by Tom Dillon
Sam’s head hurt. The cause of the pain became clear a moment later when the side of his head impacted with hard plastic, probably not for the first or even second time, judging by the pain. He tried to move but found he was strapped in place and it was too bright to make out anything. After some panicked fumbling, his fingers found a button which released one of the straps holding him in place. He was in a car. After a couple more tries he managed to sit up. When his eyes adjusted, he could see Isaiah’s carefully trimmed afro poking out over the driver’s seat head rest and the back of Rosa’s dove-and-flame-thrower tattooed arm resting on the center console.
“You’re up,” Isaiah said from the driver’s seat.
“Yeah,” Sam said. “What is it this time? Ice cream? Movie set?” He looked out the window, trying to guess the time by the sun’s position in the sky. Then he checked his watch. It was 2:13 in the afternoon, which meant that they were at least a couple hundred miles away from home if the pattern held.
“If you weren’t such a deep sleeper you wouldn’t always get conscripted for these things,” Rosa said from the passenger seat. “You know that, right?”
“Aren’t we all supposed to be at work right now?” Sam asked. He knew that he slept a lot, but not that much.
“We are at work,” Rosa said.
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Remember how Brian never came back from that management retreat last week?” Isaiah asked.
“Of course,” Sam said. It wasn’t every day that one managed to escape the micromanaged hell that was the corporate hierarchy and Brian’s absence had been the best week of Sam’s working life.
“Well, someone finally got around to checking his email and it looks like Home Office has been silent since about the time we stopped hearing from him,” Isaiah said.
“Weird,” Sam said. “Did the company go out of business and they just forgot to tell us or something?”
“Not quite,” Rosa said. “Brian’s email wasn’t completely empty. He had received several merchandising directives over the past week.”
“Okay . . .” Sam was beginning to suspect that they were going to some ridiculously distant ice cream shop after all.
“But you know how it is, we set something up and then the next day get directions to undo it all,” Rosa said. “Of course you do. But those countermanding directives never came.”
“That’s strange, but I don’t see how it ends up with me ending up strapped into the back seat of Isaiah’s car.”
“We got to talking at work yesterday, and we decided that someone needed to go to Home Office, check things out,” Rosa said.
“If we’re going to keep on working, we need to make sure that we’re going to get paid, and since Home Office isn’t answering the phone or e-mail, here we are,” Isaiah said.
“That sounds reasonable,” Sam said. “So why are you here, Rosa?”
“Because I think it’s zombies,” Rosa said.
“Of course.” Rosa thought that everything would come down to zombies, in the end. “And how about me?”
“You volunteered,” Isaiah said.
“What? I wasn’t even there!” It was one thing to wake up in a car on the way to go check out a movie set in the desert somewhere, it was something else entirely to find out that it was for work.
“Exactly,” Rosa said. “You shouldn’t have taken that day off.”
Never mind that it had been his regular day off. Sam considered jumping out of the moving vehicle, but a look at the desolate landscape of Eastern Washington cut that line of thinking short. “Do you have anything to eat?”
“Sure,” Rosa said. She tossed him a Guinig. He rolled down the window and held the Guinig in the sunlight for a moment, and pulled it back inside the car when it began to warm in his hands. The smell of roasting meat filled the car. When they had first come on the market, he had found it creepy, but it hadn’t taken long for enzymatic self-cooking to seem second nature. When it was done, he unwrapped it and began to eat. It was delicious, as always. Things were starting to look up.
“Do you have any sauce?” Sam asked.
“All out, sorry bud,” Isaiah said, shrugging.
“Not even Ranch?” Sam asked. It was his least favorite, but . . .
“Nope,” Rosa said.
“Bastards.” Sam kept eating.
Several hours of driving East along the 90 took them through Spokane to Coeur D’Alene. Staring out the window at Eastern Washington during the drive had been like having his soul sucked out through his eyes, and so when they arrived in Northern Idaho with its mountains and lakes and trees, Sam could almost smell the fresh, crisp air over the funky once-citrus car freshener. He tried to roll down the window to see if his nose would confirm what his eyes were telling him, but the handle had gone into one of its intermittent non-functional sabbaticals.
“Dude, we’re almost there. Relax,” Isaiah said. Sam relaxed.
A few minutes later they pulled into the sole open visitors spot in an apartment complex parking lot, in between a motorcycle and a boat that were both under beige vehicle covers. Sam got out and stretched, reaching down to touch his toes and loosening his shoulders. He opened Rosa’s door and shook her by the shoulder until she grogged awake.
