For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
[To be inserted in Supernatural Novel: Day 16, in the paragraph where Kim is thinking about how well Tristan listens:]
He even seemed interested when she told him about deciding to be a camp counselor for the nature camp for inner-city second-graders. He’d asked all about it; she’d shared her love of kids, how she wanted to help somebody some day, and that was why she wanted to go into pediatric neurosurgery, if there was such a thing. “I’m going to miss you every minute of the week of October 26,” he said, squeezing her hand. “But I’m glad you get to do something you’re passionate about.” Tristan put her desires and interests ahead of his, and that was wonderful, too – Austin had only cared about himself and getting whatever he wanted.
[Resuming immediately following the most recent events in Supernatural Novel: Day 17]
Tristan sat in suspense for what felt like an eternity. He felt Kim’s emotions flying around chaotically as she tried to process the bizarre tale Tristan had just dumped on her. If their places were reversed, Tristan honestly was not sure what he would do. Could he believe even somebody he loved if she told him she had a disease that turned her into a creature straight out of Halloween stories and B-rated horror movies? He didn’t know, but Tristan hoped desperately that Kim would decide that she still wanted him anyway. His stomach churned and his palms felt like a pair of small fountains. “Damp” was not the word. He’d laid it all on the line.
At last, as Tristan sensed her emotions stabilizing, Kim scooted closer and put her arm around him. “Thank you,” she whispered. “For everything. I…I think it’s going to be OK.”
He turned and embraced her, pulling into a fervent if awkward sitting hug. “Really? You believe me and you still want to be with me? And you won’t tell anybody?”
“It’s pretty hard to believe,” Kim admitted, “But…yeah. I do. And I promise that I’ll never tell anybody.” Looking into her eyes, Tristan’s heart felt like it would burst with love. He pressed his face into her hair, inhaling that intoxicating scent unique to Kim. It always drove him a little bit crazy, and sometimes he couldn’t quite decide if he loved her for her brains or just for her. Now he knew: He loved her for her.
Kim snuggled closer, wrapping her arms all the way around him and burrowing her head into his shoulder. Looking out into the deserted street, listening to the sounds of nearby traffic, she said, “So you seriously want to eat brains?”
“I hate to admit it, but yeah.”
Continue reading.“All the time?”
“Well, sometimes more than others. When it’s my time of the month—” He broke off as Kim started giggling uncontrollably. “What?”
“The way you said it, like you’re a girl or something. It just seemed funny.”
“Well, I’m not a girl.”
“I know,” Kim murmured, tilting her face up for kissing. Then, when Tristan hesitated, she pulled back. “Oh…right.”
Regret evident in his voice, Tristan said, “I’m sorry.”
“We’ll figure something out,” Kim replied, trying to reassure both of them. “After all, your parents figured something out, didn’t they?”
Dryly Tristan explained, “Yeah, they figured it out. Their solution was Dad turning Mom into a zombie.”
“Let’s keep walking. I think better when I’m moving.” Kim stood up and pulled Tristan up behind her. They strolled down the street hand-in-hand. “So is that really the only way? You love somebody so you either don’t do anything or you turn them into a zombie?”
“As far as I know.”
“Using…protection doesn’t help?”
“Can you use a condom when you’re kissing?” Tristan’s suggestion brought another giggle from Kim, but the underlying issue remained: There was no way for them to be at all physically close without the danger of spreading Tristan’s disease to Kim. “Besides, condoms aren’t really a fool-proof way of protecting against any STD.”
Kim sighed. “Well, we’ll have the most chaste high school relationship ever.” Then, thinking about it, she said, “So whoever you end up marrying will have to become a zombie?”
“If I find somebody who loves me enough to do that,” Tristan agreed, “That’s the only way.”
“So, um, you don’t have any other secrets, do you?” Kim asked, only half joking.
“Nothing on this magnitude. Nothing I’d keep from you.” Glancing in Kim’s direction, Tristan saw her definitive nod. She was a girl who hated anything underhanded, hated being kept in the dark, hated being surprised. It was a huge relief that she’d forgiven him for keeping secrets from her, and accepted him for who he was, outcast nerd zombie that he was. She didn’t even seem that bothered by his periodic obsession with brains. Maybe dating what everybody else would call a monster wasn’t so bad when her family, by all accounts, sounded like they were the real monsters.
