Casey had never heard anything ooze before, let alone the skull of a former human, but she did just then. She lowered the metal baseball bat in her hands and sighed heavily.

"You have to get used to it, at least to a point."

"Be quiet, Derek," She replied, eyes wide. "This is such a serious, unpleasant situation, and---"

In his loose rugby shirt and floppy hair, Derek gave that small smile---the one that spread across one part of his mouth more than the other. One hand reached up to scratch the back of his head, the other lowered his Beretta M93R, because the little clump of zombies was now crumpled on the pavement before them. Five undead people-eaters at once was a big deal for Casey McDonald, former college junior turned reluctant, complaining survivalist.

"Why aren't you helping our parents pack to leave town?"

Derek kept that little smile going. "My dad told me to watch out for you while you're rescuing puppies or whatever it is you came out here to do," he savored the glare Casey shot at him. "Even before this big human meltdown started, this was a part of town you'd never be in. Why the hell aren't you worrying about your blankets and matching desk lamp and s**t?"

Casey rolled her eyes and started walking again, eyeing the trees on both sides of the road.

"Most of the packing was finished by the time you decided to take off, Case; quit being so paranoid."

"We've lost people, we're fighting an awful disease…there are zombies…." Casey spat, refusing to look in Derek's direction. "Anywhere I'd like to go to be productive and get away from all of this is closed! I'm going to worry!"

"Your mom is probably worrying about you right now."

"We'll be home in time…but…" Casey's head snapped in Derek's direction. "Did your dad make sure that we have enough gas in the van?"

Derek rolled his eyes. "Yes. OF course, look, my father's a terrible cook, but not a fool, and you know it. Don't start a check list of things you don't think he's taken care of. After most of it was over, Edwin helped Dad power the mini-fridge with fruit and some sports drinks, so that we can keep some s**t cold on the drive…you know Liz has been on top of things… your mom has researched what towns still have open colleges…Marti made sure we're bringing the strawberry jam and her cat-ears headband..." Casey bit her lip and watched the ground as she walked. Derek briefly linked his pinkie finger with hers. "Chill out, stepsister."

"Shut up. Are you going to restart college with me?"

Gravel crunched beneath their sneakers.

"No." answered the former recipient of a hockey scholarship.

"She's really bringing the headband?"

Derek's face grew into a full grin at the thought of Marti. "Of course she is."

The blonde border officer with rosebud lips and a clipboard checked off the second-to-last question on her list. Derek's eyes slid up her body, though it was covered by a one-piece gray work suit. She looked to be his age, and he considered the likelihood of her having a sweet figure beneath the shapeless uniform. A hand smacked his arm. Derek turned to smirk at Liz, who was wagging a finger at him over the top of her copy of The Leadership Moment.

"What's in your trunk?" the officer inquired, her eyes scanning the family's faces for deception or nervousness.

"Duffels with clothes," Derek spoke up. "Also a makeshift bedpan for when we might need to----"

A hand smacked the back of his head, and he just knew it wasn't Liz's this time. The blonde outside the van pressed the clipboard against her chest, covering her "Cindy" name patch, and capped her pen.

"Go ahead, folks." She replied, her lips tightening.

As the van drove past the check point, George sighed. "I love this family."

It made Derek give that little smile again.

Casey was frozen in the nearly empty hallway, her flats scrubbed clean of mud and the speckles of zombie detritus, Conestoga College paperwork in her hand, as she stared at the man in the folding chair a few feet away. He had the exit door propped partway open and had a shotgun, a can of pineapple juice, and a novel beside the chair. He blinked back at Casey in disbelief.

"P-Paul, what are you…?"

The man stood and smiled politely, extending a hand for her to shake. "Casey, I'm genuinely relieved to see that you're all right."

She shook his hand. "Do you work here now?"

"Yes," her former high school guidance counselor replied. "It's an attitude where the-group-protects-the-group, and if I play a part in that, the president of the school will find me a job more suited to my skills."

"Do you know a lot about dealing with the living dead?" Casey asked, feeling her stomach tighten at the thought.

Paul seemed to be flashing back in that moment. He blinked. "I know a few effective things. What weapons do you use?"

"A baseball bat, my car keys…"

"Oh, keys for stabbing?"

"Yes. My sister Lizzie suggested that some of us learn to use guns, and my stepdad followed through on it. My mom learned, too. It's so strange."

Seeing her facial expression, Paul took a step back. "There's a garbage can right over there. Please don't puke on me."

"I carry a Swiss Army knife in my Van Zeeland bag now. It…life is so… Is a cement trowel-wielding Kyra Schon around the next corner? When is Simon Baker going to show up in that pea coat and save me?"

Paul rubbed his forehead. "Talk Derek into attending this school with you, so he could be a bodyguard of sorts; I'm sure you could pay him with Zebra Cakes."

Casey's eyes somehow grew wider. Her mouth fell open and hand clenched. "Paul. Paul, you are the best guidance counselor ever. Good luck with the reanimated crazies."

He sighed heavily and sat down. A monotone gurgling sounded in the distance.

Casey clapped her palm over her mouth. "I think I need that garbage can."

no matter how trendy the zombie sub-genre is.