“Hey, Tallahassee, pull over for a minute!”
Next to me, the big man behind the wheel grunted, not looking over at me. “What?” he asked sourly, not taking his foot off of the accelerator.
“Seriously, come on. See that building?” I pointed out through the windshield, still grimy from an old splatter of blood that I hadn’t managed to fully scrape off at our last gas station. “Head over to that.”
For a minute, I thought that Tallahassee wouldn’t bother, that he’d just keep driving. After all, we’d set our destination as Dayton (“That big race track has just GOTTA have Twinkies!”, he’d exclaimed), and we had a few more hours of driving to go. The sun was already starting to sink towards the horizon.
Rule #9: Avoid driving after dark. Zombies don’t look both ways.
“Why?” he asked at length, finally taking his eyes off of the road to look sidelong at me.
I sighed. Might as well just go ahead and tell him the truth. “Because it’s where I spent some of the worst years of my life.”
That raised his curiosity, at least. “What’s that mean?”
“I mean, it’s my high school.”
Of course that got a reaction. Tallahassee hooted, and yanked the wheel off to the side. The big Hummer veered off the road and across the grass, the suspension bouncing as the tires rolled over rocks and lumps of dirt. “Columbus’s high school!” he echoed. “Now, this I gotta see!”
We pulled into the parking lot, and I sat up a little in surprise as I recognized one of the few vehicles sitting on the mostly empty stretch of asphalt. “Hey, I know that car!” I said. “That’s Principal Thompson’s car!”
“Oh, really?” With a grin, Tallahassee steered the Hummer right into the side of the little green sedan, T-boning the other car with a crunch. “Well, there’s your senior prank for you!”
I just shook my head, waiting for the car to come to a stop before opening the door (Rule #32: Enjoy the little things.). I climbed out, taking a minute to stretch after the long car ride before reaching inside to grab my shotgun (*Rule #18: Limber up.*).
“So, we gonna find your name on anything in here?” Tallahassee asked as I poked my way cautiously in through the broken glass on the school’s front door. “You win trophies for anything?”
“I wasn’t big into sports,” I answered. Now, looking back, I should have started running earlier, getting into cardio. Would have come in handy.
He grunted. “I dunno, maybe they give awards for bein’ a little bitch, these days. They give them out for everything else.”
I ignored Tallahassee’s continued chatter as we headed into the main lobby of the school. Looking around, nostalgia washed over me, and I had to blink a few times to keep from tearing up.
“It’s weird, isn’t it?” I asked, shaking my head. “I mean, I hated all my time here. I wanted to just get out, not have to deal with any of the idiots in my class any longer. But now, I kind of miss the place.”
Next to me, Tallahassee shook his head. “Never went back to mine for any of the reunions,” he said. “Once ran into the former prom king, though.”
“What did you do?” I asked, curious in spite of myself.
He flashed white teeth at me. “Shot him in the face, of course. Man, he was a fat one. Really fell apart after high school, I guess.”
I should have guessed. “Here, let’s go up and check out the second floor, really quick,” I said, heading for the big main stairs.
“Yeah? What’s up there?” Tallahassee cocked his gun as he followed after me. “Lemme guess, the library? You spent a lot of time hiding out up there?”
I didn’t answer him. We were heading for the classroom on the left side, one of the few places I liked to attend. I pushed open the door and slowly entered, my gun sagging down from my fingers as I looked around.
“Mrs. Megan’s class,” I said, slowly running my eyes around the room, looking at the decaying pieces of papers stuck to the walls. “Art class. She always told me that I could make something of myself.”
“Bet she wasn’t thinking about zombie killer as a job,” Tallahassee countered, but he stepped into the room after me, poking into some of the drawers.
I ignored him. I stepped over to the far side of the wall. Would it still be here, after all this time?
From behind me, I heard a hiss of canned air. “Hey, I found spray paint!” Tallahassee sounded delighted. The monkey had a new toy to distract himself with.
“I wonder what happened to her,” I said softly, looking around the room once again. The chairs and tables were overturned, some of them broken. The carpet felt hard and dirty underfoot. Already, the place was falling into disrepair. No room for art school in Zombieland. “She was young. She could have made it.”
I glanced over at Tallahassee, wondering if he’d reply. He, however, was busy spray-painting the teacher’s desk in shades of neon green and orange, cackling the whole time. “Check it out! Best art piece of the year!”
“Of course,” I said, giving up. “All right, we should get out of here.”
He nodded agreeably and tossed the spray paint cans aside. Before following him to the door, however, I reached out to the wall.
It was still there. I’d finally spotted it, partially covered by a couple of splattered paint canvases. I pulled the little charcoal drawing off the wall, holding it in my hand and looking down at it for a minute before folding the paper in half. My eyes had tears in the corners, and I sniffled and wiped them away before heading back out.
“Tallahassee?” I called out, heading back for the lobby of the high school. “You poking around? The cafeteria got rid of all the junk food before I left, so there won’t be any-”
I heard a noise off to my left, near the cafeteria, and turned. But instead of Tallahassee holding up still-wrapped candy bars in triumph, I saw a flash of yellow teeth, gray skin, hands reaching out for me…
“Aah!” I staggered back, grabbing for my shotgun. The zombie rushed forward, a decaying red-and-black tie still flapping from around his neck, his face terrifyingly familiar as he roared and grabbed at me.
I finally managed to get the shotgun up, but he was too close to aim. I swung the barrel around, cracking him on the side of the head. The zombie roared again, but he didn’t back off. He managed to catch my feet, and I tumbled down onto the ground, looking up at his big looming shape.
He looked down at me, a yellow light glinting in his eyes as he opened his mouth – and then his head exploded as thunder echoed around the room.
“Damn, one of them still hiding out in here!” Tallahassee stepped up into my vision after a moment, shaking his head as he lowered the gun to put another shot through the fallen zombie’s chest (Rule #2: Double tap.). “Wonder what he was doing here.”
“I thought he was about to give me detention,” I said shakily as I accepted Tallahassee’s hand to get back up.
It took the other man a minute to catch on, but he hooted and slapped his knee. “No way! That’s the principal himself?”
I nodded, looking down at the man who had ruled my high school years with an iron fist. “Yeah.”
“Well, that seems like karma, I guess,” he remarked as we headed out of the school and back to our car.
“I dunno, one of those things. Irony?”
“I don’t think so.”
We climbed into the Hummer, and Tallahassee headed back for the highway. “Deja vu? Is that it?”
I didn’t know what he was after, and debating anything literary with the man was an exercise in futility. “Sure,” I gave in, sinking down in my seat. I heard the slight crinkle of the drawing tucked into my pocket, and patted it gently.
We drove on, the sunset burning the sky above us.