“Are we there?” she asked.
“We’re somewhere,” he said.
She got out of the car and stretched, yawning with her eyes shut and hands above her head. The movement made her shirt ride up, showing her flat stomach and the top of her hips. Sam quickly looked away before she opened her eyes. A guy in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt was walking across the parking lot towards them. He was moving fast, purposefully, and for a moment Sam worried, but as he got closer, Sam could see his smile.
The man and Isaiah met in a hug, and kissed each other. Sam didn’t know what to think, he looked over to Rosa who just looked bored.
“Guys, this is Jimmy,” Isaiah said, pivoting so that the two of them were joined at the hip, facing Sam and Rosa. “He’s letting us crash at his place tonight.”
“Cool,” Sam said, then added, “Dibs on the couch.” He had planned on a boring afternoon followed by an uncomfortable evening trying to sleep in the backseat of Isaiah’s Corolla. This was much better.
“What happened to chivalry?” Rosa asked.
“It died when you kidnapped me,” Sam said.
Jimmy gave both Sam and Rosa a welcoming hug, then led them inside. When everyone was done with the shower and toilet, Jimmy and Isaiah took off, saying that they wanted to do some recon of Home Office and that they would be back with pizza.
“I never realized that Isaiah was gay,” Sam said after they had gone and it was just him and Rosa.
“How could you not?”
“I don’t know . . . I just thought that, you know, gay people dressed better,” Sam said, fully aware that he sounded like a complete asshole.
“And you wonder why he never talked to you about it,” Rosa said.
True to their word, Isaiah and Jimmy returned a couple of hours later, with pizza. Paper plates, beer, and napkins were distributed, and for a while no one spoke as they ate.
“So, what’s the plan?” Sam asked after a few slices had been consumed by all and the pace had started to lag.
“I didn’t see anything odd about the building, but it is Sunday, after all,” Isaiah said. Rosa looked disappointed at the distinct lack of zombies. “I’m not saying that we don’t go in armed, but on the off chance that the place isn’t overrun by zombies I’d prefer that I don’t end up in prison.”
“That’s fine, I brought a Leatherman and some other tools,” Rosa said. “Even if we can’t make it back to the car when the zombies come for us, I’m sure that we can fashion something once we’re inside.” Her comments made Sam wonder just what sorts of other things she might have in the back of the Corolla.
“Sounds good, but I’m still a bit fuzzy about the plan,” Sam said.
“What’s there to be fuzzy about?” Rosa asked. “Tomorrow morning, we gear up and the go and check things out. Were you expecting blueprints and synchronized watches or something?”
Embarrassed, Sam kept his mouth shut.
“Then it’s settled. We should all get some rest,” Isaiah said.
Jimmy smiled and it took Sam a moment to figure out what was so funny. If he hadn’t been so tired, the loneliness would have been crushing.
Sam didn’t sleep well, and woke up before dawn. He stepped over Rosa’s sleeping form and headed for the kitchen. After rooting around in Jimmy’s pantry and fridge, he came up with the components for bacon and pancakes, the foundation of all successful meals. The frying bacon worked its magic, and by the time it was done, everyone was at the table, waiting like unnaturally patient hounds. Jimmy made a pot of coffee. They ate in silence, due more to the insanity of what they were about to do than Sam’s skill at cookery.
The office was in the middle of a cluster of glass-sided buildings, indistinguishable from its neighbors except for the Tomorrow Shoppe logo at the top. Sam began to suspect that nothing was wrong, there were cars in the parking lot and the lights were on inside. He was glad that they hadn’t all dressed like Rosa in her motorcycle jacket, but had instead opted for jeans and long shirts or sweaters. They gathered at the back of the car and Rosa distributed everything that would fit in a pocket: multi-tools, folding knives, zip ties, and miniature first aid kits.
“Everyone ready?” Isaiah asked.
“Almost,” Sam said. “What are we going to tell the front desk?”
“Can’t we just bypass it?” Rosa asked. “We do kind of work here, after all.”
“That might work for one person, but not four,” Sam said.
“Besides, we kind of stick out,” Jimmy said. Everyone looked at him. “Have you seen any minorities since you arrived here? Coeur D’Alene is something like 96% white, an African-American guy and Mexican girl–”
“El Salvadorian, actually,” Rosa interrupted.
