The (Briskly) Walking Dead

The gang explores zombies as an alternative form of energy.
(Takes place between GNW and DBG.)

—–

“You know, Vibby, zombies are a lot like hamsters.”

Of all the things I expected to hear on that bleak afternoon, comparing undead cannibals to lovable rodents was not it.

Tony McKnight and I were sitting on the third-floor roof of a building on the edge of campus, our legs dangling over the rooftop. At first glance, we probably looked just like any other mildly unwashed students at Elderwood Community College. Or we would have, if we weren’t watching a small group of the living dead milling around directly below us.

Oh, excuse me—I wasn’t supposed to call them living dead. Captain Hammond really wanted us to refer to them as revenants, but that hadn’t quite caught on with anyone besides the enlisted folks yet. My boss, Dr. Samuels, called them reanimated, which had a detached, scientific sound to it. I tried to follow his example.

Tony still called them zombies whenever Hammond was out of earshot, though. I had yet to figure out if he did it to irritate the captain.

He was still waiting for a reaction, his dark eyes fixed on me. I pretended to think it over. “Hamsters,” I said. “Hamsters are small and cute. Zom—the reanimated are large and decidedly not cute.”

“Truth,” he said. “But they’re still very similar.”

I sighed. Clearly there was no getting out of this one.

“Please elaborate on your statement. And don’t call me Vibby.”

“They’re always moving.” He pointed at one of them, a thin, gray-skinned woman who still had the tail of…something…dangling from what remained of her lips. Patches of her cheeks had fallen away—hell, entire patches of skin all over her body were just gone, revealing darkened muscle or white bone. I couldn’t entirely decide how she had died; she had a good-sized chunk ripped out of her left arm, which I supposed could have been from something gnawing on her.

As far as the undead went, she wasn’t too horrifying, but she was decidedly un-hamster like.

“They hold still when they’re alone sometimes, but look. They know people are nearby. So they’re stalking around, trying to get lucky.” He grinned. “I really want to put one on a hamster wheel. Or a treadmill or something. Maybe it could run a little generator, get us some extra hot water. Get enough of them and we can power the entire camp.”

More hot water would be nice. Have you ever tried to keep a refugee camp of thousands clean? It involves lots of lukewarm sponge baths in recycled water. In that sense, a treadmill might be nice—and more likely, since Tony wasn’t likely to find a human-sized hamster wheel lying around campus—

Dammit, why am I even entertaining this? Clearly the apocalypse had set in if Tony’s bizarre ideas were actually starting to sound appealing.

One of the revenants in the enclosure tilted its head toward the sky and let out a mournful wail.

You may be wondering why, exactly, we were sitting on top of a building watching the reanimated dead roaming around beneath us. Frankly, I was wondering that myself. We were ostensibly there to protect Dr. Samuels while he studied the way the ghouls moved and/or picked up another specimen to examine up close, but in reality I wasn’t sure how much protection we could offer. Tony was a crack shot, and I wasn’t half-bad on some days, but in a more logical world, Samuels would have asked Hammond for some soldiers to act as escorts.

Of course, Hammond didn’t want us screwing around with the undead any more than we needed to, which meant he typically frowned upon his soldiers being used as zombie wranglers. Samuels had enlisted me—his assistant and the newest camp medic—to help out. Tony, who was technically a rather high-ranking member of the budding camp militia, had decided to tag along. Samuels didn’t protest; it gave him another pair of eyes on his back, and it gave me someone to chat with while the doctor studied the jerky motions of the restless dead.

So we wound up sitting around atop the Designated Revenant Catching Compound, a smattering of fenced-off older buildings that butted up against suburban Elderwood. Apparently some ghouls had wandered in at one point, gotten themselves stuck, and now Hammond periodically added to or thinned out their ranks to figure out what made them tick or something.

For science, of course.

