The pen was a small little building next to animal control headquarters. Every day, a few zombies were collected by the authorities, grouped together, and gassed in the middle of the night, effectively destroying them without having many people near them. It was a known fact that zombies could imitate the living too well. Quite a few had seduced people, and found a way to be let go; the more contact someone had near one, the more likely they would give in and let it loose upon the streets, causing all kinds of social unrest.
Normally, at the time when they are eliminated, there was only one, highly trained (and hardened) guard on duty, someone trusted by the community to do what was needed to be done. The clean up crew would come in during the morning and take care of the mess that had been left behind. It was not an easy job, but someone had to do it. Not too many were willing, even though they got paid a lot, because they were afraid that the zombies would gang up and attack someone like they were shown to do in horror movies. So the guards ended up being treated as highly paid funeral directors, even given titles which suggested this: the ones who gassed the zombies were called “undertakers,” while those who cleaned up the mess the zombies left after they had been eliminated were called “pallbearers.”
Brett drove his car and parked at the animal shelter, and let Jonathan out. The plan was to have Jonathan pretend to be doing fundraising for school, selling the junk schools normally sold to help fund their sports program. He had brought that year’s catalog with him, and thought he might just be able to make a sale or two, all while rescuing his uncle. Then, when he was trying to pressure the guard to buy, his father would break in to the building from the back, hopefully undetected. They had worked out as much as they could of their plan, and Jonathan had practiced what he was going to say on their way to the pen. If everything went according to plan, Fred would be out and safe before the undertaker knew anything was up. Of course, the biggest problem they had was to explain why Jonathan would be out so late on a school night, but they thought they had that figured out as well. It just depended upon how well Jonathan could act.
It wasn’t long after he rang the doorbell, that Jonathan saw the undertaking open the door and look out to see who was bothering him so late at night. The undertaker, with the name tag of Philip Smith showing on his uniform, was a plump, middle-aged man, whose nose looked like it had been broken one too many times. The hair left on his baldening head was a mess, just like his uniform. There were all kinds of cut marks and bruises on his arms, indicating that he had been in more than a few struggles with the zombies. “Er, anything I can help you with?” he asked in a rather surprised tone. “Isn’t it a bit late to be out at night, kid?”
Jonathan stuck out his catalog. “I’m trying to make some money for my school. Anything in here you think you might like?”
The undertaker looked at the teen, showing his confusion. “I said, isn’t it a bit late for a kid to be out at night? Don’t you have school in the morning?”
“Yes,” Jonathan responded, “It’s late. But that’s why I am here.”
“Eh?” The guard put his hand on the catalog, trying to see what it was that was being offered to him.
“I’m getting close to beating the school record,” Jonathan continued. “Very, every close. Too close to quit now. But the orders are to be turned in tomorrow. If am going to do it, I have to do it tonight. I am all so close. If I reach it, I will get my choice in prizes. Like the new VirtualSystem3000. I’ve been eying that for the past few months. Can’t afford it. But I certainly can win it! But, as I said, the orders are due tomorrow. If I am going to break the school record, I have to do it tonight. I thought no one, and I mean no one, would have come here. I mean, not many people like being near the pen, do they? So I thought it was a safe bet. So, do you think you would want anything? You would be doing a lot of good, sir. Not just for me, but for my school.” Jonathan smiled. He felt as if he had done it right.
“What school is that?”
“Ashland Prep,” Jonathan said, with a big smile.
“Isn’t that the school ole Billy Styles came from?”
Jonathan nodded. “Yes, I met him a couple years ago. Before he made the pros.” Styles was a local basketball legend; it looked like he would be the best player of all time. The city was proud of him. And his brother was still going to the school. He was a good player, too, but not as good as Billy. No one was.
“Oh, ok, let me look.” The undertaker said. “Anything you would recommend?”