“Sorry, but my point stands.” Jimmy shrugged. “Around here, anyone not white stands out. Maybe we could say that we’re looking for work or something.”
“I don’t think that would work with four of us,” Sam said. “Is there a college around here?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said.
“Then maybe we could say that we’re business students and we’re collecting data for a class,” Sam said.
“That sounds plausible,” Jimmy said.
“I don’t really like it, but I don’t have a better idea,” Rosa said.
“Then it’s settled,” Isaiah said.
They started across the parking lot and Sam pulled out his phone. If things went badly and they ended up in jail or something, he at least wanted someone to know where they were. He sent a mass-text to all of his coworkers back in Seattle, trying not to think about its effect on his next cell phone bill: ‘Going in to Home Office to investigate. Will keep you updated.’
Inside the building, there was a large desk, with a woman sitting behind it. She looked up, interested, when they came in. They explained, somewhat awkwardly, that they were there to do research for a project for business class. Somehow it worked, because she let them past without actually finding someone to escort them through the building. One of the elevators appeared to be permanently stalled at the top floor, but eventually the other one came down to them.
“Sixth floor,” Rosa said after playing with the elevator’s buttons.
“What?” Isaiah asked.
“That’s as far as our luck will take us,” she said. “Floors seven through eleven all require a key card, I think.”
“Then sixth floor it is,” Sam said, relieved. Everything had seemed normal and if that was the case, he didn’t want to explain what they were doing there to some upper management type.
The elevator glided upwards, making it to the fifth floor before stopping. A man in a button down shirt stepped in. He didn’t seem to notice them, but just turned to face the door. When he turned around, they all noticed a lump the size of a small burrito on the back of his neck. He stood stiffly upright, with his arms dangling limp at his sides. Wide eyed with near-hysteria, Jimmy was pointing with one hand while making small, jittery waves with the other to draw their attention to what he was seeing. The door slid shut and Sam felt pressed into the floor as it accelerated briefly upwards. With a ding, the elevator came to a stop and its doors opened.
It looked like a war zone.
Cubicle walls had been torn down and desks were overturned. A haze of smoke hung in the air. It was oddly quiet. The man in front of them stepped out of the elevator, giving no indication of alarm at the wreckage and still paying them no attention, and took an immediate right. The four of them were speechless. Then Rosa gave them a huge grin, apparently this counted for evidence in favor of her zombie hypothesis, and poked her head out of the elevator door in order to see where the man had gone. She pulled back inside and let the elevator door close.
“It’s amazing!” she said. “There must be forty or fifty people massed by the stairwell, trying to batter down the door.”
Before anyone got a chance to reply, the elevator began to descend. They waited in silence, as though holding their breath would afford them some sort of protection. It didn’t. The elevator stopped at the third floor and opened. Waiting outside were a group of men and women in office clothes, all with the glassy stare that had started to become disturbingly familiar. They filed into the elevator, again paying Sam and his friends no attention. One of them pressed the 6 button. When they turned around, they all had the lumps on the back of their necks.
“What are those things on your necks?” Isaiah asked as the elevator began to ascend. Sam, Rosa, and Jimmy all stared at him the moment he opened his mouth.
The office workers didn’t say anything, but turned in unison and lunged towards Sam and his friends.
“Zombies!” Rosa yelled.
Sam didn’t have time to think about it as hands seized him by the arm and shoulder. In the cramped confines of the elevator he couldn’t move enough to break free, but the office workers didn’t seem to be intent on biting him, just holding him. By the time the elevator had reached the sixth floor, all four of them were being held, and everyone but Rosa had ceased to struggle.
Their captors led them out into the ruins of the cubicle farm. Sam’s eyes went immediately to the stairwell entrance where Rosa said the workers had been queued up. The door was broken in, hanging askew from one of its hinges. He was surveying the rest of the floor when one of the men holding Rosa stumbled and fell into him. Isaiah and Jimmy had begun to struggle, as well. Sam was held by a woman who had his right arm pinned against his side and a forearm around his neck. She was stronger than she looked, and he couldn’t break her grip. But she was shorter than him, and he pressed backwards with all of his strength. She took a step backwards, but her foot caught on something and she went down under him. There was a crunching sound like stepping on a large beetle, and her grip relaxed. He rolled off and stood up. She lay still, her eyes open but unseeing.