Dr. Samuels himself emerged onto the rooftop beside us, his stained white lab coat flapping in the breeze. “I’m about done. I told you I didn’t require a security detail.”

“Dammit, Doc.” Tony tugged at the coat. “I told you not to wear this thing. It’s too easy to grab.”

“They don’t move fast enough to grab it, and besides, I haven’t been touching them.” He glanced between the two of us. “Have you kept yourselves entertained?”

“Tony wants to put a zombie on a treadmill and power all of Elderwood,” I said.

Samuels chuckled, and then stared out over the roaming masses. “Of course he does.”

“It’s brilliant,” Tony said. “One day you will all recognize my genius.”

The woman with the tail in her mouth stumbled over something, shook it off, and started walking again.

Samuels pursed his lips.

“Stubborn little cuss, isn’t she?” he asked.

“Most of them are,” Tony said.

Samuels rubbed his chin.

I didn’t like the look on his face. It was the sort of expression he got when he was ready to try something stupid, treat a blood infection with leeches because he wanted to conserve the antibiotics we had and, for reasons unknown, some pre-apocalypse professor at Elderwood Community College had a gigantic stash of leeches.

But I digress. The look on Samuels’s face was troubling because it meant the good doctor was thinking.

“All right,” he said. “It’s worth a try.”

“What’s worth a try?”

“The treadmill.”

Tony’s head snapped up. “Say what?”

Samuels shrugged. “They do walk, after all. Some of them can even manage a jog. Why not see if we can put the dead to work for us?”

I had to admit, Putting the dead to work for us sounded like a pretty badass slogan for some post-apocalyptic politician to use once stuff got up and running again.

“I was kidding, bro,” Tony said.

“I know you were, bro,” Samuels said. “But it’s an idea worth trying. The Varney Dam can’t run forever with the level of staff they’ve managed to scrape together for it, and I know we’re already overworking our additional generators.”

Dammit. Sometimes I really did not like listening to people in high places talking. They always had bad news.

Samuels pointed at the she-zombie with the tail in her mouth. “She’ll work. She’s clumsy but still functional, so not too much of a hazard. Go grab her.”

What did he just say?

He clapped his hands. “Chop-chop, my friends.”

Yes. He wanted us to go fetch the hungry undead cannibal.

For science, of course.

I shook my head, clinging to some forlorn hope that Samuels might be joking. “Hell no. Zombie wrangling is way above my pay grade.”

Tony seemed temporarily shocked into silence.

Samuels arched his bushy eyebrows in what appeared to be sincere confusion. “You escaped Astra and brought back those nice people from Terrence’s house. McKnight is part of the militia. I’m sure you can grab one little zombie.”

Holy shit, he was serious.

“We don’t even have treadmills,” Tony said.

“Sure we do,” Samuels said. “At the gym.”

Tony’s expression blackened as he realized there was no earthly way out of this. “Fucking fitness-crazed college students.”

Samuels went on as if nothing had been said: “We can grab one, put her own it, see what happens.” His smile—oh, how I hated that smile right now—broadened. “It’ll be fun.”

Yeah, I bet that’s what they said about the Star Wars prequels, too.

 

*

 

Have you ever tried to lasso a zombie? It’s more amusing than you might think, provided you can stay out of range of chomping teeth.

We were unfortunate enough to have access to some tools to make Tony’s treadmill vision a reality. Whoever had been managing the “Campus Revenants” had a closet full of things like shackles, cuffs, zip-ties, cattle prods, and other exciting items. Creepy? Sure. But with all the zombies loitering on campus, someone was bound to try to move them around. In our case, it was the science department—mostly former Elderwood professors and local members of the scientific and medical communities who had managed to avoid being blasted to pieces when the meteors fell. I didn’t know what exactly they did with the revenants, at least not yet; according to Samuels, it was just light poking and prodding, and the occasional behavior experiment that always failed.

Tony picked up a set of feathered pink handcuffs and held them out for my review.

“No,” I said.