When he saw his son starting to flip back and forth through the catalog, Brett knew it was time. The undertaker’s attention was completely set upon what Jonathan was showing him. He just hoped Jonathan did as they said. Show and suggest all kinds of things, act like he was getting lost in the catalog, and then turn, every so often, to something new. And of course, Brett hoped that no one else was around. So far everything was going well. No, not well. Perfect. Or as near perfection was one could expect. As he walked to the back, that made him stop and pause for a second. It was way too perfect. Would something go wrong? No, don’t think that, he said to himself. You’re just feeling a bit of anxiety. Nothing is going to go wrong. No one would suspect a break in. As far as he knew, no one had ever tried. And he had some good lock-picking skills he had picked up when he was in college while he worked at a locksmith’s. So the door shouldn’t be a problem.
A few minutes later, when Jonathan was beginning to record some of the undertaker’s choices, an alarm sounded. The undertaker didn’t show any concern; he was more interested in what it was he was ordering. “You sure everything will be delivered by February 14th?”
Jonathan didn’t hear what the undertaker asked. He was no longer paying any attention to him. Instead, looked towards the pen in horror. “What’s going on?” he said in a panic.
“Oh, nothing, really. Just the gas alarm.” The undertaker shrugged, and then turned his attention back to the catalog. “Make sure I get five boxes of the golden crumblies. They are my favorite.”
“Five. Boxes. Golden. Crumblies.” The undertaker looked at the teen a bit annoyed. “Are you sure you are getting this down?” He then looked a bit more at Jonathan, contemplating whether or not the teen was all there.
“No, I meant, what do you mean, gas alarm?”
“Whenever we gas the zombies, the alarm goes off, to make sure no one enters the pen. It takes an hour for the gas to clear out. Anyone stumbling in the holding cell would die.”
“But doesn’t the gassing happen later in the night?” Jonathan asked. “Around one in the morning?”
The undertaker nodded. “Yes, of course. Normally. But if we have a very active zombie in there, sometimes it tries to get out. The place is constantly monitored by a Zeta Max Guard System. We have it watch several cameras in the holding area. If, in the evening, it detects too much movement from the zombies, it determines, through a process programmed into it, whether or not there is a risk that one will try to break free. If there is any chance of this, it sets the gas in motion. If not, then I will have to manually release the gas at the normal time. The community must be kept safe, after all.”
“No!” Jonathan shouted. He dropped the catalog, ran past the undertaker, and entered the building. “My dad’s in there!”
The undertaker, perceiving something was wrong, ran in after Jonathan. “Now hold on. What do you mean your dad is in there?”
When the undertaker caught up with the teen, Jonathan’s face was looking upon a computer monitor, his face pale, and his mouth completely open in horror. “My .. my… dad… is in there!” He was mumbling, to himself.
The guard looked to the screen, and saw the gas had indeed been released. All the zombies within had been eliminated.
“Sorry kid, but if your dad was in there, he was already dead. Only zombies are in there. You know that.”
“No!” Jonathan said, turning around and looking to the guard in disgust. “There is no such thing as a zombie!”
“Of course there is. Sheesh. What are they teaching kids these days?” The guard looked upon the screen. “Which was your father?”
Jonathan couldn’t speak. His mind was giving out; the horror of the situation was just too much for him to take at that time. His father had gotten in, but triggered the gas. Neither of them had expected that. Such pre-emptive measures had never been talked about in the public. He could only stare at the screen and point.
“Cat got your tongue, boy?” the undertaker asked. “I asked you, which one was your father?” He looked closely at Jonathan; the teen wasn’t talking, it was as if he couldn’t remember how to talk. As if… he were already dead.
The undertaker was annoyed. A zombie had tricked him. After all the training he had, one would have expected better. It had been explained to him, many times, how zombies act. How easily they could blend in and appear to be among the living. But, because of his two years of work at the pen, he thought he had seen it all. He thought he knew all that zombies could do. But he had been wrong. This was a new one on him. He knew he would have to call his superiors and tell them what happened. He would have to sign some forms and find some excuse to protect himself. Of course, no one really wanted to be an undertaker, so he knew, for practical reasons, his superiors would accept whatever he said. It would take a couple days, but everything would end up fine. And, more importantly, his experience would be recorded and put in future manuals. His superiors would figure out what was behind this new zombie trick, and warn people about it. Despite the bureaucratic headaches he knew he would have from all this, it was, all in all, a minor nuisance. For now, the community was safer. The zombie kid would now be taken off the streets.