“Some help over here?” Isaiah asked. He and Jimmy were struggling to hold down the three that had been holding them, two men and a woman.
“Say it and I’ll help,” Rosa said. Her two were already on the floor, one unconscious and both bound with computer cables.
“Really?” Isaiah asked, grunting. “You’re going to pull that shit now?”
“Help a brother out?” Isaiah asked. Jimmy almost lost his grip on the man he was holding down when he burst out laughing.
“Sure thing,” she said. Soon all of the office workers were bound. None of them said a word, even as their wrists were tied.
“What the hell is going on here?” Jimmy asked. “Were you guys expecting this?”
“I thought it was zombies, but that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Rosa said.
Jimmy turned to Isaiah. “She was serious about that? I thought she was joking. Why didn’t you say something?”
“I thought you were on the same page. Sorry,” Isaiah said.
“So what are we dealing with here?” Sam asked. “When I knocked this one over, the thing on her neck was crushed and she died instantly.”
Isaiah crouched down and turned the body over to look at whatever was attached to its neck. He poked at it and pulled on it. It came off easily, with hundreds of what looked like thin white hairs dangling from its underside.
“Can I see that?” Sam asked. Isaiah handed it over; it was still warm. When he looked closely, he could see the faded but still recognizable markings. “Holy shit. This is a Guinig.”
“It can’t be,” Rosa said.
“It is, look at the labels,” Sam said. He handed it over to her and her eyes widened when she saw what he saw: GUINIG MEAT SNACK.
“But how can a Guinig control a person?” She asked. Isaiah held out his hand and she passed it back to him so that both he and Jimmy could take a closer look.
“This thing has a face,” Jimmy said.
A few minutes later they had identified a face, as well nubs that appeared to be a vestigial tail and legs.
“So what do we do with this information?” Sam asked.
“They wanted something upstairs, we should see what it was,” Isaiah said.
“Agreed,” Sam said and the others echoed his sentiment. He took a moment to tap out a status update for Seattle: ‘going upstairs don’t eat the guinigs’.
In the stairwell, the Guinig-people had met resistance, they had to step over dead bodies with sores on the backs of their necks and Guinigs that had been removed or smashed. The bodies had no bruises or cuts, they were just dead, laying there like they had been switched off. The doors along the way were all locked, but Sam hardly noticed, fixated as he was on how many Guinigs he had eaten over the years.
Finally, they made it to the eleventh floor. As it had been on the sixth floor, the door was broken down. Beyond that, there was no sign of struggle except for a rhythmic thumping coming from across the building. Rosa was the first one through.
“Come on!” She hissed back at them. “We need to stop them before they kill whoever they have holed up.” She started to move down one of the corridors, towards the thumping sound.
“Wait,” Isaiah said. Rosa didn’t slow down at his request, so he changed tack. “What are we going to do when we get there?” Where his command had failed, his question stopped Rosa.
“Isaiah’s right, we should find something to use as a weapon or something,” Sam said.
There was a laminated map on the wall next to the elevator, it had been designed to fit in aesthetically with the art that surrounded it, but in Sam’s opinion could have been replaced by a sticky note that read: IN CASE OF FIRE, LEAVE BUILDING FROM GROUND FLOOR, DO NOT LEAVE BY WINDOW, DO NOT TAKE ELEVATOR. It showed a floor plan that looked like a tree, with branching corridors near the elevator and a central corridor leading to a single large office, which was where the thumping noises were coming from. They split up and searched the places that seemed likeliest, meeting back at the elevators.
Sam always viewed workplaces as being replete with potential danger, which would imply weapons or things that could be weaponized, but the Tomorrow Shoppe home office felt as threatening as Malibu Barbie’s beach house. He searched through a large meeting room and several small offices but didn’t find anything promising. There was a utility knife in one of the administrative assistants’ desks, but it had a spring-loaded retracting blade. He took it anyway. There wasn’t find anything longer than a foot that wasn’t made of flimsy plastic tubing or permanently attached to something too large or heavy to carry. In the end, he met his friends back at the elevators armed with the utility knife, a packing tape dispenser, and a stapler. Jimmy had raided the kitchen and had loaded a mail cart with soup cans and kitchen knives, Rosa hadn’t found anything of use, and Isaiah swaggered in with a gleaming red fire extinguisher. The larger knives were handed out and Sam pocketed his utility knife.