“Yes.”

“Those can’t possibly hold her.”

He tried to bend then open. “There’s real cuffs underneath all the feathers,” he said. “We’re using them.”

Of course we were. We were also going to use a studded leather collar and attached leash-stick item to make sure she walked where we walked, because it was the only restraint we could figure out how to work.

So much for maintaining our dignity during this little enterprise.

Samuels had somehow isolated the she-zombie while Tony and I rummaged through the closet, luring her through a series of fences until she was ready for us to properly restrain her. She didn’t reek as badly as some others I’d encountered, though she stomped this way and that in front of the closet.

Tony went out first. “Hey, girl,” he said. “Wanna get some coffee?”

She lurched toward him. He caught her left hand, then spun her around until she was facing me. He looped his arm under her neck, keeping her head fairly stable and preventing her from biting down.

The tail—and a chunk of whatever rodent it had been attached to—slipped out of her mouth and landed on the ground.

Bile immediately rose in my throat.

“Your turn, Vibeke,” Tony said. “No puking on our meal ticket, either.”

I slunk forward with the feathered cuffs. “I’m sorry about this,” I said to the zombie.

I clamped one cuff shut around her right hand. She swatted at me, but I got the other hand into the cuffs as well.

“She’s strong,” I said.

“Good.” Tony kept a solid grip on her neck. “She will power many water heaters for us.”

I scowled at him.

“Get the damn restraint,” he said. “I’m not standing here like this all day.”

I fetched the restraint and held it up by the handle—at least, I hoped it was the handle. “How much do you want to bet this came out of someone’s sex cabinet?” I asked.

“We’re not talking about that,” he said. I shoved the collar part of the restraint at him while I held on to the stick.

He managed to slip the studded collar around her neck with little trouble. After a second of fumbling, I heard the soft click as the studded collar snapped shut, and suddenly I was holding onto a real, live (well, dead), thrashing zombie.

She was a lot stronger than I’d thought. She threw her weight this way and that, and I had to brace myself on my heels to keep her from jerking me off my feet. I guess you don’t need to be all that coordinated when you can just hurl yourself around without fear of pain or bodily harm.

I hung on to her. The stick gave me some leverage; no matter how much she jerked her body around, as long as I held onto the stick I could keep her about three feet away. Even that was a little too close.

Tony took the stick from me. “Here,” he said. “Let me deal with her. Reminds me of an ex-girlfriend.”

I considered the rip in her cheek and her sunken, glazed eyes, and shook my head. “You date interesting women.”

The zombie snapped at him.

“Is there a ball gag in that room?” he asked. “I think that’ll complete her look.”

“You really want to get close enough to wedge a ball gag in there?”

We probably should have gotten her a gag—even just a regular one—but neither of us wanted to actually risk our fingers.

(I know, I know. The first thing you do when you grab a zombie is gag it or knock its teeth out. We were still learning.)

Samuels was waiting for us at the edge of the Official Revenant-Catching Compound. He nodded approvingly at our choice in captive gear. “Well, she looks ready for a party,” he said. “Let’s go.”

And so we found ourselves trailing after the esteemed Dr. Samuels, dragging along a zombie on a leash.

 

*

 

We took the back route through the older part of the school, which had been fenced off for the last two years in anticipation of either upgrades or demolition. Hammond had kept most of the refugees away from it, figuring he didn’t need them wandering around buildings that might well be deemed unsafe, and the science crew had immediately latched onto it to conduct their research.

The soldiers and handful of scientists we came across all gave us a wide berth, but no one ran away screaming. Maybe Samuels’s White Coat of Authority made it look more like a science experiment and less like a burgeoning freak show.

We got into the back end of the old mathematics building, where anything and everything involving the reanimated went down. Samuels held the door open for us, and we paused in some sort of lobby while he closed it and locked it. The air smelled rank here, worse than outside; too many dead guys in one building, maybe. ““They won’t let me bring them into the medical facility,” he said.

