Never Slow Dance with a Zombie
Author:E. Van Lowe

chapter Ten

Principal Taft's office was near the main entrance on the first floor. To get there you had to pass through the general office where teachers came in the mornings to punch in and students went to sort out daily problems. Inside the general office, behind a wooden door that was always closed, was Taft's office.

As Principal Taft went on with the announcement, Sybil and I walked slowly down to the general office, opened the door, and let ourselves in. The office was empty. No teachers, no students, no half-eaten bodies, no zombies. We could hear Principal Taft's voice corning from the other side of his door. I tried to open it. Locked. I knocked. No response.

Principal Taft continued his morning announcement as if we weren't there.

"Why doesn't he answer?" Sybil asked.

Without responding, I knocked louder. "Principal Taft. It's Margot Johnson and Sybil Mulcahy. We need to talk."

Silence for a moment, then his voice rang out: "Good

morning, ladies. And what a fantastic Friday it is." You could say that again, I thought. "What can I do for you?"

"You can start by letting us in," I called. There was another long silence. "Principal Taft? Are you there?"

"Yes, yes. But I'm afraid I can't do that. Perhaps you should go see your guidance counselor, Miss Everheart."

That would never do. If Miss Everheart had gone to her office this morning, by now she was a zombie.

"Principal Taft, we really need to talk to you."

"Well... then come back after eighth period. Maybe I can squeeze you in then."

A low moaning began just beyond the general office door. The zombies in the corridor outside had heard our voices. Pretty soon they'd be trying to get in.

"Um ... I guess we should come back," Sybil whispered as she fearfully eyed the outer door.

"We're not coming back. Who knows if we'll even be able to come back. Principal Taft!" I hollered. "I want to know why you're not dead or a zombie! And I want to know now!" More silence. And then the lock on his office door clicked open.

Tome in."

Principal Harvey Taft was a large, round man with almond-colored skin and a hearty laugh. Normally he was the picture of authority. So imagine my surprise when we entered his office and found him standing on his desk. His jacket was off, draped over the back of his chair, and sweat stains were beginning to show through his once-crisp white shirt.

"I hope you girls have a hall pass," he said, trying to sound authoritative.

"Principal Taft, why are you on your desk?" Sybil asked.

"I, uhh, thought I saw, um, a mouse."

"You're afraid of mice?"

"No. Of course not," he said, grasping for a sense of dignity. "I... thought I saw a mouse on my desk, and... I was trying to step on it."

And these are our role models. Pathetic.

"Zombies/' I said. Nothing more. I looked up at him and waited.

"Zombies? I haven't seen any zombies."

But 1 hadn't asked if he'd seen any zombies--so obviously he had.

"Principal Taft, we need for you to tell us the truth. And if we don't get answers from you, we're going home and telling our parents." I stared at him for a long moment, the challenge hanging in the air. He didn't move.

"Okay, Syb, let's go. Our parents will be very interested to hear there's a crisis at school and Principal Taft isn't doing anything about it." I turned and started for the door.

"Wait," he called.

I turned back. Principal Taft reached into his breast pocket, pulled something out, and threw it on the floor in front of us. It was a sliver of raw meat.

"Eww!" Sybil cried. "Gross."

Principal Taft sighed. "Phew! You're not one of them. I had to make sure." There was relief in his words as he got down off his desk and collapsed into his chair. Just then the bell for first period rang.

"Don't try and get rid of us by telling us to go to class," I warned. "We want to know what you know." I stared at him long and hard.

"You're right. I shouldn't have pretended everything was hunky-dory. It's not." His shoulders slumped forward. "I'm going to need your help on this, young ladies."

The change in him caught me off guard, "Sure," I said.

"How can we help?" asked Sybil.

"Here, sit," he said, gesturing toward two chairs.

"I went to the carnival last night," he said, after we were seated. "It was a glorious evening. The student body and faculty were all present, and everyone was having a wonderful time. Out of nowhere, dark clouds rolled in, filling the sky." His voice turned ominous.