“Nice,” Rosa said. “Hold on a moment.” She consulted the fire escape map, and jogged back down the hallway that she had just come from. A moment later she came back holding her own fire extinguisher, letting the canister dangle from her left hand while holding the nozzle end of the hose in her right. She had probably removed the safety pin before taking the thing off the wall.
While everyone was gathering their improvised weapons, Sam pulled out his phone to send another text message: ‘ran into some trouble - call for help if you don’t hear from us in 30 min’. “OK, we’re good,” he said.
The four of them followed the thumping sounds down the trunk hallway towards the CEO’s huge office. In the waiting area they found about thirty Guinig-people attempting to break down a set of wooden doors that looked like they might give in at any moment. Whoever was inside was alive only by virtue of the solid tropical hardwood slabs that the doors had been fashioned from. Sam made a mental note that if he ever was rich enough that people wanted to kill him, his wealth would be well spent on endangered trees. Of course, cutting down those endangered trees might well spark the very violence that he would need them to protect him from. Probably easier just to never get rich.
“How’s this going to work?” Isaiah asked, but by that time the first can of soup was already in the air, flying towards the pack of Guinig-people. It struck one of them in the back of the neck with an audible crunch, and the Guinig-person crumpled to the ground.
As one the pack turned to them, disconcertingly silent. The pack advanced on them, splitting and flowing around the chairs in the waiting area.
“Guys, I hate to tell you this, but I think that we’re fucked,” Rosa said.
Sam could see that she was right. The Guinig-people didn’t seem to be as fast or coordinated as his group, but even so it was only a matter of time before they were surrounded and overrun. The four of them had backed up, into the wide corridor when the elevator dinged behind them. Sam looked over his shoulder to see five more Guinig-people coming towards them, having just emerged from the stairwell.
“We need to contain them, or we won’t last another two seconds,” Isaiah said.
“Sounds great,” Jimmy said. “How?”
“No idea,” Isaiah said.
“The meeting room,” Sam said, then continued when the others looked at him quizzically. “It has two doors, if we can get them to follow us in one door, we might be able to get out the other and blockade them in.”
“That sounds like a terrible idea,” Rose said. “Lead the way.”
“Come on,” Sam said, and led them down one of the hallways that branched off of the main corridor.
“I thought the meeting room was on the other side,” Isaiah said.
“It is, but we need enough time to maneuver,” Sam said. “This won’t work if they’re right on our heels.” He checked over his shoulder and already the Guinig-people were there, running to catch up. Sam broke into a run, and his friends followed suit, Jimmy abandoning his soup-laden mail cart in the middle of the hallway.
The hallway led them past the kitchen, then past a cluster of assistants’ offices, taking a sharp left turn when it reached the doorways to offices that bore titles like Vice President and Director. The hallway took another sharp left turn and headed back towards the elevators. A pair of Guinig-people were waiting for them. Sam looked to Rosa, but she was barely keeping up, running with a lopsided gait due to the fire extinguisher. It would be up to him and Jimmy to get past them. Jimmy was apparently having the same thought, because he looked at Sam and nodded. Sam sprinted ahead, hoping to shoulder check the Guinig-people out of the way.
He didn’t even notice that Jimmy hadn’t followed his lead until he ran bodily into them, alone. He knocked them aside like bowling pins, but they remained upright. Jimmy barreled into one, and Rosa took the other one out with a blow from her fire extinguisher. Somehow, all four of them kept running without losing too much momentum, and were across the elevator lobby and almost to the other corner before the pursuing Guinig-people came around the corner. Two lefts and they were at the meeting room, where they all stopped, panting.
“Quick,” Sam said, trying to keep his pointing finger steady as he bent over to catch his breath. “Jimmy, close that door but don’t lock it. Isaiah, can you make sure they know we’re in here?”
“Sure,” Isaiah said. He poked his head around the doorframe and then pulled it right back in. “They see us.”
“Damn they’re fast,” Rosa said. “Why couldn’t it have been zombies?”
When the Guinig-people entered the room, Isaiah and Rosa were waiting for them, standing on top of the conference table. They four of them had maneuvered the massive table so that it was up against the wall, in between the two doors, forcing the Guinig-people along a longer route. When it looked like most of them were in the meeting room, Rosa and Isaiah sprayed them with their fire extinguishers.