“I wonder why,” Tony said.

The good doctor scoffed. “The reanimated are perfectly sterile.”

The revenant yowled and lifted her cuffed hands.

One of her fingers dropped off.

I nudged the digit with my boot. “Sterile, huh?”

“I didn’t say clean,” he said. “And I suppose they’re not sterile in the classical sense. After all, they’re rotten. Bits are falling off them. But you don’t catch whatever they’ve got by just sitting next to them.”

As if to prove his point, he scooped up the finger, stuffed it into his pocket, and strode into one of the fluorescently lit corridors.

“I do that man’s bidding,” I said to Tony.

In answer, he shoved the whining revenant ahead of him down the corridor. “If this works, I expect a fucking medal.”

I followed. The building’s interior was fairly bare. Just the occasional scientist or soldier, both staples of post-apocalyptic life in the U.S.A.

We had almost made it to some kind of central room and a stairwell when the captain strolled past.

“Hello, Samuels,” he said.

“Top o’ the morning t’ye, sir,” Samuels said. “Making ye rounds, eh?”

It was probably the fake Irish accent that made Hammond glance over, register our weird little parade, and spin around.

“Let me handle this,” Samuels said to us.

“By all means,” Tony muttered. The revenant twitched and grunted, spotted me, and gnashed her teeth. I gnashed mine back at her.

Hammond clasped his hands behind his back in an effort to maintain composure. “Doctor, what the fuck are you doing?”

Maybe it wasn’t all that common to see a dead person toddling around the building. The thought heartened me.

“An experiment,” Samuels said.

“And what kind of experiment requires you to lead a zom—a revenant down my hallway?”

Ha. So the captain still secretly wanted to call them zombies, too.

“We’re going to power the entire camp with the undead,” Tony said.

Hammond wavered. I could see the awkward argument going on in his soul as he weighed what to do with us.

“We’re going to put her on a treadmill,” Samuels clarified.

For a moment, I thought Hammond might shoot Samuels on the spot. Not because Hammond seemed like the type, but because really, who the fuck puts a zombie on a treadmill?

Instead, the captain just issued a weary shrug, acquiescing to the overall weirdness of the situation. “Carry on,” he said. “But be careful. And put her down when you’re done with her.”

“Yes, sir.”

With one last, dubious look in our direction, he strode away.

I had to remind myself to close my mouth. “I’m a little disappointed in Captain Hammond,” I said, not loudly enough for him to hear. “Just letting us parade through the base with a zombie.”

“Revenant,” Tony said.

“Whatever.”

Samuels shook his head. “He knows what kind of work we try to do. Sometimes that requires bringing them inside.”

He led us down another hallway to an open door. A treadmill stood in the center of the room, and a soldier stood a few feet away from it, leaning against the wall in what was definitely against the captain’s posture regulations. I recognized Corporal Poltava from our misadventure in the downtown area a week prior. She snapped to attention when Samuels and I walked in, then visibly relaxed when she realized it was us.

“Captain’s not here,” I said, somewhat relieved a soldier would probably be supervising everything.

She started to smile at me. “So what’s up with the treadmill?”

It seemed the good doctor had some serious ninja skills on the side. I didn’t remember him asking anyone for a treadmill—apparently he’d worked some magic when we’d been wrangling the zombie. It made sense that Poltava would bring it over, too; she was still regulated to light duty for the next week while the bites on her hands healed. Samuels had taken that as permission to turn her into another minion.

Tony pushed the revenant in ahead of him. “Coming through!”

Poltava’s smile faded. “Um…”

“Sup, Corporal?” Tony leaned around the ghoul and nodded at the treadmill. “Damn, Doc, you do work in mysterious ways.”

“It’s how I stay alive,” Samuels said.

Poltava put the two together with lighting-fast accuracy. “No fucking way,” she said. “No. You are not putting that thing on a treadmill.”

