The last moment of civilized rest any of us zombies got for a while was the Mother’s Day picnic in Joshua Tree. That’s the picnic I didn’t attend because the Oñate zombies had killed my mother two weeks before. I had spent that day walking about the Joshua Tree desert, accompanied only by Vida, my vegetarian zombie dog. I had come to some conclusions about life that would impact everything I did after that.
The next Monday morning we began an intense training program designed to prepare us for the raid on the Oñate compound. Our drill Sargent, painmaker, mentor and confidante, of course, was Filomino Brancos. “If you’re lucky,” the 200-year-old muscled zombie with sharp Indio features yelled at us that morning, “you’ll learn enough to stay alive during the raid!”
We fell into a regular daily regimen. Wake up call was at 5AM, followed by a perfunctory breakfast at 6AM. At 6:30 we were required to line up in two rows in front of the training camp barracks. First up was physical training, exercise and tasks geared to making our bodies strong and capable. This usually involved a six mile run though the desert, followed by a series of jumping jacks, push-ups, sits ups, crunches and some grueling exercises no doubt invented during the Spanish Inquisition.
In the afternoon, exhausted, we were treated to the history of the hundred-year-old Onate/La Familia war and the implications for us today. There was lots on the Oñate attack techniques and fighting styles and how to combat them. It was all intense and demanding.
Three times a week we had arms training. We were introduced to a specially designed piston driven gun that shot out three-inch sharpened darts capable of penetrating an inch of heavy duty metal. The gun was unbelievably silent. The first time I shot it I thought I had made a mistake and not pressed the trigger until I saw the dart protruding from the stand-up Oñate dummy I had shot at.
“This is something new that I came up with,” Filomino explained to us. “It’s dependable and quiet. I don’t think the Oñates have anything like it.”
After the first week I noticed that some of my fellow zombie recruits were missing. I had been so intent on my own training that I didn’t realize that for many of the young recruits, the ordeal that Filomino was putting us through was just too demanding. Each day I noticed one or two fewer recruits present at morning call.
By the end of the third week we were down to fourteen recruits from the original two dozen plus.
One morning Filomino showed at the morning line-up with Mr. Nez at his side.
“Listen up!” Filomino yelled. “You may have noticed that some of your sissy friends have been asked to depart our training camp. We need only the very best for the assault we are planning. Those of you still here have proven you have what it takes. But you may be wondering how only fourteen of you, fifteen counting myself, can make a successful raid on the Oñate compound.”
He sure had voiced what many of us were thinking.
“Well, it won’t be easy. But I’d rather have fourteen trained, committed and capable fighters than three dozen overweight ‘fraidy cat sissies. And we have one more thing in our favor.”
Filomino pulled a metallic helmet from a sack he carried. He held it up for all of us to see. The helmet had a smooth cranial dome that covered one’s ears and came down to the back of the neck. The front of the helmet had a visor that lowered from the top to cover one’s face. Set on the forehead of the helmet were two camera eyes.”
“This is another baby I invented,” Filomino said. “This helmet is made of light weight titanium with a special kevlar lining inside. It’s designed to fend off brain targeted darts, bombs or bullets from the Onate zombies. Each helmet will be tailored to your individual cranial specifications. A snug fit is essential.”
He pointed to the cameras on the helmet forehead. “These two cameras are night vision equipped. The screen is located here,” he said pointing to the visor face, “inside the visor, right in front of your eyes. There’s a built in microphone that will allow you to communicate with the others in the assault group.”
The helmet looked pretty comical.
Pearl, as usual, was standing next to me, Vida at my feet. I tried not to look at Pearl. I knew she must be thinking the same thing. The helmet looked like one of those corny space helmets from some early science fiction movie.
“Space cadet Pearl Gonzalez reporting for duty sir,” she whispered to me.
“Hope you’re wearing you wowie-zowie, super-duper anti-Oñate helmet,” I whispered back.
Of course that did it. We both started to giggle. Pretty soon it caught on with the others in line who had overheard us. Within a moment we were all struggling to keep our composure and not break out in laughter.
All of this was not lost to Filomino.
“You zombies think this is funny? Give me twenty-five push-ups, right now.!”
That quieted it us down. After we had finished with the push-ups, Mr. Nez addressed us.
“As of today you will each be assigned to a specific team of the assault group,” he said. “Jaime Mendoza, Sally Irola and Gus Dominguez step forward.” As the three zombies stepped forward from the line. Mr. Nez spoke directly to them.
“You will comprise the Strategy and Planning team for the assault. Your job is to design, with Filomino’s guidance, a master plan. Your mission is to get us into and out of the clandestine Oñate compound at Big Bear with maximum Oñate casualties and minimal casualties for our side. As you know, our goal for the attack is to free what we think are perhaps dozens of young zombies enslaved and being brain-washed into doing the bidding of Don Oñate himself. Mendoza, you’ll head up the team.”
Next Mr. Nez called out Pearl, Rudy Cortez, Carlos Ramirez, Jenny Mendez, Raul Torres, Betty Hernández, Sal Duron and Winston Begay. They all stepped forward in line.
“You eight will comprise the Attack team. Pearl, you’ll lead the attack and will be responsible for securing the compound, sequestering the zombie youth, and handing them over to the third group of the attack group, that’s the Rescue and Escape team.”
When Pearl stepped back into line next to me, we shared a look. I had always presumed Pearl an I would be fighting side by side. Now it looked like she would have her hands full leading the charge. And what about me?
“Lazaro De La Tierra, Beto Holquin and Ronnie Mendez step forward,” Mr. Nez said. “You’ll make up the Rescue and Escape team. Your job will be to make sure we all get out of the attack alive and you’ll be in charge of whoever we managed to rescue from the Onate compound. I’ll be working with you on this. We’ve never had enemy zombies as prisoners before, and especially young brain-washed zombies. It’ll be a challenge for us all.”
When we had stepped back in line, Mr. Nez walked along the line, staring each of in the eyes as he spoke.
“Tomorrow you’ll begin your serious training for the attack. You may think the helmet Filomino designed is funny looking but this attack on the Oñate compound is deadly serious. The Oñates are expert at targeting us. They can hit us in the head at any time and they know how to do it. Some of you may not come back from this raid. That’s all.”
As the meeting broke up, many of the zombie recruits went over to examine the helmet Filomino was still holding. I turned to Pearl. Without a word, we embraced. I knew she was thinking what I was thinking. Would both of us be coming back alive?
Copyright 2013 Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.