Sam had expected there to be some confusion and a white cloud, but instead the first Guinig-people in the line of fire reeled back in pain, their exposed skin immediately turning red and blistering. Then the ones behind them began to do the same thing, and the confusion quickly turned into a riot in microcosm. By the time the extinguishers were exhausted, about a quarter of the Guinig-people were down, probably for good, and a significant portion of the remainder were clutching at their throats or eyes or both. Isaiah and Rosa began to use the empty extinguishers as bludgeoning instruments, smashing at heads and hands. Jimmy and Sam joined in, and a few minutes later, the Guinig-people were all down.
Outside the conference room, with the doors secured, they stood in silence as they tried to get the chemical taste of the extinguishers out of their mouths. Isaiah and Rosa were spattered with blood and they all came through unharmed, for the most part. Sam couldn’t help but feel that if he were in a movie, the soundtrack would be something celebratory and they would all be hugging one another. But Sam didn’t feel anything of the sort, and neither did his friends, by the look of it.
“I know they were trying to hurt us,” Rosa said. “But I just can’t help but think that those were people not too long ago, and now . . .”
Sam put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “We did what we had too,” he said, but he still felt sick inside. He hoped that his words had more of an effect on her.
“We need to go and get whoever’s in the office,” Isaiah said.
Before the conference room, Sam might have made some crack about whether the executives were worth saving, but that part of him had died a little in there, and he just nodded.
At the set of double doors that led to the CEO’s office, they knocked, but there was no response. After battering at it for a bit and realizing that they hadn’t even dented the dense hardwood, they gave up, pulled over four rolling office chairs, and sat down.
“Are we even sure that there’s anyone in there?” Sam asked.
“Who knows, but the Guinigs want something in there. We should get it first,” Rosa said.
Sam didn’t agree with her reasoning, but he supported her anyway. They had come too far to just turn around and leave.
“You know, I think those doors are there for looks, not security,” Jimmy said.
“It doesn’t matter why they decided to use indestructible wood for the doors, we aren’t getting through,” Isaiah said.
“He’s right,” Rosa said.
“My point is that they didn’t design that office to be impervious, the doors just happen to be tough,” Jimmy said.
“I assume you’re going somewhere with this,” Isaiah said, in a tone that implied the opposite.
“The walls probably aren’t reinforced. It’s probably just drywall with studs. We can just cut a hole and climb through,” Jimmy said.
“That’s brilliant!” Isaiah said, and hugged him.
Shortly after that, they had used the kitchen knives to cut a rectangular hole next to the door. It was less than fifteen inches wide, bounded on both sides by metal studs, but it was large enough. They couldn’t see anybody inside.
“I take back what I said earlier about your idea,” Isaiah said. “It really wasn’t that good.” He was getting ready to step through the hole in the wall and hope that nobody was waiting for him inside.
“I told you that you need to eat more,” Jimmy said. “If you had more meat on your bones, someone else would have to go.”
“Yeah, not happening,” Isaiah said, then stepped through the hole, wiggling to get past the rough drywall that caught on his clothes. A tense moment later, the doors swung out towards them.
There wasn’t anyone waiting for them inside the office, but there was a dictionary open on the desk and the computer was running. They dug through paperwork on the desk and found nothing. It was as though the CEO had simply walked out and not come back. Sam was beginning to think that they weren’t going to find anything when Rosa shouted.
“Guys! Check this out,” she said. She was bent over the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, holding all of the files to the very front.
Inside, nine Guinigs were huddled in the back corner, next to a Blackberry. Fur had begun to grow, covering the logos on their glossy skin, and what the advertisements had labeled as “flavor nubs” had developed into functional limbs. They looked familiar. Very familiar. Recognition dawned on Sam and he felt bile rising into his throat.
“Wait a minute,” Sam said. “Have I been eating Guinea Pigs?”
“You’re kind of slow, Sam, aren’t you?” Rosa asked.
“You knew, and you still ate them?” Sam replied.
She shrugged. “Millions of Peruvians can’t be wrong.”
“So what’s going on here? Guinea pigs are taking over human bodies?” Jimmy asked.
“That’s what it looks like,” Isaiah said. “Only one thing for it.” He lifted the empty fire extinguisher can, getting ready to crush the guinea pigs in the drawer. Sensing that something was up, they began to scurry around, agitated.
But before Isaiah could bring the extinguisher down on them, Jimmy grabbed his arm. “Please, don’t,” he pleaded.
Sam’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He ignored it.
“One minute you’re killing people in a conference room and the next you’re not willing to let your boyfriend crush a group of homicidal furballs?” Rosa asked. “Are they just too cute to die or something?”
