READ: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Jacob looked down at his burger. He was kind of hunched over the table, ready to take a bite.
“Would you be able to…?” She trailed off when she saw the look on his face.
Still staring at his burger, Jacob said, “I would probably just lie down and cry.” Then he took a big old juicy bite, and I laughed.
I laughed until tears were streaming down my face. The laughter was infectious, and Jacob, chuckling, said, “I’m glad my grief amuses you.” The truth is, he was sincere in his answer to Felicia’s question. You could hear it in the way his voice broke.
Now, as I bolted into the ballroom at zomBcon, following the direction of Jacob’s voice, I prayed he was alive.
The ballroom was chaos. Tables were overturned, and zombies and survivors were running everywhere, trampling discarded comic books and crunching over zombie figurines. I glanced around, trying to spot my tall friend. My eye caught somebody in a red-and-white striped sweatshirt and beanie: how was it that Jacob was somehow more difficult to find than Where’s Waldo?
“Beavis!” I cried, hoping he would once more answer to his true name.
Then I heard him, shouting for help.
He was lying on the ground near the Optimystical Studios booth where they sold ZombAlert necklaces, stamped with customized final wishes to let your family know what to do with you in the event that you get turned into a zombie. Stuff like “Shoot Me” or “Kiss Me.” A zombified Super Mario was jumping on Jacob’s head as if Jacob were some sort of Koopa or Goomba he could squash for points, or perhaps extra lives.
I didn’t have a weapon.
Luckily panel moderator Marshall Popham had told me about the Zombie Tools booth, where they sold very long and very sharp blades, and killing instruments of all kinds. I hurried over to their booth, a dark space with a blackened metal roof, some old looking furniture, and a naked zombie bust nailed atop a column of wooden planks, which also served as a display wall for all the different knives.
The blades were all gone.
Every single one.
People had ransacked the entire booth and were using the Zombie Tools to hack their way out of the ballroom. All that was left were some T-shirts that said, “A Fist Full of Fuck Yeah.” I grabbed a bunch and ran toward Super Mario, who was still pouncing on my friend’s head.
“Hey, Mario!” I shouted.
He looked up midair, and I threw a fistful of fuck yeah right into his pale moon of a face.
He landed and stumbled back, caught up in the shirts, pawing at them. I ran and kicked him hard in the chest, and he went reeling. But he quickly recovered, and when the shirts fell away from his face… he snarled and came back running.
“Here!” Jacob said, holding up some sort of machete he’d gotten from Zombie Tools.
I snatched it up and charged headlong toward the classic videogame character. As we met in the middle, I slid like a runner at a ball game and swung the blade as hard as I could. I cut Mario down at the knees and he suddenly shrank.
His glasses were crooked on his face. I straightened them for him. “Are you all right? Were you bitten?”
The first thing Jacob said was, “The other Permuted authors. Are they… ?”
“Well, Timothy Long is... um... Craig DiLouie was still alive last I saw him, and he’s out there fighting the infection tooth and nail. Peter Clines is in denial, and—”
“Yeah, I know about Peter’s power.”
“You mean you knew about his secret identity and you didn’t tell me?”
Jacob looked away.
“I thought we told each other everything.”
“Hey,” he suddenly said, “did you see my necklace?” He held up his ZombAlert necklace from Optimystical Studios.
“Yeah, that’s pretty,” I said, and then I changed the subject; the current one just hurt too much. “I’m not sure where the other Permuted guys are. Hornsby and Faville and McKinnon… I’m not sure. Bowie I’m pretty positive is a dead man. And… you never answered me, are you all right?”
Jacob looked off into the ballroom with a frightened look on his face, like he had just remembered he’d left the stove on at home.
“Ellie,” he said.
“She had her own booth, away from the Permuted table.”
Without another word, Jacob started off in her direction. He was limping badly.
I followed him, and some zombies lurched out at us. I decapitated a few cheerleaders and a few survivalists who hadn’t survived. I knew Eloise dressed in Blackhawk tactical gear, but none of these newly undead survivalists were women—all men.
