“Mr. Gunderson?” began Stacia. “Are you okay? You don’t seem like a… one of the…”
“Zombies?” asked Mr. Gunderson, turning slowly. “No, I’m not like one of them.”
“Hang on,” Tom mumbled to Stacia. He could see the dark, oily sheen on Mr. Gunderson’s skin. “This isn’t him talking.”
“Oh, but it is, young man,” said Mr. Gunderson. “This is more the real me than I’ve been in years. Does that surprise you? I’ve finally been set free.”
“What does he mean?” Stacia’s voice trembled.
“He doesn’t mean anything,” said Tom. “It’s a trick. It’s the ninjas. Let’s take him!”
“Stop them!” shouted Mr. Gunderson.
Two ninjas swung down from the ceiling, both aiming in the direction of Tom. He pointed his flashlight at them. The beam caused them to smoke where it struck, at first, but even that stopped happening after a moment.
“Isn’t adaptation wonderful?” jeered Mr. Gunderson.
Tom ducked and rolled forward, the ninjas sailing over his head, and as he came up to a crouch, he directed the flashlight at Mr. Gunderson’s eyes. Mr. Gunderson stumbled back, holding his hands up in front of his face.
Meanwhile, Stacia turned to find a group of zombies come lurching out of the den across the entryway of the house. She pumped the squirt gun a few times, sprayed at them, and they reeled back, groaning, but it only slowed them down a little.
“No time to waste!” shouted Tom. “We need to stop him!”
Then Tom did something that made him very afraid. He lunged and tackled Mr. Gunderson, oily sheen and all. Tom managed to keep his feet in the tackle, and so was able to pull the man into the dining room. He let his weight continue to carry them both toward the kitchen, and finally flung Mr. Gunderson into the kitchen. Spinning, he saw the ninjas heading for Stacia, and the zombies were recovering as well.
Tom reached into his backpack and pulled out a small metal cannister, something Mr. Gunderson had warned him very gravely he should never use unless he absolutely had to. At the moment, he didn’t feel like he had other options.
“Cover your eyes, Stacia!” Stacia’s hands went over her eyes, Tom pulled the pin, rolled the cannister onto the ground. He waited breathlessly as it settled just below the ninjas, then squeezed his eyes shut just before it burst. Even through his eyelids he detected the flash, and the sudden deafening pop left nothing but a hollow ringing in his ears.
He opened his eyes to see piles of black dust where the ninjas had been, and the zombies in disarray. Stacia was looking at his, mouthing something, but all he could hear was the ringing. He motioned her over, but her eyes when wide and she pointed.
Tom whirled, fell backward and landed awkwardly with the backpack and its contents falling next to him. He watched a stream of glowing liquid fly over him, striking Mr. Gunderson starting at his head and moving down his body. He shook with laughter, but there was more to it. Tom ripped open the backpack and pulled out the largest thing in it – a massive battery powered floodlamp, fitted with a black lightbulb, which he unleashed on Mr. Gunderson. The combination of glowstick fluid and UV rays caused Mr. Gunderson to light up like a movie special effect.
Tom’s ears must have been recovering, because he heard the roar from Mr. Gunderson, who flailed as he backed away, trying to escape the light. But Tom pressed on, and Stacia continued to spray him. They pressed him into the kitchen, where he tumbled to the floor and shook. At last, he was still.
Hesitantly, Tom flicked off the light and leaned down. “Mr. Gunderson?” he said, after popping his ears.
Mr. Gunderson rolled over, propped himself up on his elbows. “Kids?”
“You’re back!” cried Stacia.
Mr. Gunderson quickly got to his feet. “I hear zombies!”
“In the other room,” said Tom, “disoriented, but they’ll be coming.”
“Then let’s get out of here. Any ninjas?”
“There were, but they’re gone.”
“Thomas took them out with a flashbang.”
“Do you have any more with you?”
Tom shook his head. “I brought just the one,” he said as they rushed to the door. “I didn’t want to be tempted to use them too quickly.”
“Good, good,” said Mr. Gunderson absently.
“Let’s go. Stevie’s going to meet us in the woods.”
As they hit the lawn, Mr. Gunderson shook his head. “Well, you kids sure pulled off quite the rescue.”
“We couldn’t leave you,” said Stacia.
“Besides,” said Tom, “now we know our plan for cleansing the zombies works. In fact, why don’t we go back in and…”
Stacia shook her head. “Not enough in the tank. We need to fill it back up.”
Mr. Gunderson nodded throughout. “Now, wait,” he said. “There’s something I don’t want to leave behind.”
“I don’t think we should go back in,” said Tom.
“No, it’s in your family’s cellar,” said Mr. Gunderson. “Trust me, it will be worth it.”
“What is it?”
“No time to explain, we need to get it and get out fast. But I’d appreciate the backup.”
“Let’s get moving, then,” said Stacia.
Then ran over to Tom and Stevie’s house, and Mr. Gunderson started down the stairs. Tom grabbed Stacia’s arm. “Are you okay?” he asked, peering into her eyes.
“I just wanted to make sure the flashbang didn’t hurt you. How are your ears?”
Stacia smiled. “I’m okay, Thomas.”
“Okay,” he said, and pulled her into a brief hug.
They went down the stairs. “Mr. Gunderson, what are we looking for down here-”
Mr. Gunderson turned and smiled. His eyes were pools of inky black. “Fooled you,” he said.
The cellar doors above slammed shut, and darkness enveloped them.