~ PART 4 ~

"They're going to be looking for us," said Gwen.

"They won't look for us where we're going. Hopefully," said Anchor.

"Where exactly are we going?" asked Gwen. She was still holding his hand. In the middle of everything, Anchor could still appreciate the gesture of handholding. He was certain it was the only thing keeping him from going into a panic attack. She had a firm grip, and even though her hands were clammy, it let him know that she was there.

"You'll see," answered Anchor. "But we're not going to be completely safe there, so we'll have to leave as quickly as possible."

They arrived at a powder blue house with a dusty red station wagon parked outside and a large oak tree in the front. Anchor began to climb the tree and Gwen trailed after him. Once he was perched on a steady branch, he knocked on the glass window.

"You know, I used to be so frightened of heights," he heard Gwen whisper below him. "But now that I'm dead it doesn't really matter. It's sort of cool."

Anchor gave another quiet knock before he saw the light turn on. Leroy Tibbs slowly walked to his window, rubbing his eyes before putting on his thick glasses. When he saw Anchor his eyes widened, but he opened the window anyway.

"We need to come in. It's sort of an emergency."

"Well, I'm always happy to extend a hand to a fellow man in need," said Leroy in his nasally voice. He stepped back and Anchor climbed through. Gwen came after.

Anchor was about to open his mouth to explain as quickly as he could, thinking that once Leroy saw Gwen in her bloodstained dress and rather gruesome state he would begin to yell, but Gwen got to it first.

"Hello Leroy," Gwen smiled. "How are you?"

"I'm alive," he quipped. "But apparently so are you. I take it you were infected?" He began to mumble to himself. "I always thought your death was mighty peculiar. You were in India, after all, and they began to have that strange epidemic. . ." He trailed off. "Who did you eat?"

"King Henry. Bryan Sanders' dog," she answered.

"Oh." Leroy shrugged. "The circle of life, it moves on."

"What the hell are you wearing?" asked Anchor.

"I like it," said Gwen.

"Footsie pajamas. My grandfather gave it to me. He's a lumberjack." Anchor was staring at the picture of Santa on his chest. "For Christmas," Leroy added.

As tempted as Anchor was to discuss Leroy's odd choice in pajamas, Gwen's situation was slightly more urgent.

"I've read up on zombies," said Leroy matter of factly, "and you're different, Gwen. I don't think you're full zombie."

"That sounds stupid," said Anchor. "How can you be part zombie?"

"If your body has enough white cells to fight the virus at least half of the time. Gwen, I assume, was only exposed to a very miniscule amount of the virus, and in a protected environment. The fact that she still has her personality intact, much less her humanness, indicates that she is not full zombie. If she were full, there would be no way in Orion's belt she would be able to even say her ABCs."

"But she still wants to eat people," said Anchor, confused.

"Sadly, the insuppressible hunger for flesh is something even half-zombies share. Because she just ate, Gwen is more in control of herself. But as she gets hungry she will start to act more like a real full-blood zombie."

"Huh," said Gwen. "That makes a whole lot of sense, Leroy."

"Of course it does," he said. "It's fact. But we have another problem, Houston. Gwen has brought the virus here. I've been watching the news and keeping an eye on the hospitals and the death rate has exponentially gone up. I expect in a few hours more zombies will rise. And none of them will only be half like Gwen."

"Great," said Anchor. "Bryan Sanders wants my ass and now a bunch of zombies is gonna want to take a bite of my brains. Are there any other things I should look out for that would perhaps want my arms, or my toes? What about my crotch?"

Gwen wrinkled her nose at Anchor. "You're grumpy. I think you need a nap."

"What I need is to wake up," Anchor grumbled, rubbing his face with his hands.

"Oh, this isn't a dream, Anchor," said Leroy. "There have been countless recorded accounts of zombie infestations. In Egypt, Scotland, India. Except they were never tabbed as zombie infestations. Instead they were called genocides or mass murders."

"So everybody dies. That makes me feel a lot better," said Anchor.

"Let's stop bitching and think about what we're going to do," said Gwen, picking a maggot out of her ear. "I'm part zombie, right? Maybe I can talk to them. Convince them to eat each other or walk into the ocean, or something."

"That's impossible," Leroy said, shaking his head. "There is no communicating with zombies. Zombies have no ability to comprehend. Their brains are decayed and instead focused on only one thing: eating."

"So we kill 'em," she said.

Leroy stared at her. "That would be the ideal solution, yes."

"How do you kill a zombie?" she asked.

"It's actually fairly easy," explained Leroy. "You must decapitate their heads."