Jacob rounded the corner to Ellie’s booth first, and I could see his face when he saw what was there. I hurried up and pulled my machete out of the neck of a Boba Fett zombie, then scurried to catch up with Jacob.
“Oh my God,” I said when I saw the remains of Eloise Knapp’s booth.
However, not everything in her booth looked quite as pristine.
A corpse was slouched in one of two chairs. A zombie figurine stuck out of the body’s head where someone had jammed it. It looked as if the little zombie were ripping and climbing its way out of the skull.
“Lyle…” Jacob said. “Lyle Perez.”
We glanced around, but this aisle was almost vacant. We could see survivors screaming past as they ran around the outside perimeter of the room, escaping zombies.
I spotted Carmen Sandiego, just briefly, and then she was gone.
“Where in the world is Ellie?” Jacob said. I could see tears in his eyes now.
For Lyle. For everything.
I tapped him on the shoulder as a zombie caught sight of us and turned up our aisle. “We’ve got to go. Maybe the other Permuted authors have seen her?”
He nodded, and we turned to leave, but then one of the pipe-and-drape walls that separated the aisles toppled, and a horde of zombies came rushing at us: construction workers, Pocahontas, Alice in Wonderland, a few zomBcon volunteers in white shirts.
Jacob and I turned to flee up the aisle, but another group of zombies was closing in on us from that direction as well.
We glanced at each other. I tightened my grip on the machete, knowing I wouldn’t let us go down without taking out at least twice our number in zombies.
The closest one growled. Her eye was covered in some sort of black fabric to make it look as if the eyeball were missing; the surrounding makeup made the socket look like a ragged, bloody hole. I swung out at her, but she caught my arm and pulled me in for a deadly kiss.
The zombie with the fake missing eye, now truly missing her eye, suddenly fell back, along with a few other walking corpses nearest us.
Eloise J. Knapp, in full Blackhawk tactical gear, strode out from behind another segment of pipe and drape, gun in hand.
BLAM BLAM BLAM!
Before the outbreak, Jacob and I had taken an elevator with Ellie, and she had told us how one time the power had gone out in her town. She had gotten geared up and had grabbed her baseball bat. She thought, if there were zombies out there, she wanted to be there to help put them down. “This is my time,” she had told her family before heading out the door.
Here in the ballroom, where everyone else was running and screaming and being victimized, Eloise Knapp looked totally in her element.
BLAM BLAM BLAM!
She emptied her magazine into the rest of the zombies surrounding us, and then, still striding toward us, she ejected the spent mag and slammed in a new one.
She tossed the gun to Jacob and said, “Cover me.” Then she vaulted over the table into her booth.
“We need to go!” I said. “What are you doing? They’re just boxes!”
She was opening one of the tubs she had brought with her to the convention. I had assumed they were full of supplies like bookmarks and stuff, but then I saw just how big of a badass Ellie truly was.
“Is that a Gatling gun?” I asked.
“A minigun,” she said as she hefted it up onto the table. I saw a ton of other pistols and rifles and shotguns inside, plus a few stacks of various ammos.
“They’re coming,” Jacob said, raising the pistol.
The zombies stopped and looked down at the magazines.
Then they looked up at Ellie.
Then they looked at me.
Then at Ellie.
Then at the gun in Jacob’s hand.
Then at his ZombAlert necklace, or maybe his throat.
One of them farted.
And then they all fell to the ground and started fighting over the few issues of Z Magazine.
Ellie looked at us and said, “For zombies, by zombies,” and then she continued to pull out a few weapons from her tub. The last thing she grabbed was a go-bag.
She handed a shotgun to me, plus a bandolier of shells. To Jacob, she gave extra magazines.
“D.L., you’re close quarters—keep them off us. Jacob, you pick off the ones behind, keep them from ever getting to us.”
“And what are you going to do?” Jacob asked.
Ellie picked up the minigun and said, “Why, I’m wholesale crowd control. Now let’s go find the other Permuted authors.”
And then, like it was any other day, Eloise J. Knapp was on the move.
READ PART 3!
Featuring Jonathan Maberry (for real this time), Jacob Kier, Eloise Knapp, and more!
Find out who dies and who… prolongs the inevitable…