After that they just walked, holding hands and brushing against each other, feeling the stronger bonds of love building now that all their secrets were out in the open. When they got home, Tristan brought Kim into the kitchen, where the family always ended up gathered doing homework, cooking, or just being together, and announced that he’d told her everything.
Mom came and gave her a big hug. “Welcome to the club,” Mom said. “I remember when Tristan’s dad told me, and if you want to talk about it, I’ll be here.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Killigan.”
“Oh, call me Melanie.” Meanwhile, Lottie and Julie had been making gagging motions at one another behind Mom’s back. Without looking, Mom said, “Girls, stop that.”
Kim glanced at Tristan. “Let’s go upstairs,” Tristan suggested. Mom gave Tristan a warning look and he added, “Where we’ll leave the bedroom door wide open, of course.”
“Of course,” Kim agreed. “I actually have some Spanish homework I need to do, now that I think about it.” She retrieved her backpack from the entryway. “Would you mind?”
“My pleasure.” Tristan motioned her to precede him up the stairs. As she disappeared around the corner, Tristan turned back to his family and hissed, “Please don’t embarrass me!” From the looks Lottie, Julie, and Max exchanged, he was confident that somebody would soon shamble up the stairs moaning “Braaaaaains” within the next fifteen minutes.
The next day, Tristan was standing at his locker when Julie and Lottie hurried up. He hadn’t seen Kim yet, but it was still early in the day. Their paths often didn’t cross until the first break or even lunch time, and after the first month or so, that was OK with them. Tristan did not really get along with Kim’s circle of friends, if you could call them friends, since Kim didn’t seem to get along with them very well, either. Besides, people had been acting funny today, giving him weird looks and lots of space, and Tristan sensed a pervasive hatred filling the school, although he couldn’t begin to imagine why.
Julie shoved a copy of the school newspaper in front of Tristan’s face. “Look at this!”
The headline screamed, ZOMBIES AT SOMEWHERESVILLE HIGH. It began, “The
y look and act like everybody else, but many students have long suspected that there was something different about the Killigan family. Now, The Somewheresville Herald can exclusively reveal the shocking truth: The difference is that the Killigan children, Charlotte (Lottie, aged 17) her twin brother Tristan, Julie (aged 15), and Max (aged 10, attending Somewheresville Elementary School), are zombies masquerading as normal students.” The author was Anonymous.
Stunned, Tristan leaned against his locker and his hands, still clutching the newspaper dropped to his lap. He looked from Lottie to Julie, speechless.
“Your darling Kimmy has outed us,” Lottie said, venom dripping from her voice. “We are seriously screwed because you trusted that bimbo.”
“I…I thought I could trust her,” Tristan muttered, staring out at the mass of students swirling by. Many carried the newspaper, and even more were giving the three Killigan wide berth. Then somebody shouted, “Hey, eat these brains!” and a textbook came flying at them. All three ducked and dodged easily; they all sensed the escalating negative emotion swirling around the school, and all three were on high alert.
“Well, obviously you couldn’t and shouldn’t have,” Lottie snapped. “That’s what happens when you trust normal people. They’re always going to betray you in the end.”
For Tristan, it felt like the world had imploded. Kim, the girl he loved, the girl he had even secretly hoped might stick with him to the end, had betrayed him at the first opportunity. She must have gone home and written the article that night, immediately after convincingly promising to never tell Tristan’s secret. His emotions were so tied up in her, he must have misjudged reading his intuition somehow, although it had never led him astray before. But he’d never loved anybody before, either.
Now he doubted he’d ever love anybody again. It was like having his brains ripped out and eaten before his very eyes. Like the air had been sucked out of his lungs, leaving him gasping and helpless. Like the planet he’d orbited as moon had suddenly become a black hole. And still, he couldn’t help doubting that Kim would do such a thing. Something in him said she wouldn’t ever break her word, that she hadn’t written the article and the news had gotten out some other way.
But there was no other way. He had never told anybody before, and he knew none of his siblings had ever shared their secret either. His family held their secret very close, trusting nobody, not even the few close family friends they had. They formed few intimate friendships, tending to stick together and not suffer the pain of constant rejection, suspicion, and discrimination. Who would hire a zombie? Who would want to be friends with a guy who might ultimately eat your brains? For almost two hundred years his family had kept its secret, managing to even stay in the same town for a couple generations, put down roots, get comfortable.
