Derek sped after the strays, driving hard around a cactus, down into an arroyo, and finally emerging onto a flat plain. Out here in the open, the strays were no match for the speed of Derek’s horse. But they split up. So Derek chose the one that looked easier to catch: a fat rancher, once.
He threw his lasso and caught the zombie around the neck. Derek knew not to pull too tightly. Out in this heat, the bogeys didn’t stay together too well. And Derek had already been docked two days’ pay for damaging stock. Boss said the venture capitalists only paid for intact zombies. Why? Derek didn’t care.
The zombie struggled fiercely at the end of the static pole Derek had attached to it’s neck. The rope was fine for catching bogeys, but only a static pole or a head shot would keep them off you at this distance.
Riding back into camp, Derek called out, “We’ll need to ride the south fence later on to catch that other stray ‘fore it gets dark.”
“What difference does it make if we lose one?” Roy asked. Being the new guy, Roy had much to learn, in Derek’s opinion. A city boy who’d chosen to come out West for the job opportunities that zombie wrangling represented. Derek had been a wrangler long before the apocalypse. Back when the herds were horses.
“Well Roy,” Derek said, “for one thing, if we lose one it’s gonna come out of our paychecks. For another thing, when we can’t account for all the bogeys in the herd, that means there is a good chance that you might one day be over behind a cactus taking a shit or playing with yourself, and that missing boy’ll come up behind you and take a nice bite out of your ass.”
“Whatever,” Roy mumbled, and walked off toward the mess wagon.
“You think he’ll ever get it?” Manny asked. Manny was one of the best wranglers Derek had ever worked with.
“He better. Or one day he’ll get one of us killed, sure as your shit stinks.”
Derek grabbed the static pole and pushed the captive zombie into the holding pen then went to the mess wagon for a cup of coffee. He sat down next to Roy on a tan, dusty rock.
“Boy,” Derek said, “I been out in this country my whole life. You don’t even know what you don’t know yet. This country don’t give you no second chances. Them damn zombies are just one more way to die out here. You understand what I’m saying to you?”
Roy looked down at his dusty boots. “You know what I was before I came out here? An accountant. Everything nice and tidy in a spreadsheet. I liked that. Then I watched my wife and daughter get eaten. I wished I had a gun, been prepared. I might have saved them. After that, well, there was no reason to stay in Philly. I always wanted to be a cowboy. Get to shoot things.”
They heard Manny scream from the direction of the holding pen. “Shit! I been bit!”
Roy’s face drained white. “Bit?”
But Derek was already up and running. “Manny! That damn thing circle back here already?”
Derek saw Manny’s boots sticking out from behind a rock. He sprinted over, breathless.
Manny’s eyes were wide. He was covered in sweat.
Derek saw no sign of the zombie.
“We gotta get you out of here,” Derek said, staying alert for any movement.
“Snake,” Manny panted. “It was a rattlesnake.”
“OK. Got it.” Derek slashed the wound and started sucking the venom out.
Roy came around the corner, wild-eyed. He saw Derek sucking on Manny’s arm and said, “Derek, what the fuck are you doing?”
Derek turned to Roy, his mouth bloody, and said, “Now, hold on son -”
Roy put a bullet in Derek’s head and another in Manny’s.
He looked down at them.
There was a shuffling noise behind him.
Photo by Ashley Campbell