The Valentine Zombie
Doemennica skipped through puddles of dank brown water, her impossibly long green and purple locks whipping out behind her.
“Come on, Winslow,” she giggled, “Mum’s baking cookies, chocolate chip and cinnamon, my favourite!” Winslow, her ever faithful mutant Bearog harrumphed impatiently, trying to sidestep the worst of the puddles.
Doe stopped mid skip, something having caught her eye. Pausing for a moment to prod at one of the strange flora that seemed so rampant in the Haunted Woods, she heard a piteous whimper. Now, nothing fazed the little Usuki Usul much. Doe grew up in the Haunted Woods and had a ghost for a sister.
Over time she had even come to view the queer folk and spooks of the woods as her friends, and could often be seen jumping rope or having tea parties with some of them. Not that they would ever admit to that, but something about her beguiling smile and infectious laughter made her offers to play hard to resist. Doe was a ray of sunshine onto herself, lighting up even the dreariest parts of the woods with her playful giggles.
But that whimper, something about that whimper tugged at her soft heart. She looked around for its source, a concerned frown wrinkling her forehead.
“Winslow, I think someone may be hurt,” she whispered. Her petpet took no notice of her; it was too intent on grooming itself. She stepped off the path to her house and pushed back some of the thick creeping plants that concealed a clearing. She knew this clearing well, having spent many a day here playing with her plushies or spending a quiet moment with her books.
There on a rock sat a very miserable looking zombie Krawk. Doe blinked. Zombie pets were not rare around these parts, but she’d never spoken to one before.
“Hi...” she said softly, tentatively.
The zombie Krawk looked up at her and let out a mournful moan.
“What’s the matter?” She approached cautiously, poised to flee at the first sign of menace from the Krawk. When it made no move to physically acknowledge her presence, she slowly lowered herself onto the rock next to it. Doe tried to surreptitiously study the stranger for any sign of outward injury. She found none; whatever pain it was currently feeling was probably emotional.
Feeling her gaze, the Krawk lifted its head and looked her in the eye, cocking its head to the side. Suddenly self conscious, the Usul avoided eye contact, staring instead into her lap.
“I... I’m sorry to intrude, Mr Krawk. Or Miss,” she hastily added, though she was pretty sure the pet was a Mister. “It’s just that...You seem so down. Is there anything I can do? Of course I could leave if you would prefer to be alone.” No response. Peeping out from beneath her lashes, she saw that the Krawk was still looking at her intently.
“Uhm... Okay then, I’ll leave. My mum’s expecting me anyway. But before I go, here.” With that she pressed one of her plushies into the Krawk’s open hand. “I hope everything turns out alright for you in the end.” Doe beckoned to Winslow and turned to leave, but not before she caught a ghost of a smile on the zombie pet’s face.
“MUM, MUM, MUM, MUM, MUM! GUESS WHAT I SAW!” Doe barrelled into her petite owner, almost knocking her over.
“Honey, slow down!” Van laughed. “I almost dropped the batter!” Doe’s sister Triqualilli grabbed the bowl full of cookie dough Van was holding and sniffed deeply, finally surfacing to reveal a blob of dough on her nose. Doe and her owner took one look and collapsed into giggles, finally pausing for air long enough to troop into the airy kitchen.
The rest of Doe’s sisters were sitting or in FiannaMay’s case, floating around the table. Peopfeda was reading from a recipe book while FiannaMay was gliding to gather various ingredients from the cabinets.
“So what did you see?” Van asked as she stirred the batter.
“A zombie Krawk, all alone in the woods, sitting on a rock and whimpering. I didn’t know what to make of it. He seemed so sad.” Doe rested her chin on her palm as she spoke, thoughts drifting to what transpired earlier that day.
“A zombie pet, eh? Did you execute what we’ve discussed?” Van asked, dipping a finger into the bowl and licking it with relish.
Doe winced, remembering her owner’s graphic description on how to get rid of zombies. “MUM!” Doe squeaked, scandalised. “Of course not! Why would I do something like that; he seemed nice enough!”
Van smiled teasingly. “Sorry, love, I guess I’ve been reading one too many post apocalyptic zombie novels. You must forgive my active imagination. I suppose zombie pets are relatively harmless, though. Aside from the smell.”
Doe huffed. “They don’t smell, Mum, you know that.” Van only grinned cheekily, her brown eyes twinkling.
