By Curtis C. Chen
"But it could be a weapon, Dad!"
"I said leave it alone."
The boy, Jimmy, kept staring at the object on the ground. He pointed to one vertex of the roughly triangular shape. "Doesn't that end look like a parasol omitter?"
His father, Dylan, smiled at the mispronunciation. "Particle emitter," he corrected. "Could be."
Laurie called down from the top of the hill. "They're coming!"
Dylan waved to his daughter, then put down his backpack. He tossed a pair of blue nitrile gloves to Jimmy.
"Put those on first," Dylan said. "And be careful."
"Okay!" Jimmy said.
Dylan checked his GPS unit and marked their current location on the map. He unfolded the paper and looked at his previous markings.
"They're headed toward the mountain," he muttered to himself. "What's at the mountain?"
The triangular object turned out to be some kind of neural disruptor. Zombies were tough to kill, but even they couldn't survive without a central nervous system.
It was Laurie who figured out how to trigger the device. Jimmy shouted with delight when she accidentally killed a squirrel. Then Laurie started crying, and Dylan shushed them both.
The disruptor seemed to take a long time to recharge, which could be fatal if an entire horde was attacking. Dylan wondered if that was what had happened to the aliens who dropped it.
He led the way through the foothills to the base of the mountain. Jennifer was the one who had loved hiking, and Dylan had gone along because he loved being with her and the kids. Even when he was sweaty and sore and sunburned, it had been worth it, to see his family happy.
It was cooler now, overcast almost every day, though rarely rainy. Dylan wondered if the aliens had something to do with that, too.
He heard a noise ahead of them. "Stop!" he hissed. The children froze.
An alien burst out of the underbrush. The wide, flat head turned to look directly at them. Three glistening black eyes narrowed, and the creature keened before swiveling away and making tracks in the opposite direction.
"Wait!" Dylan called out.
Another shape emerged from the trees, stumbling forward, barely recognizable as human until it turned its head and fixed its hollow gaze on the family.
"Mom?" Laurie said, her voice cracking.
The thing that had once been Dylan's wife opened its mouth. Dylan aimed the disruptor, closed his eyes, and squeezed the trigger. He heard the sound of something heavy hitting the ground.
Laurie screamed. Dylan opened his eyes, dropped the disruptor, and closed his fists around both his children's shirts, holding them in place. Jimmy was screaming too.
"It was going to call out," Dylan said, mostly to himself. "It would have brought the horde down on us. It's not her anymore. It's not Jennifer. It's not her."
Blood trickled from the corpse's mouth and pooled on the dirt. Laurie threw her arms around her father and sobbed into his chest. Jimmy stomped his oversized boots on the alien triangle, breaking it open. Dylan didn't stop him.