“Ah, just who I was looking for.” All three turned to see Mr. Jones bearing down on them like Moses parting a Red Sea of students. “I’d like to talk to you three in my office, please.” He beckoned and didn’t even wait for them to pick their bags up, but just whirled on his heel, bad comb-over flopping.
Wordlessly Tristan slammed his locker and followed Lottie and Julie down the hall. Students stopped and stared, pointed, whispered. “Hey!” somebody called, “Do you really want to eat our brains?” “Fresh brains over here!” somebody else shouted, and then the heckling started in earnest. “Braaaaains!” “No wonder they’re so dumb—they don’t have brains themselves!” “Stay away from my brain!” “Monster!” Tristan and his sisters refused to rise to the bait, walking down the hall with their eyes fixed forward, not even looking at students who shoved them into walls, shouted at them, or, as some did, drew away with fear in their eyes. Jared saw Tristan and Lottie, turned around, and simply walked the other way without saying a word. None of them saw or heard Kim, struggling against the crowd, calling. She was drowned out and shoved away by students who would surely condemn and ostracize her for dating the zombie boy.
Without a doubt, it was the worst five minutes of their lives. When they got to the office, Mom was already there, dry-eyed and grim-faced. She held a copy of the school newspaper.
“So, what’s this all about?” Mr. Jones asked, settling into his creaky wooden office chair. “I’d like to say this is some kind of early Halloween hoax, but it doesn’t appear to be.”
The kids all stood behind Mom, who sat in the chair facing Mr. Jones. “It’s not an accurate article by any stretch,” she began, but he interrupted.
“So there’s some truth to it?” He rattled the paper on his desk. “You have some virus that turns you into zombies every month and you go out and eat human brains?”
“I won’t deny that our family has a disease that causes us to periodically desire to eat the encephalon of humans,” Mom began again. “But we have not and never will hurt another human being. You have to realize that this is a disease, not a choice, and we are adept at controlling the symptoms.”
“Look,” Mr. Jones said, “Don’t use fancy words to try to confuse me. You’re saying you eat human brains and the bottom line is we can’t have zombies at school.”
“We do not eat human brains,” Mom vehemently replied, “We pose less danger to the school than students whose parents have handguns. This is discrimination, and I can assure you that the school superintendent will be hearing from you if you persist in this action.”
Mr. Jones, accustomed to dealing with difficult parents, took this in stride. “I’m going to have to suspend all of your children, including your son in elementary school, until further notice. I must request that you to remove all your children from the school system until we have had time to explore the ramifications of this revelation. Please leave the premises.”
Mom, white-lipped with suppressed fury, stood up. “I will take my kids, and I’ll tell you something else. There’s no way we’re going to accept this lying down. My lawyer will be in contact with the school district and when we find out who wrote the article” – Mom barely glanced in Tristan’s direction – “they’ll be hearing from our lawyer, too.”
“That’s fine,” Mr. Jones said placidly, patting down his comb-over. He stood up. “I’m sorry it has to be this way, but this is a school security issue. We can’t put our students at risk.”
Mom didn’t deign to reply, although Tristan felt waves of fury pouring off her like hot lava and he knew she ached to put that little man in his place. Instead, Mom gathered her kids with a look. “Come on, we’ll go get Max and then I have some phone calls to make.” Without a backward glance, Mom marched out of the office, her kids trailing disconsolately after her, the wreckage of their social lives dragging like sea anchors behind them.
When they got to the car, Mom sat down heavily and looked at Tristan as he slumped into the passenger seat. She still didn’t say anything.
Tristan shook his head, his heart breaking. All he said was, “I trusted her.” Mom nodded tersely, silently starting the car. It was a very quiet car ride to the elementary school as each person struggled with the reality that, from then on, they would face discrimination, abuse, and maltreatment for simply being the way they were, regardless of their skills or personalities.
Tristan felt tears tracking down his cheeks and quickly dashed them away, staring fixedly out the passenger window without seeing any of the familiar scenery. He couldn’t decide what was worse: Losing his relationship with Kim in this way, through base betrayal, or losing his enti
re future. And he couldn’t imagine why Kim had written that article! It just didn’t make sense. She’d been so affectionate, so wonderful, so accepting and apparently trustworthy…Yet she was the only possible candidate for authoring the article, since nobody else knew.
