“Load up.”

“Where we headed?”

“Dunno, high ground seems best.”

 

“Connor, what’s that song dad sang…”

“Before he’d leave for a long weekend?”

“Yeah…something something…again…'”

“Haha. ‘Here I Go Again’ by Whitesnake.”

“Yeah! ‘Here I go again on my own!

“Here I go again on my own!

“Here I go again on my own!

“Here I go again…”

“C, you know any other lyrics?”

“Nope, that’s all I know and it’s the only part that matters.”

 

“It’s gonna be a long ride…”

“HERE I GO AGAIN…”

“How long you think it’ll last?”

“…ON MY OWN!”

 

We leave our small town behind and, on Vic’s suggestion, make our way North. “Feel like no one ever goes north in zombie movies. Colder whether, slower zombies.”

Vic’s good at coming up with plans on the fly. Whether we’re in school, playing frisbee-golf, camping, hiking or just playing Fortnite together. He never seems to falter when some new challenge arises. He loves to rise up and find new ways to adapt to what needs to be done. I admire that about him. Of course, sometimes he’s too witty for his own good, doesn’t take much seriously which makes me want to find him annoying, but it’s what makes Vic Vic.

 

“So Vic, any ideas what started this?”

“I dunno. They’re new zombies…can’t figure out the spreading.”

 

“What do we know so far? What’d we see before it all happened?”

 

“For me, everything was normal on the way to school. Nothing different on the roads or radio. No sign of anything until it happened.”

 

“Who became undead first?”

“What?”

“Adults or kids?”

“Or was it both?”

 

“For Flo and I it was the Principal…I think…at the assembly…”

“No, Vic, the morning announcement. That was different…”

 

“Different how?”

“…Coughing. He was coughing through the whole thing, even more during the assembly.”

“But, what started it, what started the coughing?”

“I…I dunno…”

 

“CJ, you see anything?”

“Hmm…I mean…maybe…I was in the office this morning…”

 

“Why?? Tell me you weren’t playing with your fidget spinner in class again…”

“I mean…it’s not like it matters now…”

 

“He’s got a point Connor.”

“Keep going C.”

 

“Everyone was busy getting ready for the assembly. Principal Pitcher was talking with some parents…going back and forth from his office…being weird with the reception lady…”

“Focus C. Was he coughing in the morning?”

“No…he wasn’t. I wasn’t there long. Just a warning.”

“Okay, Flo?”

 

“Didn’t see anything riding my bike…locked it up front, walked into the front office building.

“Nothing out of the ordinary. Everyone was getting ready for the day with coffee and such.”

 

“Izzy?”

“Didn’t pay much attention. We were pissed about Greg. We hung out outside before morning meeting, talking about Dutch and his…well Dutch-ness.

“Went up to have breakfast, sat in the room for meeting, that was it.”

 

“What about you Vic?”

“I was late. Gail was the only one in the office. ‘Morning Gail. Glad to know you appreciate my consistency.’

‘What’s the reason this time’

‘Making a dramatic entrance.’

‘Uh-huh…sure you’re not just trying to dodge a test you didn’t study for?’

‘Oh, you’re good. You, a detective in your off hours?’

‘You need to stop being late.’

‘Yeah, I’ll work on it…know what might help? Giving me one of those bagels…’

‘Staff and T.A.s only. Nobody gets rewards for being late.’

‘Well maybe they should, it’s no easy you know? Takes commitment.’

‘Uh-huh.’

‘How about, some of the hot drink there?’

‘You drink coffee?’

‘…You kidding me? All the time. My mom says it’ll rot my brain though.’

‘Stop stalling and get to class!’

‘Alright, alright…'”

 

“That was about it for me until the assembly.”

“Sure there wasn’t anything you might remember from school Connor?’

 

“…First I parked the car. Matteo gave me some pasta he made, I gave him a kiss before class…

“I walked past the office. Passed the teachers lounge…almost ran into a T.A. carrying a big jug of coffee. He looked back to check out a girl walking down the hall.