"Sounds easy enough."

"The main problem is that they come in hoards. Mass groups of zombies. Once you're cornered there's very little chance of survival because it's more likely than not that you'll be outnumbered. Taking off their heads one at a time won't save you."

"Hey," said Anchor, "Leroy, your dad used to be in the army, right?"

"He's a Lieutenant and he hates me," said Leroy. "But yes."

"So he's got to have a gun around here somewhere, right?"

"We've got a gun cabinet but it's locked."

"You know where he keeps the key?" asked Anchor.

"Sure," said Leroy. "He doesn't worry about hiding it from me because he knows I am a pacifist and would never use one."

"Well," said Anchor. "If you wanna live, you're gonna have to."

Leroy shook his head. "Anchor, none of us have ever even fired a gun before."

"I've played arcade games," he said.

Leroy scoffed. "Oh yeah, pointing a plastic gun and pulling a trigger at a glass screen is exactly the same."

"Actually, that's not true," said Gwen.

Leroy and Anchor turned to stare at her.

"About none of us having ever shot a gun. My uncle taught me. He thought it would come in handy sometime. Which it obviously does," said Gwen. "What kind of guns have you got?"

"What kind can you fire?" asked Leroy, narrowing his eyes.

"Any kind," she said.

Leroy tsked under his breath but started towards his door. "That's not a very proper thing to teach a lady, how to fire a gun."

"It's not a very proper lady thing to eat a dog either, but she's done that too," said Anchor. "So let's hurry. I'm pretty sure Bryan Sanders and my parents are gonna be looking for me around town by now."

Just as Leroy was about to leave, Gwen spoke up.

"Wait," she said. "You got any chainsaws, maybe?"

Leroy froze and they watched as he shook the back of his head. "Women these days. Always wanting to prove they're just as good as men," he grumbled. Then he closed the door behind him.

This left Anchor and Gwen alone in Leroy's room for a few minutes. They were disturbingly silent for the first few seconds. Leroy had glow in the dark stars and planets arranged on his ceiling as a replica of the constellation. Anchor wondered how long that must have taken him. Leroy also had a laminated poster of the times table tacked up (which he knew that Leroy had mastered when he was only in the second grade, and then got pantsed for it), a poster of Einstein and some other physicist that discovered the atomic bomb. He had piles and piles of books, ranging from plant species to calculus to birdwatching.

In the time Anchor spent looking over Leroy's room Gwen had gotten up and had sat right down next to him on his bed.

"I'm sorry about that, Anchor," she said to him. "That I have to be part zombie and all."

Anchor looked at her and knew she was telling the truth. "It's not your fault."

"And I'm sorry about wanting to eat Muffin," she said. "I know how much you love her."

Anchor looked down in his shirt pocket to see Muffin looking up at him with her beady eyes. It was true he loved her very much. "She's the best pet I've ever had," he said.

Gwen looked down and fidgeted with her toes. "I'm glad you didn't watch me eat King Henry."

Anchor smiled even though just the mere memory of it made him want to throw up everything he'd eaten in the past twenty four hours. "How did he taste?"

"Meaty," Gwen said. "Very juicy. His brain was delicious. All of that high class dog food they've been feeding him has really done some good."

Anchor let out a dry laugh, even though he didn't really think it was all that funny. He didn't know why he did that, probably because he knew she was trying to lighten the mood and he tried to appreciate it. Even though it was really sort of gruesome.

"Listen," she said. She grabbed his hand. He looked down and saw that her fingernails were crusted with blood. "Later on, if you have to kill me, kill me. Just do it. Shoot off my head. Okay?"

Anchor stared at their hands and felt as if his soul was climbing out of his body. He felt so strange, like he was up on the ceiling watching all of this, and suddenly his throat got very tight and it was very painful to swallow. He felt a painful thump in his heart.

"I don't think I could," he told her quietly.

"You gotta," she said. She squeezed his hand tighter. "I was already dead. It was all right. I won't mind going back. And time passes so fast, you know? It won't be such a long wait if I wait for you. Not that, you know, you're going to die anytime soon. It's just that when you're dead time doesn't exist like it does when you're alive anymore."

"Hold on a minute," said Anchor. He began to remember all of the things about the afterlife his Sunday school teacher had taught him. Heaven and Hell. Was there actually such a thing? "Gwen, is there really such a thing as—"

He was interrupted by Leroy stumbling into the room with some aluminum cases. He dropped a box on the ground. "Rounds," he explained. Then he began to open the cases. "Guns."