The birds began to chirp within the trees of the cemetery – Matt could hear them over the thumps and groans of the ghoulish creatures outside. Some still scratched at the walls and door, while others had given up and started wondering aimlessly throughout the property. Maverick still had his muzzle secured by shoelaces, and Matt was slouched over him, softly crying into his fur and still bewildered by the events that had occurred hours before and lingered still. Matt lifted his head at the sound of the cheerful birds, as he knew the sun was about break over the horizon. This was it.
“Mav, we gotta make a run for it, okay?” he said softly as he stroked his head.
Maverick looked up and right into Matt’s eyes. They remained clouded over, but his tail still wagged as merrily as it used to. He was always such a happy dog; no one could ever say otherwise. Even years before when he got too close to a porcupine and required surgery to remove quills that were embedded too deeply into his shoulder, he was still just happy to be with his best friend. Now seemed no different, kind-of. Maverick was a carefree dog, loved his squeaky toys, and lived to work. Nothing made him quite as excited than when Matt pulled his YupCollars harness off the wall hanger. That, and breakfast…
“Up we go.” Matt grunted as he stood up. His knee cracked, and he winced in pain. “Gaah!” Sitting on the cold concrete floor for the night after sprinting for your life while carrying 70lbs doesn’t do the joints any favors.
Maverick, with his shoelace muzzle, stood with Matt and slowly moseyed to his side, just as he always did. Still wearing his beautiful harness and collar, he didn’t look any different, at least from a distance. Up close, his fur was roughed up, and his eyes were glazed over by a milky white sheet. He drooled far more than usual and gained a rather funky smell. Not to mention the blood lust and empty expression that never seemed to change, he really did fit the generic description of a zombie.
“Ready?” Matt said after collecting his things. His hope was to make it to the main gate, unlock them, get out, and secure the lock again to keep the monsters contained. A brilliant plan, and one he didn’t make easily after realizing he’d dropped his phone outside. He had no idea where it was and wasn’t about to go out and look for it. He stood, ready with his one hand on the door handle and his other holding Maverick’s leash. He paused, took a deep breath, and turned the handle. Then, he stopped.
“Wait. You need to be able to defend yourself. Just don’t bite me, okay?” Matt stammered as he dropped the leash and untied the shoelaces from around Maverick’s mouth.
He quickly pulled his hands back and watched to see what Maverick would do. The dog just stood there for a moment, wagged his tail and sat down. “Oooooookay. Not quite what I was expecting, but I’m glad it wasn’t.”
Matt tucked the unclipped leash and shoelaces away into his backpack. He nodded to himself and grinned confidently at Maverick. He motioned for him to come and turned his head away to seek the door handle. Key ready in his pocket, it was the final moment of safety before the ‘gates of freedom’ just 50 meters away.
Matt turned off the light to the security building before opening the door. He didn’t want the gleam from the bulb to catch any unwanted attention as he made his escape. Just as Matt thought the coast was clear, however, a decrepit hand swung at his face from behind the open door. He jumped backwards and fell to the ground, landing hard on his back and knocking the wind out of himself. The gruesome creature appeared in the door frame with its arms outstretched and mouth open wide. It was about to devour Matt!
Art by Nathan Warner
Maverick sprang up and bared his teeth at the beast. Foul green saliva oozed from his gaping mouth as he snarled fiercely at his opponent, defending Matt with everything he had. The creature stopped dead in its tracks and let out a bellowing wail before resuming the advance at fresh meat. Maverick lunged and knocked the corpse to the ground. As he stood over it, Matt lifted himself to see a mass crowd of them moving swiftly in their direction. Matt stood quickly, grabbed onto Mavericks collar, and gave him a swift tug.
“Run,” he chirped as he darted out of the building towards the gate, Maverick following close behind.
With his keys ready in his hand, he ran as fast as his legs could carry him to the locked gate. Upon reaching it, he couldn’t stop the momentum of his body and slammed hard into the metal poles, making the chains rattle loudly. More creatures stirred and started to head in his direction. He was surrounded. Maverick stood guard over Matt’s perimeter as he fumbled to open the padlock. The monsters grew closer, louder, and faster as they closed in on them. Matt finally unlocked the gate and swung open the one side, slipped out, and rushed Maverick through after him. He quickly replaced the padlock and snapped it shut, just as the corpses reached the gates and threw themselves into the spacing of the bars. They stretched through them in a failed attempt to get ahold of Matt.
“We did it?! WE DID IT! WE GOT OUT!!” Matt jumped and cheered as Maverick looked on from a few feet away.
He watched his human bouncing around and carrying on but didn’t join him. He wagged his tail softly and panted while the gate still rattled behind them. The creatures where ravenous and clicked their teeth together as they chomped and grasped at the air with outstretched hands. Matt stopped and smiled back at a passive and relaxed Maverick. He dropped his backpack and started to walk slowly towards his beloved service dog with his hands tucked in his pockets.
“Don’t bite me, okay?” he said softly as he approached him. He reached out his hand, and Maverick turned his snout sharply toward it but kept his mouth closed. Matt pet the top of his head and stroked his floppy ear.
“Thank you, Maverick the Malevolent,” he said proudly. “Are zombie service dogs a thing?”