hold of the arms and helped push it across the yard. I shoved it against the tree. Dad proceeded to wrap the chain around both the tree and moaner. Finished, he stepped back and we all let go. Its arms thrashed about and it snapped its jaws at us, but it wasn’t going anywhere.
Dad duct taped the moaner’s neck to the tree. Much too loud, the sound of tape ripping from the roll echoed across the yard. Satisfied the head was secure, he cut the tape.
He turned to me and in between pants said, “Well, that was easy.” He took off his cap to reveal a shock of greasy, dirt blond hair and wiped perspiration from his forehead and neck.
“I sure hope it’s fucking worth it,” I said while I fought the urge to vomit.
Theo flashed a smile. “Oh ho, quite the potty mouth today. I like it. Kinda turns me on.”
“Park that thing before I cut it off,” Dad said with a warning glance to Theo. “And, Anna, watch your language.”
“I just don’t see--”
“We’re not done yet,” Dad cut across me. Again. “We have to make sure it’s not gonna walk if it breaks free.”
“Got it.” Theo ran toward the front door.
“Chris,” Dad called to my brother, who stood behind the beast and held its wallet. Dad’s brow furrowed in bemusement. “What are you doing, son?”
Chris opened the wallet and sighed. He glanced up to see Dad and me staring at him. “He owed me and Chet fifty bucks for his lawn.”
Dad gazed at me, his mouth open. I gaped at Dad, and we both turned to Chris.
Theo emerged from the house and burst into laughter. Dad and I joined in. Chris, Calvin’s wallet in hand, appeared perplexed for a moment before realization crept over his face. He too joined in the laughter, which seemed as infectious as the plague that had engulfed our world.
Theo struggled to speak. “What a moron.” He stopped laughing, aware of the danger. “Only you.”
“Okay, let’s wrap this up,” Dad said. “Theo, you know what to do?”
“Yes sir.” He hefted a sledgehammer over his shoulder.
Dad and Chris headed for the front door. I had the unfortunate task of being Theo’s, as Dad called it, outdoors buddy. I turned away and put my fingers in my ears, having no desire to witness the gruesome job Theo had to perform.