“Guys. Guys? GUYS?!” Capybara hollered at the crowd of critters mulling around her. “A little decorum, huh? Pay attention! We got a LOT to go over before the thirty-first!”
The roiling mass of nutria sat down in a semi circle, row after row after row. They looked at their leader attentively as she strolled bipedally back and forth in front of them, tapping her walking stick in one small paw.
“We have a big job ahead of us, troops!” she roared. “The entire population of New Orleans must be under our control by Halloween.” The nutria looked back and forth at each other, muttering and squeaking, then back to their leader.
“Who will be the first?” Capybara boomed. Terrified squeals swept the crowd. “Do I have to CHOOSE?” Her walking stick swept over the heads of the first row. It came to rest on the cranium of a young female nutria, Janis. Janis made eye contact with Capybara, then looked at the ground, then rose to her feet, even as the walking stick rested on her head. Janis scuttled up to stand next to Capybara in front of the colony.
“I volunteer,” Janis said, stronger than she meant. Capybara nodded, leaned down, and bit Janis on either side of her spine. The bit lasted maybe two seconds, then Capybara released her hold. As Capybara straightened, Janis collapsed in the grass.
Those nutria seated in the farther rows stood up to watch and pass information further back about Janis’ condition. Janis, for her part, felt none of the shuddering, frothing, seismic seizures her body exhibited as it changed. Finally, her brown furry body stopped flopping, and she lay on the grass, panting, unconscious.
Murmuring in the colony. Capybara waited, watchful of both Janis and her audience. Janis’ panting eased, quieted, she lifted her head. She looked around. She rolled over, found her feet, stood. Shook her fur out.
Janis squealed, rather shrieked, a sound that could only be described as dead-undead. Otherwordly, both inaudible in frequency, yet physically palpable in terms of the sheer power output of decibels. Shriek after shriek with the force of a jet plane rose forth from the Janis and the colony huddled together in terror. Capybara’s walking stick came to rest once again, gently, on Janis head.
Janis turned and bit the end off. Her face did not bleed.
Capybara bit Janis’ nose off with a snarl. Janis backed down, silent now.
“You will form two lines, then two more, and so forth. As we create you, go forth and create. Once the colony is fully inoculated, you will venture out into the city, into the sewers, the animal holding facilities, and the pet stores first. Then, the dog parks. Let us begin.”
The colony split into two groups, those multiplied by two throughout the night until every rodent in the clearing, even a couple of accidental squirrels and rabbits, were inoculated, unkillable.
The spirit of Queen Marie Laveau rolled in her grave, sat bolt upright, listened, and smiled. She resettled and resumed snoring.
The population of New Orleans swells at two predictable times of year: Halloween, and Mardi Gras. The supernatural, voodoo-loving, ghost-hunting tourists, then the party animals. A predictable cycle, the two events not entirely disconnected from one another. Halloween, Day of the Dead, when the curtain between the living world and lost world is thinnest and most easily breached. Mardi Gras, commencing the Holy month of Lent, culminating in the crowning of the world’s most famous zombie. Ghosts and zombies, spirits both, celebrated, revered, excused.
By the end of Week One, every rat and mouse in New Orleans had been turned. By the end of Week Two, all animal shelters, as well as animal testing facilities, had been infiltrated. Not only cats and dogs had been zombified, but also lab animals: guinea pigs, rabbits, beagles, hounds, Rhesus monkeys.
By Week Three’s Saturday, Tulane University’s National Primate Research Center was infected and closed. Animals who were on study as part of the Nonhuman Primates Study on AIDS were now both infected with HIV and immortal.
The humans panicked. Facilities closed. Billions of research dollars were lost, grants were defunded, the price of Fatal-Plus and Euthasol skyrocketed as research programs everywhere tried to sacrifice their subjects in an effort to stop the spread of infection.
The humans, with their human egos, hadn’t checked the traps. The ubiquitous mousetraps and rattraps set out in every corner. Empty. Unusually empty. An occasional limb was found left behind on a sticky trap, its owner in no need of it and fully functional without it. Had they checked the traps against their records, they might have noticed the downward trend in rodent capture.
The infections spread throughout Louisiana, spilled into Texas and Arkansas, Mississippi. Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio closed its doors and moved its chimpanzee population indoors for the first time ever. This ended as one might expect, with the infection spreading even more quickly in the smaller, darker, enclosed space of the facility. Workers quit the Institute en masse, afraid of being infected themselves, and unable to safely care for maniacal animals of equal and greater size than them.