“It’s for science,” Samuels said.

Poltava stepped out of the way, her right hand moving to cover the bandage that covered her left. “That’s what they said about eugenics!”

Samuels rolled his eyes. “This is hardly eugenics, Corporal. This is a zombie on a treadmill.”

Poltava turned her stare on me, then shifted it to Tony, somehow instinctively realizing he was the one who had come up with it.

“Vibeke, if you’ll please set up the treadmill? Put the setting to manual for now.” Samuels beckoned to Poltava. “Corporal, maybe you can keep an eye on our ghoulish friend.”

Poltava and I exchanged glances. This is a mess, I thought, but we were here and there was a treadmill, so I figured we might as well see this fucked-up party trick to its inevitable bad ending. The soldier drew her pistol and pointed it at the revenant while I plugged the treadmill into the outlet and looked over the controls. Poltava had gotten us a newer model, probably thinking the good doctor just wanted to stretch his legs while he was working, or was going to use it for other non-nefarious purposes.

She’d never make that mistake again.

I switched on the machine. The numbers came up, as well as a heart rate monitor. We probably wouldn’t need that one.

When I finished and turned around, Tony and the ghoul were watching me. Poltava and Samuels were watching the ghoul.

“Now what?” I asked.

The revenant had stopped groaning, and now stood quietly. She seemed almost…tame. Her gaze fixated on the treadmill, rather than me.

Did that make me feel better? I wasn’t sure. Maybe she thought it looked tasty.

“I wonder if she knows what it is,” Samuels said. “She’s not all that dead.”

By that, I was sure he meant not all that decayed, because that woman was sure as hell dead as a doornail.

Tony nudged the ghoul ever so slightly. She lunged at him, and he narrowly avoided winding up with teeth in his hair. “Still wants flesh,” he announced. “Let’s hurry this shit up.”

“This was your idea,” I said.

Poltava wouldn’t get near her, so that left Tony and Samuels to bodily shove her onto the treadmill’s running belt.

But how to make her walk?

Hammond poked a head in at that point. “A zombie on a treadmill,” he said. “And I thought I saw weird shit overseas.”

“Captain, I protest this entire expedition,” Poltava said. “This is reckless endangerment and it’s just stupid.”

“Your objection has been duly noted and disregarded,” Hammond said. “You ready to power the entire camp yet, Doc?”

“I will be if the military stops stifling my scientific ventures,” Samuels said.

Hammond shuddered and retreated.

Samuels pointed at me. “Vibeke, go to the front and stand there. Let her see you. She’ll probably start walking.”

I had barely positioned myself in front of the treadmill when Dax rapped on the door. “Hey, guys. I heard you needed a treadmill for…?

He paused, and seemed to consider our situation, which, let me tell you, looked increasingly suspect.

“Hey Dax,” Tony said. “How’s it going?”

There comes a day in a man’s life when he just gives in to the wackiness around him.

For Dax, that day was not today.

“Nope,” he said, retreating into the corridor. “Nope, nope, nope.”

I heard him noping along for a few more seconds before the sound faded away.

“How did he even hear about this?” the doctor asked.

“Augusta told him,” Poltava said. “She helped me with the treadmill.”

So the end of the world didn’t stop the gossip mill. Nice to know.

The she-zombie hadn’t moved.

I held out my arms. “Eat me!”

The ghoul stood there.

Well, this was new.

“Feeling kinda rejected here, lady,” I said.

“Make some noise,” Tony said. “More than just connipting.”

I rapped my knuckles on the safety bar that ran across the front of the machine. “Hey, deadface!

The ghoul took note of me and threw herself forward.

The treadmill began to move.

The ghoul did not seem confused when she couldn’t get me. She simply increased her pace as much as she could. The treadmill kept up with her, and much to my surprise, she soon had a pretty good clip going.

Voila,” I said. “Here’s your hamster.”