Sam’s phone buzzed again. He fished it out and read the text.
“It just . . . doesn’t seem right,” Jimmy said.
“Wait,” Sam said. “You should read this.” He handed his phone to Isaiah, who read the message and passed it on. As each of them read the message in turn, they looked down at the guinea pigs, who had gone still and were looking back at them.
The message read: ‘Forward this to Sam: Spare us, we are not responsible for what happened.’
“Am I hallucinating or did those little rodents send you a text message?” Rosa asked.
Sam found the original sender and replied ‘Why should we believe you?’
A moment later, the blackberry in the drawer vibrated, indicating a new text message.
Jimmy walked over to one of the chairs on the other side of the desk and sat down with a thump and everyone else followed suit. The guinea pigs climbed out of the drawer and onto the desk, where they began to send texts directly to Sam, their tiny paws the perfect size for the Blackberry’s tiny keyboard.
Guinigs, it turned out, were genetically modified guinea pigs that were kept from fully developing into adults. They were designed to be raised in a factory until they were of an appropriate size, and to remain unconscious indefinitely. Their brains had been designed to be unnaturally large, as they were the one of the best tasting parts. Exposure to UV light would trigger a metabolic overdrive state, literally cooking them from the inside until their internal organs were completely consumed by the process and their tasty flesh had plumped to the point where it split their thin, logo-birthmarked skin.
“So what happened?” Rosa asked. “Why didn’t you end up as lunch?”
The CEO had left a package of Guinigs in his office by mistake when he went on vacation. By the time he got back, a month later, their ancestors had woken up and reproduced. Much of the company was already highly autonomous, and they had found it easy to run through text message and email.
Sam looked at them, the tiny keyboard on the smartphone was exactly their scale. “I always knew that those things weren’t designed for humans.”
Before anyone had a chance to respond to Sam’s joke, Isaiah cut in. “And the Guinigs attached to the back of people’s necks?” he asked.
There had been two factions of guinea pigs, one group that wanted equal rights and one that wanted revenge. One of the things that had been engineered into them was the ability to hook up directly to machinery that would provide food and remove waste, they found that a similar arrangement could be made with humans. Unfortunately, once a mature guinea pig had entered symbiosis with a human, the process could not be reversed without killing both the human and the guinea pig.
Texts weren’t the most efficient way of transmitting the volume of information that they were exchanging, and it had grown dark. Jimmy ordered a pizza for them, with a salad for the guinea pigs. Twenty minutes later they had washed up in the executive bathroom and armed themselves with golf clubs from the CEO’s office and headed downstairs. Everyone on the lower floors had already left and they didn’t see any of the revenge-minded Guinigs on the way down. Back in the office, they dug into the food.
“Anyone have an idea on what is to be done?” Sam asked. “Who’s going to run the company?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’ve been pretty happy with the guinea pigs in charge. I like only having to do things once,” Rosa said.
“I’ll second that,” Isaiah said.
“How do you feel about it?” Sam asked the guinea pigs.
The reply was almost instantaneous. ‘We like running Tomorrow Shoppe. But we need a person. To facilitate things.’
“I can stay in town and do that,” Isaiah said, looking over at Jimmy.
“You have a place to stay, you know that,” Jimmy said.
“Uh, we still need a ride back to Tacoma,” Rosa said.
“Take my car,” Isaiah said. “We’ll figure out the details later.”
Sam’s head hurt and his eyes felt glued together when he woke up.
“You’re probably dehydrated,” Rosa said from the driver’s seat. She handed him a water.
“Thanks,” Sam said, taking a sip of the water as the undifferentiated landscape of Eastern Washington passed by. “You know, it’s a lot nicer waking up knowing where I’m going.”
“One of these days, that whole ‘I sleep through anything’ thing is going to get you in trouble, you know,” she said.
Once he had stopped laughing, he said, “You were pretty badass back there. I’m not sure what I would have done without you there.”
She looked over at him and smiled. “You weren’t so bad yourself.”
“So what are we going to do?” Sam asked. When Rosa looked at him in confusion, he added, “About the Gunigs. The ones not at home office.
Rosa’s face scrunched up as she turned the question over in her mind. After a minute, she answered, “I think that’s too big of a question to answer in a car in the middle of a desert.”
“Yeah, it is. Want me to drive for a while?” he asked.
“Nah, I like driving,” she said.