12: Finding a Compromise
Lisa finished repacking the bandage around Baldy’s chest. While several of her people were shot during their attack on Martha, she was reluctant to tend their wounds. The survivors wouldn’t take kindly to her caring for those who murdered their guardian. As a result, she waited until they were well away from the site of Martha’s massacre. The undead had a better immune system than the living. Their injuries didn’t rot, and they seldom bled to death. Many humans, injured by zombies, subsequently bleed out only to be reincarnated as healthy zombies. The only sure ways to kill the undead was damaging their forebrains or draining their blood. However, their hearts seemed better able to pump limited quantities or control bleeding than humans could.
Still, they recovered in the weeks since, and most were now free of their bandages, unlike Martha who’d never be free of her injuries.
Since the incident three weeks previously, Lisa was extremely conscious of similar situations. However, she stopped worrying about their eventually turning on her. For whatever reason, she seemed to be immune from their attacks, and she was sure it wasn’t her familiarity. After all, they’d ripped apart someone who’d been with them much longer than she had. She’d observed zombies detect the blood of the uninjured living, yet they seemed uninterested when she bled right beside them.
She’d waited to dress her own wounds, wanting to see whether it just took time for them to notice, but they never had. For whatever reason, they didn’t seem to care what she did. She was, for want of a better explanation, an enigma. So far, nothing about her interactions with the undead made any sense.
It was long enough since their encounter that Lisa was keenly aware of the likelihood of a repeat episode and remained watchful. Once again, her companions grew edgy, easily distracted and constantly on the prowl hunting for life-giving sustenance. She, on the other hand, rode a tighter herd over them. She once more took the lead, keeping a watchful eye for anything attracting their attention.
Before her followers could meander off, she called to them in song.
“Lissen Arefully, yooouu noo ill, yoouu ooonly ill whaaa I say. I fine yoouu foo. Yoouu no loonger go hungry.”
At the mention of food, they perked up. Their heads began nodding and their hands became more active. “Leess hun!” she concluded, motioning them to follow her. In their excitement, they kept rushing ahead. Each time, she called them back, keeping them in a tight formation.
She selected the best hunters, those adept at detecting prey, and moved them to the outskirts where they could locate their targets. The strongest and healthiest she kept beside her. They’d chase down whatever they found. She tried for wild animals, as scarce as they were after this many years. Sticking to the woods, they were less likely to encounter humans, who stayed in houses and traveled along established roads.
Her guides scented a few targets, but they were too small or distant to waste time chasing. Farther on, they became more excited, dancing in place. Realizing they needed to move quickly, she motioned her designated killers to proceed, sending the guides to direct them. They were soon engaged in a rapid pursuit through the woods, ending in a thick bramble surrounding a hollowed tree. Before she could see what they’d cornered, one of the guides rushed in, reaching his hand into the narrow crevice.
“Nooo!” Lisa yelled, but it was too late. A snarling wolverine grabbed his arm, biting and tearing his flesh. “Awaaay!” Lisa ordered, and he struggled to obey. He didn’t respond negatively, since the zombie’s pain perception was essentially as dead as he was, but he had to shake the creature loose. When he pulled his arm back, his arm was covered in blood. When the other undead approached, she waved them back, barking at them in warning. Another zombie reached into her pocket, extracting a weathered piece of produce they each seemed to carry and tossed it into the opening. The wolverine growled, but didn’t attack. The woman wisely backed up, choosing not to antagonize it further.
Lisa went to the bleeding zombie, whom she named “Josh” after an old infatuation, extracted her medical kit and bandaged his hands, mopping up the blood and stemming the blood loss. She was conflicted about the animal, afraid it would turn having drawn zombie blood. She finally decided that, rarely encountering any undead animals, they were largely immune. After all, it seemed her zombie friends already knew the best response to these encounters. If the wolverine was likely to become an undead, they wouldn’t turn their backs on it—not knowing how it would respond. Instead they backed away and tried to placate it, demonstrating it had won the encounter with an obvious submissive display indicating they wouldn’t attack again. It demonstrated they expected it to continue responding rationally—for a wild animal.
Once she bandaged Josh’s wounds, calming him with a child’s song, they moved away, deciding hunting in the woods was a losing prospect. The few wild animals who survived this long knew how to defend themselves and the pickings were slim. Instead they headed back to the open fields surrounding the roadways still crisscrossing the country.
They hiked for some time along back roads, since most critters and humans knew to stay out of sight, but before long they encountered signs of another fight. Fearing the worst, Lisa instructed her crew to advance, cautioning them to follow orders.
Around the corner, they discovered a cluster of zombies attacking a group of human survivors. The men were clearly traveling from one refuge to another, likely searching for food. Lisa sang loudly, surprising both humans and zombies, who turned as her team approached.
She took control, motioning where her companions should go as she approached the new zombies. Sizing each up, she noted they weren’t in nearly the shape hers were. She pointed out one, waving to indicate his dangling intestines. “Heee woon surrrvive. Hee be gon shoon.” She continued, indicating another, “Hee limp,” and another, “hee noo haan.” Motioning her undead into position, she swept her arm down, ordering them to attack. Her crew descended on the selected newcomers, who didn’t stand a chance. Not only were they surprised, unprepared for what happened, but they were wildly outnumbered by stronger zombies healthier than they were. The men watched in horrified fascination, too stunned to move, and thankful to be rescued.
As her companions devoured the lame undead, she approached, noticing for the first time just how little blood each produced. They didn’t bleed the way humans did, and likely weren’t as productive of a food source. What’s more, she faced the question of what to do with the rest. Turning, she considered the people she’d saved. Spotting one, an older woman with white hair having trouble standing, she advanced.