For the first time since I’d known him, Tony seemed downright dumbfounded. He just stood there staring. Hell, we all did.

The revenant plodded along.

“This is weird, right?” Poltava asked. “This is still weird? Because I’ve seen some weird shit since it all went down, but this feels weird.”

Frankly, I was of the opinion that a zombie on a treadmill was pretty low on the overall weirdness scale these days, but even I had to admit this was getting sketchy.

Footsteps stopped outside the door. Hammond, unable to stifle his curiosity, had stopped by to check on us again.

His jaw dropped.

“Behold,” Tony said, waving a hand in the zombie’s general direction. “The dead walk.”

I bit back my groan.

“Sick,” the captain said. “This is sick.”

“I’m afraid McKnight was correct,” Samuels said. “If we can connect a treadmill—or several treadmills—to generators—“

“Wait, wait, wait,” Hammond said. “You want a whole fleet of these things?”

“Well, just one won’t do.”

Of course not. One zombie was never enough.

“They’re fragilem you know,” Hammond added. “Maybe not her, but you keep them walking like that and they’re going to start falling apart.”

Maybe not her? Clearly he hadn’t seen her finger fall off.

“That’s just a maintenance issue,” the doctor said.

“So how are you going to maintain them?”

Samuels shrugged. “We have glue. Assign a repair detail to them. Easy enough.”

The she-zombie slammed her bound hands atop the control panel in what I imagined was undead frustration.

“I’m not doing it,” Poltava said. “You can glue your own damn zombies back together.”

Tony wore an expression I’d never seen on him before. It took a few seconds to realize it was probably regret.

“It’s a bad idea,” Hammond said.

“It’s something we may have to accept as time wears on, Captain,” Samuels said. “It’s a potential power source. We need all the help we can get, as I’m sure you realize.”

Something flickered across Hammond’s face, but he concealed it swiftly. “All right,” he said. “How many of these would you need for…I mean…what would you need?”

“A lot,” Tony said. “This one might power a television for a little while. You’d need wiring, and other…stuff…I don’t know how it really works…” He trailed off, probably hoping the captain would tell us to pack it up due to lack of resources.

“I’ll see if I can find some electrical engineers, or something.” Hammond backed out the door. “Consider your point proven. Now will you please do something with that zombie?”

The revenant yowled, and smacked her bound hands against the console again. In my extremely non-scientific opinion, she actually seemed pretty pissed—maybe she realized she wasn’t getting any closer to her lunch break.

“We’ll need to round up a good number of them,” Samuels said. “And designate a spot for testing. We’ll have to design protocols, obtain security details…”

“I refuse to be involved,” Poltava said.

“…trainers, observers…”

“This is your doing,” I said to Tony.

Tony just shook his head.

I was actually starting to feel a little sorry for him. If Samuels pulled this off—worse, if Samuels tried to pull this off and people died—Tony would be forever known as the man who put zombies on treadmills.

Poltava holstered her gun. “I really don’t like this idea.”

Samuels spotted an orderly walking by and hurried out the door after him, perhaps to ask for another zombie.

The ghoul bounced her fists against the console again.

I didn’t actually notice the machine turn off. There was just a sudden void, a peculiar emptiness its soft whirring had occupied.

The emptiness, and the zombie suddenly tumbling over the top of the treadmill and landing on me. Let me tell you, just because she didn’t smell all that bad from a distance did not mean she didn’t reek to the high heavens up close.

I was so busy noticing her stench that I didn’t quite see her teeth closing in on my nose.

I caught her jaw in my left hand and twisted it to the side, sparing my nasal tissue and giving myself a spectacular look at her molars through the tear in her cheek.

Click.

Her weight on me abruptly shifted.

One cold hand clamped down on my face.

My nose!

Something pink and fluffy brushed against my nostrils. Holy shit, she’d gotten her left hand out of the cuffs. I clamped down on the sneeze, but it boiled up in the back of my sinuses.