"It was then I noticed some of the boys were becoming a bit surly. As the storm hit, more students began acting aggressively. I conferred with the carnival officials and decided to call an end to the evening. After that I left. But as I drove away I observed a change in all the students present. Their gaits had become slow and plodding, and their eyes were blank, as if they were sleepwalking/'

"It happened at the carnival last night," I said. I turned to Sybil. "That's why you and I are still normal. You left early and I never went."

"We have to contact the authorities about this," Sybil said. She reached for the phone.

"No, no. We shouldn't do that." Worry lines appeared on Tart's brow.

"But we need to do something," she said.

"Don't you see? They'll blame me. I was the major authority figure present." He beseeched us with his eyes.

"Just tell them the truth like you told us," said Sybil.

"I suppose I could," he said. "But I have a better idea. We continue as if nothing's happened."

We both stared at him.

"How is that better?" I asked. I couldn't believe what he was saying. He wanted us to ignore the fact that our classmates had all become zombies.

"I've been watching them," he said. "1 know what they like

and don't like. I know what they fear. We could easily coexist with them if we wanted to."

"But why would we want to?" I could feel myself slowly losing it. He was asking us to take our lives into our hands and try to coexist with zombies.

"For me." There was a near pleading in the words.

I could tell that Sybil was feeling sympathy for him. But all of our classmates had turned into monsters. We at least needed to find out if we could turn them back.

I looked at Taft and shook my head. "I don't know, Principal Tart."

Desperation sprang into his voice. "I've been a high school principal for a long time--too long, in fact. And finally I'm less than a semester away from a promotion to district supervisor, and this happens. I deserve better." He put his head in his hands and wagged it sadly. Sybil and I looked at each other again.

"So we should just pretend this hasn't happened?" I asked.

"No, I'm not saying that at all." He lifted his head. "But would it be so bad if we did? Just until the end of the semester. There's only seven weeks left. That's practically no time at all."

"I know, sir. But the authorities need to know about this," I insisted.

"You know if we go to the police they'll blame me. Is that fair? Just allow me seven weeks to try and fix it." He stood and put his hands together as if in prayer. "Please!"

I was beginning to feel sorry for him, too. "Even if we wanted to keep this a secret, sir, somebody will find out."

"Maybe. But I don't think so. The students came to school this morning like they've been doing all semester, and right now I bet they're headed for first-period class."

"Why would zombies go to class?" asked Sybil.

"Sense memory, I suppose. They're doing what they've always done. And they'll keep doing it every day until the end of the semester... or until I can fix things."

I thought back to when Sybil and I zombie walked toward the building's south exit, surrounded by moaning zombies. As soon as the morning announcement began, the zombies had all stopped and listened as they did every morning. We were forgotten.

"What about parents?'' Sybil asked.

"Parents already think you kids are from another planet. They'll look at this new behavior as a phase. And the few parents who push the issue will join the living dead. So they won't be complaining."

It seemed Principal Taft had thought of everything. Still I knew what he was proposing was wrong. "I'm sorry, Principal Taft, but-"

"Margot Jean Johnson, how would you like to be president of the Homecoming Committee?" he suddenly said. The odd request caught me off guard,

"Amanda Culpepper is homecoming president,' I said.

"Amanda Culpepper is a zombie." A sly look crossed his face. "I'm going to pass a rule right now that no zombie can be in charge of anything at Salesian High."

And suddenly, what had seemed so wrong a few moments before was starting to seem right. Why should Amanda get to run everything? Selves her right for not biting me. And for ostracizing me in the eighth grade.

"What about the Prom Committee?" I heard myself asking.

"That's usually reserved for seniors, but seeing as how you're willing to help me out with my little problem, you are now chairman

man of the Prom Committee. And we can have any prom theme you wish."

"Prom queen?"

