The first thing that struck me as we walked through the wide open doors into the ancient Zombie meeting hall was the smell. An overwhelming scent of death permeated with the more subtle nuance of rotting meat. I immediately recognized the familiar aroma of cow brains and intestines, and of rotting carrion.
The meeting hall itself was enormous, the size of a large gymnasium. Large wooden arches at each corner of the rectangular room, elaborately carved with the Open Palm symbol, drew your eyes to ancient murals that had been painted on the domed ceiling. Antique cadenzas, bureaus and side tables were arranged flush against each wall. Large ancient tapestries also bearing the Open Palm symbol hung from ceiling to floor on each wall. There appeared to be no windows and the room was dark, lit only by heirloom chandeliers that hung throughout the hall.
At the far end of the hall, folding chairs were arranged in rows in an assembly area. Three folding chairs were situated on a raised dias in front of the folding chairs. At our end of the hall, there were perhaps two hundred people milling about, all talking to one another at once. Many people were standing near two large rectangular tables near the center of the room, snacking on the wide variety of finger-foods assembled on platters.
“Come this way, Lazo,” Pearl said. “The hors d’oeuvre here are really good.”
She led me over to the nearest table. It was the first time I had seen so much zombie food in one place. Bowls of deep freshly cut rat tails, canapes of marinated cow eyeballs on slices of cat tongue, trays of pigeon head kabobs, cow brain spread on mini-toasts and lots of raw liver, intestine and kidney slices. And, of course, pitchers of fresh cow, cat and pig blood.
Pearl jumped in and started piling a small canape plate with one each of the items offered. I followed her lead. Before long we were chomping on the most delicious zombie food I had ever eaten!
“Lazo, you probably don’t remember it but one time I caught you eating a cow brain taco. Remember that?”
“Sure,” I replied, “We were eight. I do remember that moment. I was so embarrassed thinking you’d think I was a savage and wouldn’t want to be my friend.”
“On the contrary! The cow brains looked so good all I wanted to do was sit down and eat them with you! But then that might have given me away. You might have guessed…”
“That you were a zombie.” I finished for her. “Did you know all along that I was a zombie?”
“Not at all. Not until you came out to me last week.”
“Life sure is funny, eh?” I said, finishing my plate of hors d’oeuvres.
Just then I heard a voice call my name from behind me.
Who would know me here? I turned and there, walking toward me through the crowd, was Mrs. Gonzalez, the librarian from the Lincoln Heights Library!
“Mrs. Gonzalez?” I asked.
“Yes, Lazaro. It’s me.”
I couldn’t believe what this meant.
“You’re… a zombie?”
“Yes. But like you I had to keep it all secret. Remember me telling you that you were special? I couldn’t tell you anything more then. But here in La Familia, we can be open and be our true zombie selves. Welcome, mijo. Welcome to your new family!”
Then another voice joined out conversation.
“Yes, Lazaro, welcome to your new family.” I turned to see a man standing next to me.
“Remember me?”He asked. There was no mistaking it.
“Mr. Brown. From Boy Scout Troop 22!”
“That’s right, Lazaro. Now you know why I had to tell you that I was kicking you out of the Troop for stealing.”
Suddenly the memory of being kicked out of Troop 22 came rushing back to me. Mr. Brown had accused me of stealing from the Troop treasury and, of course I was innocent. But he wouldn’t believe me. I had been so traumatized that I had cried for days and had never told anyone about it.
“I never stole anything, Mr. Brown.” I said firmly.
“Oh dear Lazaro, I do owe you an apology,” Mr. Brown said, putting his hand on my shoulder and looking me in the eyes.
“You see some of the kids in the troop were beginning to suspect you were different. We in La Familia couldn’t risk you being discovered. So I made up the stealing story so I could get you out of the Troop in a plausible way that the other kids wouldn’t suspect.”
“That’s why I was kicked out, to protect my zombie identity?”
“We had to, Lazaro. I’m truly sorry. We’ve been keeping an eye on you all your life.”
“More than once we’ve saved you from being discovered, ” Mr. Gonzalez said.
“Like that phony doctor’s note your mom dreamed up.” Mr. Brown continued. “That wouldn’t have worked for a minute to keep you out of gym class had it not been for the phone calls one of our doctors made to stress that you had a serious health condition that was not outwardly apparent.”
Wow! I was overwhelmed by these revelations. Mrs. Gonzalez and Mr. Brown both zombie! All my life I thought I had been alone, keeping my zombie identity a secret through my own wits. And now it turns out I had been constantly under the watch and protection of people I didn’t even know.
This was deep.
Just then a voice came over the loudspeaker. “Pleases take your seats. We’re going got begin the meeting.”
“This way, Lazaro,’ Pearl said. “They want us up front for your introduction.” Pearl and I found seats in the front row of folding chairs. As everyone was being seated, Mr. Nez entered from a side door followed by an elderly woman and a man in his thirties. They took seats in the chairs on the dias. When the people in the room spotted Mr. Nez, everyone stopped talking and a silence fell over the room. I was impressed by the respect he commanded.
“First up,” Mr. Nez said, “we’ll have the Watch Report from Mrs. Falcón. Señora, you have the floor.”
The elderly woman who had come in with Mr. Nez rose to address the room.
La Señora Falcón! I had found her at last!
Copyright 2013 Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.