The chimps raged and seethed in their cages.
The infections spread westward through the mountains, and east and north along the Mississippi River, piggybacked along the major thoroughfares populated with semi trucks loaded with food bound for all major metropolitan areas in the east.
Cincinnati fell. The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine declared a state of emergency to which all the other major Veterinary Schools replied, “Duh.” Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory University had pre-emptively closed when news got out of the fall of the Institute in San Antonio.
Ports closed and planes were grounded until inspections were complete. Naturally, money changed human hands, and not all ports closed and not all planes were grounded. In this way, this greedy, human way, the animal zombie infection zoomed and crisscrossed the planet, reaching every corner and crevice, by the eve of Halloween.
Animals aren’t dumb. Queen Marie Laveau knew this and continued to know it. She smiled in her grave as she listened to the stories of her neighbors, tombmates, and friends. How scared the humans were, how ridiculous they were in trying to balance their fear for their lives against their fear of losing money and all the various ways that fear leads to money loss. And the animals were clever, in that they had cooperatively, wisely, with great foresight, decided not to infect the humans. Not right away. Those animals passing for pets were clever enough to “pass for normal” and sleep when they were expected to, eat when they were expected to, and play when they were expected to play.
And, but so.
Halloween, October 31.
When the sun went to sleepytown and the curtain between living and lost thinned to a shimmer of fog, the first pets and house vermin were set to attack.
The children fell first, in their cribs, in their beds, in their blanket forts, playpens, at their desks doing homework.
Their parents, next. Naturally, a parent will console a crying child who’s been bitten by the family pet, or worse, a sneaky rat from the alley outside her window. Naturally, a new zombie child will bite the hand that comforts it. Naturally, a parent will take her child to the doctor for treatment because this child has never had seizures or blacked out before, Little Billy had certainly never frothed at the mouse like this, is it rabies?! … and this parent’s symptoms have not yet set in.
Naturally, human infections spread like wildfire through hospitals and schools and workplaces. Wall Street was hit with an especially difficult variant of the virus that caused uncontrollable bodily excretions.
Naturally, Queen Marie Laveau giggled when she heard this.
Perhaps unnaturally, homeless shelters were among the least afflicted, as were prisons. Entire poor villages in China, the Philippines, Uganda, Madagascar, and Chile were exempt, immune?, unaffected at any rate.
Oddly, every Native American Reservation in the United States was unafflicted. The Inuit of Canada and the native peoples in the Brazilian Amazon were also safe.
Queen Marie Laveau nodded, satisfied.
She called Capybara to her crypt. Dusk had settled over New Orleans, the city was oddly quiet, mute with its illness and the hysteria around it. You have done well, child, the Queen intoned to Capybara. Capybara bowed her head in respect. Time for to re-set the world order. Free those humans in cages, free those humans in the shelters, those confined to reservations. Allow them free range. You will need their assistance, at the very least because they have opposable thumbs. Apes and monkeys do not yet know how to drive vehicles and operate most machinery, though it won’t take long for them to learn.
Capybara passed the order down her chain of command. Janis herself opened New Orleans homeless shelters, scuttling in the front doors with a pack of shelter dogs. The dogs whined and barked and jumped until the mothers took their children by the hand outside, to the darkness, to see the animals and ghosts roaming the streets freely. No traffic, just lights blinking in the muggy dusk.
The Louisiana State Penitentiary was selectively freed by those dogs who’d previously worked with trusted inmates. The dogs were led inside by a team of Rhesus from the Tulane Primate Center; each monkey swaggered, proud of his powerful keyring. As the inmates tentatively left their cells, they reunited with their dogs, high-fived the monkeys.
And so it went, and so it continues to go. Because no money can change hands, ghosts can be trusted. The ghosts and spirits of those long dead, trusted human owners, trusted human friends and neighbors and caretakers, guide the animals along the complicated network of trusted Live Humans. In this simple, incredibly complicated manner, animals regained their dignity and place in the Natural World Order.
Queen Marie Laveau was proud of herself, and proud of her friends, and satisfied. Well over a hundred years she had watched and waited for the right time, the best opportunity. She sat outside her crypt door, relaxed against it, lazily caressing a rat. Spirits roamed freely in the misty cemetery. A warm hand rested next to hers.
Marie looked to her left and smiled gently. “You really did come to save the day, old friend. Thank you. Without a body, I could only go so far.”
Andy Kaufman’s eyes were bright against the gloom. “How could I miss this? It’s the ultimate test of reality.”