“…Mrs. Kern had a mug of the coffee, sitting in the teachers lounge…I saw her when the kid opened the door…she was who attacked a kid in the hallway…”

 

“…One of the zombies that came into the therapy center was wearing an apron…from a coffee shop…it was first to attack anyone…”

 

“Adults turn first then kids…”

“…When we walked into my house there was the smell of stale coffee… My mom only ever drank it on occasion when she read… She gave me a muffin, ‘Lacey dropped by this morning. You two’d make a good match Vic, trust me. Mother’s intuition. Gave us some breakfast stuff and this.’

“She held up a bag of coffee, supposedly fertilized and grown organically. She web searched, ‘Says they studied the ants in South America to see how they affect the plant life around them; to better use plants to help bring a new flavor to the coffee. Even brought some of the ants with them as inspiration.'”

 

“No way, coffee couldn’t do this to people.”

“There’s a parasite, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (off-ee-oh-cord-i-seps uni-later-a-liss), that infects certain insects in tropical forests…it literally turns them into zombies and kills ’em. It uses their bodies to spread.”

“But, if it’s a tropical fungus then…wouldn’t it die off once it got to a foreign region?”

“…Not if the growers somehow found a way to replicate the environment in order to help sustain the ants for their new process…”

“Still…”

“No, it can’t just be the fungi. It’s got a limit to how big of a subject it can infect. There’s something else…something we’re not seeing…”

 

“What if, it’s the combination of fungi infected beans put through the process and then roasted?”

 

“…Like…”

“The heat. Roasting the beans put the fungus into a heightened state of augmentation…”

“Yeah, combine that with the grinding of coffee, the heat used to roast it and make it into a liquid…”

 

“You get, a killer roast…”

“But…how’s it spread?”

 

“It’s not through biting as far as I’ve seen.”

“Yeah, Dutch didn’t have any bite marks. More like, his legs were ripped off…”

 

“List common factors in the ones we’ve seen. Connor.”

“For me it was the eyes, I always noticed eyes changing color. Black.”

“Same for me with Dutch. One eye was fully black and the other was barely beginning to change at the bottom.”

 

“What else? CJ?”

“Umm…the ones in the cafeteria were…like, wet.”

 

“Yeah, true. Vic, when I ran down the hall and saw the VP, she was wet looking…like, she’d been sweating or something. And her eyes were black too.”

“So, moist, blackened eye zombies…who don’t seem to be able to see. And have no other heightened senses.”

“Except strength, slightly”

 

“We agreeing the coffee was the start?”

“It’s all we’ve really got.”

 

We continue our drive as we sit back and think, every now and then someone shares a theory of how it spreads. We’re driving through the forest, a nice change of scenery and smells.

“How long we been driving?”

“About three hours.”

“Ugh! How much farther?”

 

“Think maybe a rest stop soon?”

“Yeah, we can do that.”

 

“Izzy, you know how to drive?”

“Kinda…”

“It’s your lucky day, you’re driving next.”

“…Okay…”

“No Fair! I’m your brother!”

“You’re also eleven. And can you see over the steering wheel?”

“…Sorta.”

“Not close enough lil’ brother.”

“…You’re so annoying Connor.”

“Love you too C.”

 

“Alright, everybody ready? Bladders empty? How we doing on food?”

“We have enough for tonight.”

“Alright. Izzy, ready?”

 

“Yeah…anything I need to know?”

“Usually you’d need to go through the spiel of mirrors and such, but what’s the point? Just make sure you’re comfortable, can see fine on all sides of you and you have a good reach on both pedals.”

 

“And wear your seatbelt.”

“What?”

“Trust me, getting ejected from a car is still a huge risk factor with zombies. Or driving through trees. Just saying.”

“Okay, everybody, seat-belts.”

 

 

 

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