“Ah-choo!”

Son of a bitch.

The revenant seemed taken aback, however briefly. She stared down at me, the barest glint of focus in her glazed-over eyes. I half expected her to open her mouth and bless me.

Tony and Poltava closed in around her. Tony grabbed one side, Poltava grabbed the other, and they yanked her off me. My entire body went limp, and I did a quick mental check: everything where it ought to be? Yes. Bladder intact? Surprisingly, yes.

“Hold her,” Poltava said. “I’ll put her down.”

Tony pinned the flailing ghoul’s arms behind her body. Poltava yanked her pistol out of its holster and pointed it at the ghoul’s head.

“Wait,” Tony said. He extended his arms, pushing the ghoul away from him. “I don’t want splatter.”

Poltava rolled her eyes. “Pussy.”

I scrambled to my feet, trying to ignore how badly my legs were shaking. “Real handcuffs, you said. You fucking idiot!”

“Guess they had to have a release lever in there,” he said. “In case someone forgot the safe word.”

Something cracked. Then came the tearing sound—like someone had yanked some dusty old fabric apart. The zombie sprang forward, partially freed from Tony’s grasp.

He still held onto her right arm—the one that had the cuffs dangling from them.

The left arm stayed attached to her.

Tony lifted the right arm just enough to register what had happened.

“Well, the doc did say we’d need glue,” he said.

The ghoul swung around at the sound of his voice. Her mouth opened wide, and she lunged forward to nip him.

This, of course, would have been a perfect moment for Poltava to shoot the undead bitch, but the soldier seemed frozen with her finger on the trigger. I guess you don’t often see people rip off their own arm and then come back for more.

Tony swung the zombie’s arm. The hand connected with zombie’s jaw, nearly snapping her head around.

The ghoul growled.

Tony glanced at the severed arm, grinned, and wacked her with it again. He probably would have continued smacking her around had the gunshot not ripped through the room.

The ghoul toppled over.

I had enough pride not to lift my hands to my ringing ears. I knew by the sound that Poltava hadn’t made the shot; instead, she and I turned toward the doorway. Doctor Samuels stood there, already holstering his weapon. “Sorry, McKnight,” he said. “You were just messing with her. That’s not very scientific.”

He pulled his coat over the gun, effectively concealing it. I’d known in my gut he must have carried something, but I hadn’t expected him to be so proficient with it. He seemed more mad scientist than able defender.

I guess it takes all sorts.

Tony held onto the arm. “Can I keep this?”

“No,” Poltava and I said.

He seemed dangerously close to pouting for a moment, then brightened. He slipped his hand into his pocket, extracted the black square I recognized as his cell phone, and handed it to me. “Take a picture,” he said.

Poltava flung up her hands. “I’m out of here,” she said. “You people are fucking weird.”

She stalked out. Samuels followed her, calling for an orderly, or a minion, or someone else to come in here and clean up the mess.

I opened the camera app more out of habit than actually intending to take a picture of him clutching his gruesome feathered trophy. But Tony immediately struck a pose, holding the arm out like some kind of partially mummified sword.

“I thought you stopped carrying this thing around,” I said, waiting for the camera to focus.

“I play Temple Run on smoke breaks,” he said.

“But you don’t smoke.”

“Take the damn picture.”

I took the damn picture.

Samuels bustled back inside. “Both of you can scram,” he said. “I need to get this cleaned up before the captain comes sniffing around again.”

I decided not to question it. At least he wasn’t making us clean it up.

Tony and I walked out. I handed his cell phone back to him, and he took a few seconds to admire his latest image. “Facebook would’ve gone nuts,” he said.

“A zombie almost bit my nose off and you want to post to Facebook.”

“Old habits die hard, if you’ll pardon the pun.” He draped an arm around me, and I noted that he very definitely had not taken a shower in a couple of days. “And by the way, gesundheit.”

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