It was just too heartbreaking to think about.
Vanessa danced around her room squealing “Camp tomorrow! Camp tomorrow!” as Mary attempted to coax her into a cute dress.
“Come on, calm down and let me help you get into this dress. We have to meet your father for that fundraiser in an hour.”
“I don’t want to wear the dress! It’s ugly!” Vanessa scooted out of the way, sticking out her tongue.
“You picked it out,” Mary objected, but put the dress back on the rack. “What do you want to wear, then?”
“This!” Vanessa was in an exclaiming mood this evening and as a result said everything, exciting or not, at the top of her lungs.
Mary looked at it. It was a dress-up dress, all yellow satin, ruffles, and lace, a Disney Princess concoction never intended for political appearances. But what the heck. Why not? Mr. Gilbertson deserved taking down a notch, after this pet tax bill thing. Besides, Vanessa loved the dress. “You know what? Okay. Take off your normal clothes, hurry now.”
“Yaaaay!” Vanessa shucked out of her everyday clothes in record time and put her arms up to have the dress slipped over her head. “I’m Belle!”
Glancing around, Mary asked herself what she was forgetting. Absentmindedly she said, “You bet you are. You’ll be the belle of the ball. Have you brushed your teeth? Let’s get your hair fixed. It’s almost time to go.” This would be a political rally Mr. Gilbertson wouldn’t soon forget. Mary could hardly wait to see his face – and by then it would be too late. She’d have to tell Bernice all about it when they got together in a few days during Vanessa’s nature camp.
Lottie still hadn’t told anybody about the alarming conversation she’d “accidentally” overheard at the Happy Hounds. With the entire family being outed the next day, things had gotten crazy. She’d been fired from Happy Hounds, not surprisingly; but at least Dad hadn’t lost his job yet, although he was under inquiry and not exactly welcome at the University until they cleared him.
All in all, it had been the worst two weeks the family had suffered through in a long time, even worse than when all the kids got chicken pox at once. They could hardly go to the grocery store without having somebody say something or look at them; cashiers didn’t want to take their money; people who recognized them on buses gave them wide berth; cruel anonymous phone calls forced them to unplug the phones and turn off their cell phones; they had to change their email addresses; several windows had been smashed as people threw rocks. And worst of all, now Mom and Dad were talking about moving to a whole different state, or maybe even out of country, “to get a fresh start.”
The Mayor had come by in person and said political things about how they wouldn’t tolerate discrimination and he had offered police protection, but he’d also kept his distance. He didn’t shake Dad’s hand and it was clear that he, too, didn’t want anything to do with the zombie family.
But now, just over two weeks later, the conversation was much on Lottie’s mind. She wasn’t convinced she hadn’t just imagined the entire episode, some kind of stink-induced hallucination. Even if it was true, Lottie wasn’t sure she wanted to do anything about it. After all, all these people were the ones who immediately turned on them and started treating them like lepers or something. It really wasn’t fair. What had she, Lottie, done to deserve this kind of treatment? Nothing. If she was innocent, why should she bother helping normals, especially when most of them wouldn’t believe her story anyway? It all seemed so pointless, but Lottie wasn’t a girl to make up her mind without talking to somebody else.
Naturally, she chose her twin brother. They had always shared a rapport, even through the rockier teenage years, that made him the natural choice for Lottie. “Hey you.”
“What do you want?” He snapped back, half playing and half irritated. He’d been overjoyed at Kim’s acceptance of their condition and then immediately crushed by her utter betrayal. If she’d tried to call or email, he ignored them and deleted any messages without listening. Lottie felt his pain acutely, and even though she was irritated his bad choice had given the family away, she didn’t rub it in. She could very well have made the same wrong choice with some guy – not likely, since she wasn’t interested in anybody and probably never would be, but still.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” Tristan was sourly watching Max play Plants vs. Zombies on the laptop computer and he nodded. It wasn’t like they had anything better to do; they tried to keep up with schoolwork, but it was hard, when nobody at school would talk to them.
“Why are we always the bad guys?” Tristan asked as he shoved himself out of the sagging couch.
“It’s not us,” Lottie replied. “It’s the myth.”