"I know of only two candidates, and they're both standing right in front of me. I think you're a shoo-in." He winked at me.

Suddenly my thoughts were consumed with all the accolades I'd been denied for as far back as I could remember.

"Yearbook Committee?"

Tours."

"Head cheerleader?"

"You."

"Captain of the debate team?"

"Yes!"

"Wait. I don't want that. That's social suicide. I was just testing you." My high school manifesto flashed through my mind. Here was my opportunity to have the best semester of my life. And all I had to do was go along with his ... ridiculous plan.

"Lunchroom monitor," Sybil suddenly said. We both turned and stared at her.

"You want to be a lunchroom monitor?" My words were filled with disbelief.

Yes."

"A lunch... room ... monitor?" I said the words slowly-- not for her benefit. I wanted to make sure I was hearing myself correctly.

"I know it sounds silly, but I've always wanted to be a lunchroom monitor."

"Not only are you a lunchroom monitor, young lady, but you're the head lunchroom monitor," Principal Taft said.

"I get to run the cafeteria? Yes!" Sybil said, pumping her fist.

1 didn't ask why she wanted the ridiculous position. At the moment I didn't care. The pendulum of popularity was swinging in my direction. My dreams were coming true.

The air of gloom that had surrounded Principal Taft a few moments earlier lifted. He smiled at us,a sly twinkle in his eye. "So, ladies, do we have a deal?"

I faced Sybil. "The principal of our school is asking for our help."

"I know."

"We'd be horrible student citizens if we turned him down,"

"I know."

"So, we'll just have to suck it up, and take over all those tasks that used to belong to Amanda Culpepper."

"I know!"

I was finding it hard to contain the laughter bubbling up inside of me. I couldn't believe our luck.

"A good student citizen should be able to get along with any visitor to our school, even a zombie," Principal Taft said, sounding like a principal again. "I'm going to give you my six rules for living successfully among zombies."

I pulled out a pen and paper and wrote them down:

Principal Jaft's Six Sample Rules for

Surviving a High School Zombie Uprising

Consisting With Student Zombies

Rule #1. Zombies are basically harmless creatures.

They went to be accepted just like you

Treat them with the same respect you

would any visitor on campus.

Rule# 2. While in the halls, walk slowly and wear a vacant expression on your face.

Zombies won't attack zombies.

Rule # 3: Never travel alone. Move in packs.

Follow the crowd. Zombies detest blatant

displays of individuality.

Rule #4: In class, sit quietly in your seats and

Wait to be called upon. Do not raise your

hands or make any sudden moves. No one

hates a know -it - all more than a zombie.

Rule # 5: If a zombie should attack, do not run.

Instead, throw your steak at him. Zombies

love saw meat. This display of kindness

will go a long way.

Rule # 6: Wear a vial filled with fish oil around your neck at all times. Zombies detest the smell of fish. This is your way of saying

"Hey Mister Zombie, respect my space."

If students and zombies respect each

other's space, our school will be a very

happy place.

When I finished writing, Taft pulled out a Baggie. It contained hunks of raw steak. "You need to carry Baggies filled with meat slivers with you at all times," he said.

"Gross," said Sybil, turning up her nose at the raw meat.

"Does it have to be steak?" I asked.

"I don't know. Why?"

"We're more of a hamburger family,"

"Any raw meat should work, but if hamburger doesn't work, or if you ever find yourselves in close quarters with a zombie for any reason, a sharp rap on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper should stun them long enough to get you out of the tight spot."

And that was it. That's all he'd been able to figure out so far.

That tiny bit of information was all we had to keep ourselves alive for the next seven weeks, until the end of the semester. On the bright side, I was being given the opportunity to live out my dream and realize my manifesto. I'd always wanted to be an it-girl, but the Amanda Culpeppers of the world were always standing in my way. But no more. If I went along with Principal Taft's plan, my junior year would be exactly what I'd always dreamed it should be. And all I had to do to enjoy it was stay alive.

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