“Did you talk to him? He didn’t try anything funny, did he?” Peopfeda enquired. Being the eldest of the family as well as the designated Battledomer, Peopfeda was the self appointed protector of her sisters. Even now her hand was involuntarily inching towards the stash of weapons she carried on her person at all times. Peopfeda’s delicate disposition had fooled many a potential challenger, but her sisters know how fiery she could be if provoked. They had all found out the hard way, one time or another.
“I did, but he didn’t say anything in response. He just stared at me. I felt bad leaving him there all by himself when he was obviously hurting, so I left him a plushie to keep him company.” Upon hearing this, Van pulled her youngest pet into a tight hug, pleased at her generosity.
“That was very sweet of you, my dear. You make me proud. All of you.” That little proclamation prompted the rest of her pets to join in a spontaneous group hug, knocking over the batter Van was still holding and making a mess of the kitchen floor. Huddled together and holding each other in a tangle of paws and limbs, the little family did not care.
Doe walked the same path every day, visiting Neovia and the Deserted Fairground, waving at the locals and playing with the other pets. Every day, along the same path, in the same clearing, she would see the Krawk, a little less miserable each time, eagerly awaiting her arrival.
Doe would sit by him and chat about her day, the Krawk content to just listen to her voice, still not saying a word. Each time before she left, the Usul would pass him a little something, maybe a toy, a book or some food. Not huge or expensive gifts, but just little reminders that she cared, even if no one else did.
Doe’s family encouraged this friendship. Sometimes her sisters would slip her something to bring to her zombie friend or her mum would bake an extra batch of cookies just for him. Doe never did find out what ailed the Krawk, he was always silent, but the way his eyes lit up at her company and her gifts told her he was grateful and that was more than enough for her.
During one of her regular trips around the Haunted Woods, Doe received news that a friend was down with Sneezles. Eager to visit her to bring her a little cheer, she completely lost track of the time. Hurrying home in the gathering gloom, she rushed right past the clearing, her mind elsewhere, before retracing her steps and doubling back.
Peering past the curtains of foliage, she was disappointed to see the rock where the Krawk usually sat waiting for her empty. Doe left a book there anyway, hoping he would find it. Just before she turned to leave she grabbed a notebook and torn off a page, signed her name and stuck the message between the pages of the book. With that, she headed down the familiar path home.
The next day Doe thundered down the streets of the Haunted Woods with her sisters in hot pursuit. The locals were too used to their noisy shenanigans to give them a second look. The girls were loud, yes, but they meant well and helped elevate the mood of the bleak woods somewhat. The atmosphere could get a bit wearisome at times.
Doe raced laughing down the path, turning sharply into the clearing out of habit. What she saw there made her breath catch in her throat. The originally sparse space was filled with pink and red balloons of all sizes and colourful streamers were strung from the trees, completely transforming the clearing, making it festive and lively. A picnic basket laden with treats sat in the very middle, ready for a feast. Doe’s sisters trailed in behind her, taking in the scene with wide eyes.
The Krawk entered just then. He was holding something behind his back and looked bashful and a little bit awkward. He cleared his throat.
“Thank you, Doe. I was going through a rough time and you selflessly gave your time to keep me company even though I was a stranger you could have easily overlooked. Your gifts and kind words helped me to see that for every rotten and mean spirited person out there, there are a couple of lovely people who would be more than willing to help someone in need.”
With that he whipped out a frilly pink card in the shape of a heart. Scrawled on it in childlike script were the words “Would you be my Valentine?” and “Thank you for being my friend.”
Peopfeda reached for her weapon when the Krawk pulled out the card, her instinct to protect leading her to be suspicious about even the most innocuous objects. Seeing it was just a card, she sheepishly withdrew her sword, looking furtively about her in the process to see if anyone spotted her reflex action. FiannaMay nudged her and grinned, rolling her eyes.
Doe looked at the card in the Krawk’s hand, transfixed. Then she threw her arms around him, squealing with delight.
“Of course I will!” she cried, her wild hair tangling around the both of them in her excitement. Doe and her sisters joined the Krawk for a Valentine’s picnic, lifting their glasses in a toast to newfound friendship and good food. Triqualilli even ran ahead to get Van to join in the fun. Amid the laughter and chatter no one had the heart to tell Van she had chocolate on her nose.