“So what did you want to talk to me about? Berate me some more over…her?” He still couldn’t bring himself to say Kim’s name, and Lottie felt his heartbreak every time she came up in conversation. Tristan still spent a lot of time in his room by himself with the door closed, which didn’t really muffle the sounds of him crying into his pillow.
“No, totally unrelated to this whole mess, actually.” They went upstairs into Tristan’s bedroom, the only place with some modicum of privacy in the entire house. With the entire home almost all the time, their home was starting to feel uncomfortably crowded. Lottie sat on Max’s bed, facing Tristan. “Before I got fired from Happy Hounds, I heard this weird conversation. It freaked me out. I’d kind of forgotten about it until today.”
“What was it about?” Despite himself, Tristan found his interest piqued. He could sense Lottie’s unease, a different kind of fear from any he’d felt off of her before. More like extreme concern, not for herself, but for somebody else.
“These two people – they’re crazy about their dogs, I mean not just ‘I love my puppy’ but like really into their dogs. Like their dogs are their family kind of people. You know. This lady, Bernice, was talking to this guy, Raymond. She was telling him about that bill you told us about a long time ago at the dance – the tax break for pet owners. Only she was saying how Senator Gilbertson, he lives here and he’s all against it for some dumb reason. And then they started talking about how to change his mind, and in the end…” Lottie took a breath. “This is gonna sound crazy, but in the end, I’m almost positive they decided to like take the Senator’s daughter hostage, or something. To force him to make the bill go through, I think.” Tristan sat leaning forward with his elbows on his knees listening intently. He didn’t say anything and Lottie added, “My intuition made me think the guy, Raymond, was really serious. He kept saying how his dog was his child, and how parents got tax breaks for their kids, so why shouldn’t he get one? And how with the bad economy pet owners can’t pay for their pets but it’s as cruel to separate them as it would be separating a kid from a parent whose finances were bad.”
“And your intuition said it was true?” Tristan asked, not questioning her judgment but confirming he understood.
“Definitely.” Lottie gulped at even the memory of the experience. “I mean I was seriously scared by the time they were done talking, especially of the dude. When I had to check them out it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I think he would
kill somebody to protect his dog, for reals. They were giving off a really intense sense of purpose and determination, but they were also really, really angry at the idea that this might not go through. I got the sense they’d do whatever it took to keep their pets and help other people be able to stay pet owners no matter what.”
Tristan, often calm in emergencies, went straight to the heart of the matter. “Do you know what they intended to do?”
“Like I said, I think they’re gonna hold the Senator’s daughter hostage. I think they said something about getting her while she was at some nature camp, but I forget the details.”
“Nature camp?” Tristan dove under his bed and began rummaging around. Dirty socks, plates with dried remnants of cow brains, Monopoly pieces, wadded-up pieces of paper and other detritus flew out as he burrowed underneath the bed. “I’m sure I saw an ad in the school paper about it a long time ago. Ah-ha!” He emerged triumphantly dragging a considerably battered and worn newspaper. “I started keeping them all because Kim… she worked for the newspaper. Guess I should just ditch them now.” He looked sadly at the paper for a minute and then shook himself. “See? Here it is.” He spread the newspaper out on the bed and they read: “Help Change A Life – Become A Camp Counselor! Help Lead Week-Long Back to Nature Camp for Inner-City 6 and 7 Year Olds.” Beneath the body of the text, they found the dates listed: October 26 through 30, Snarfqualmie Lodge.
“That’s tomorrow!” Lottie yelped. Lottie didn’t think about whether she should help the people; now that she’d said it all aloud, it was clear that this was a matter of honor now, of doing the right thing even when everybody treated them like trash. Besides, why should a bunch of little kids suffer because their parents were jerks?
At the same time, Tristan exclaimed, “I think Kim is doing that! What if she’s in trouble?” Then he remembered everything and sighed deeply. “I know she gave us away to everybody, but I can’t help it. I still love her and I don’t want her to get hurt.”
“We’ve got to tell Mom and Dad,” they agreed, and rushed downstairs together. This was a matter of life and death, not just reputation. And even if Lottie turned out to be wrong, it was better to be safe than sorry. Neither twin knew what they could do to protect the Senator’s daughter, but they knew they had to do something. Mom and Dad would have some ideas for sure.