No sooner had I stepped through the doorway into Mr. Nez’s cavernous zombie hide-out hidden under Olvera Street than I heard a familiar voice.
It was Pearl Gonzalez! She rose from a table in the middle of the room where she had been sitting, ran to me, and gave me a warm hug. I turned and directed a questioning look to Mr. Nez.
“The other night at the Familia meeting you heard about young zombies being identified in Texas and New Mexico. You and Pearl appear to be part of a cluster of mutant births. We’ve identified seven mutant births, all within the last twenty-five years or so. Seven children with the ability to reproduce other zombies and create new zombie bloodlines.”
This was a double whammy for me. Finding out I was part of a so-called “cluster” of zombie births made me feel somehow less special. But discovering that Pearl was also a mutant zombie, capable of initiating a whole bloodline of zombies, was a real shocker. That meant that…
“Yes,” Mr. Nez said, reading my thought. “Pearl is in as much danger as you. That’s why I’ve brought you both here. But this is just a temporary safe house until we secure something more permanent. I must make calls. Pearl, show him around.”
With that Mr. Nez unceremoniously exited through a side door leading down yet more steps to yet another level of rooms. How big was this place anyway?”
“Oh, Lazaro,” Pearl said, “I’m so glad you’re safe. Mr. Nez told me about the attack on your house. What happened?”
I filled Pearl in on the attack on my apartment and how my mom had gone away with La Señora Falcón. A grim look came over Pearl’s face when I told her about “Die Mutant”being written in human blood on the wall.
“The Oñate group,” she said somberly.
“Mr. Nez says they’re afraid each of us,” I continued. “They’re afraid we’ll start a bloodline of zombies that will be at war with them. They want to kill us now, before any of us start having children.”
“It gives me the creeps,” she said with a shiver.
During our conversation I had been walking around room, examining the thick wooden beams that held up a fourteen foot roof. Thick adobe walls encased the room and a strange combination of vintage antique furniture interspersed with high tech computers, cables, monitors and flat screens.
“What is this place , anyway?” I asked.
“Oh Lazaro, this is so cool. Check it out. This room and the others down below here were all built back in the 1700s! This was part of an original house that Mr. Nez built when the City of Los Angeles was first founded.”
“Mr. Nez has been here since then?”
“He first came to Los Angeles with the pobladores that settled the city, back in 1781. He built this house way back in the day, it was above ground then in a sunken ravine. He told me that later, he had the house buried to conceal it. The city grew up around it, over it. He’s been using it as a hideout ever since.”
I walked to the doorway through which Mr. Nez had disappeared. I could see an adobe hallway with several doors on either side. Curiously, modern lighting fixtures illuminated the hallway. Pearl joined me.
“As you can see, he’s also expanded it.”
“I guess you can do a lot of home repairs over four hundred years,” I replied. “Pearl, what’s going to happen to us?”
“I don’t know for sure. But I think it has to do with Mission Poderosa.”
“You mentioned that before. What is it, exactly?”
Pearl motioned me to a chair. “Sit down,” she said. She took a seat across the table from me.
”Here’s how Mr. Nez explained it to me,” she said. “You know that the mutant zombie gene causes a dead person to become resurrected.”
“Like what happened to you and me,” I said.
“And once resurrected, we get to go on living forever.”
“Unless…” I said. I formed my hand into a gun and mimicked shooting myself in the head.
“Right,” she agreed. ”Unless they kill your brain.”
She took a beat. I could see she was trying to find a way to tell me something complex..
“Lazaro,” she said. “You know that Mr. Nez is at least five hundred years old.”
“Right,” I said, “yet he looks only about thirty years old–tops. ”How is that possible?”
“It has to do with that zombie puberty thing I told you about. Once you’re resurrected, you go through a puberty stage–all zombies do. For adults it just takes a few hours. When the puberty phase is over, it’s like your body re-boots. Something kicks in and zombie aging begins. But now your body is on a zombie body clock. And zombies grow old at an incredibly slow rate.”
I suddenly remembered the La Familia meeting I had attended. “Pearl,” I said, “all the zombies I saw at the La Familia meeting the other night looked young–like they were in their twenties.”
“Exactly. Once we reach maturity, you and I are going to look like teenagers for a long, long time!”
“And what does all of this have to do with Mission Poderosa?”
“Lazaro, what do you suppose would happen if you could replicate the mutant gene in normal people?”
“Huh,” I said.
“Think about it.”
I took a long moment to do just that. And then it suddenly hit me. If the secret of the mutant zombie gene could be unraveled, the potential for human kind suddenly became very clear.”
“Human beings might be able to live…forever.” I said, reeling from the thought.
“Exactly. Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Nez pulled together a team of zombie geneticists, microbiologists and other scientists to work on Mission Poderosa. Its goal is to unlock the secret of the zombie gene. To see if it can be harnessed for the benefit of humankind.”
“The elimination of death,” I said with realization.
“But more than that, Lazaro, humans would virtually never age.”
“My God, Pearl. We’re talking about…”
“…The Fountain of Youth.” she said, finishing my thought.
Copyright 2013 by Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.