The Brooks family sat at the dinner table. Judith, two years old, was playing enthusiastically with her food and singing quietly as she did so. Zoe, age six, was eating as fast as she could and Frank, eight, was slurping his juice loudly. Jared, 15, was talking to all who would listen about his plans for track season.
Veronica and Charles say at the dinner table, barely eating and completely silent. They were both staring at their plates as if they were observing the behavior of their mashed potatoes and we're more interested in that than anything else that was going on all around them. The conversation between Jared and his parents (they would listen), took a surprising turn towards the lockdown, which had affected Jared's high school as well. This apparently was a topic in which everyone was interested. Even Judith gazed intently at those who took part in the conversation, though she continued singing.
"I heard there was a shooter," said Frank, grinning in delight.
"That's not something you should be happy about, darling," said Mrs. Brooks.
"I'm not happy, Mom," said Frank. "But why does it matter? No one got shot. Did they?"
Frank's eyes widened and he looked between his three older siblings.
"No," said Jared. "No one got hurt in any way. The school prepares for this sort of thing."
Charles sighed and mumbled, "yeah, tell that to Columbine."
No one heard him, which was probably a good thing.
"Did you see the shooter?" asked Frank.
Jared shook his head. "We just went under lockdown because we're close to the middle school. That's where all the action was."
Frank looked at Charles and Veronica expectantly, but they were still staring at their mashed potatoes and didn't notice. Frank repeated his question, directing it straight at Charles and Veronica. They looked up finally and glanced at each other. They seemed to be wondering "what should we say."
At least that's how it seemed to Frank, and he said, "The truth would be nice."
Veronica looked at him uneasily, but it was Charles who spoke.
“There was no shooter,” he said.
“A knifeman then,” Zoe said excitedly. “I read somewhere that Italians use knives. Maybe it was an Italian.”
Mrs. Brooks looked incredulously at her younger children.
“Where did you two get all this from? Your father is just as likely to use a knife as any Italian.”
“Are you saying that Dad attacked the middle school?” asked Jared. “I wasn't aware that Dad was into that sort of thing.”
Mr. Brooks, who had been silent up until that point, roared with laughter. Mrs. Brooks looked angrily at them both.
“Don't you encourage them,” she said.
“You mean you saw the guy?” asked Frank.
Charles looked at Veronica, who shook her head. Charles nodded.
“We think we saw him, but it was just a short glance through a window, so for all we know, it could have been a teacher or someone else looking for the guy. Could have been a student.”
Frank narrowed his gaze. “How do you know it wasn't a gunman then? If it wasn't a good enough glance to be sure if it was even the guy, how do you know he wasn't carrying a gun?”
“Because,” Charles said, “he saw us. If it really was a gunman, wouldn't here have just shoot straight through the window? We couldn't take a longer look because he saw us. The windows aren't bulletproof. Not even close.”
“I guess that makes sense,” said Frank. “If he was the guy. But if he wasn't, then how do you know there was no shooter?”
“I suppose I don't,” he said.
He looked back down at his potatoes and took a small bite. Jared excused himself from the table to finish some homework and Frank showed a roll into his mouth before doing the same. Mrs. Brooks stood up and extracted Judith from her high chair, cleaning up her face quickly, then setting her down on the ground. She ran from the room. Zoe got up too and ran off to play with her baby sister. Mrs. Brooks started to walk out of the room, but Veronica stopped her.
“Mom,” she said, “can we talk to you about something?”
Mrs. Brooks walked back to the table and sat down beside the twins. Mr. Brooks said he had to finish some work and left the room. Veronica wasn't sure what to say, but she felt that they had to tell someone about what had happened during the lockdown. Maybe they would get answers. The prospect was unlikely, but it was possible.
“Mom,” she said slowly. “Do you think zombies exist?”
Mrs. Brooks was startled by the question. She had assumed that her children had something serious they wanted to discuss with her. She thought something might have happened at the lockdown that they didn't want their younger siblings to know. Then what was all this about a zombie?
"Well," she said. "I've never seen one and I have no way of proving they don't exist, but I don't think they're anything more than a myth."
Her mother's mention of the lack of proof was enough to give Veronica hope that she would believe their story. With growing confidence, she continued.
"Would you believe me if I told you that Charles and I had seen one this morning during the lockdown?"
So it was about the lockdown.
"Are you sure it wasn't someone wearing a mask?"
Veronica pictured the cold, Misty eyes and knew they had to have been real. She shuddered.
"The eyes. It was real," she said decisively.
Charles nodded in agreement. Mrs. Brooks was shocked.
"Both of you saw this?" she asked in disbelief. She looked at Charles, her gaze lingering, then at Veronica. Both of them said they had. She stood up.
"You two need to get some sleep. I think school and all the lockdown stuff has work you out."
She hugged them both and kissed their cheeks. They looked at each other glumly as she left the room. They were alone and uncertain. Veronica shrugged and glanced at her mother's retreating figure.
"She didn't believe us," she said.
Mrs. Brooks stepped into her room and closed the door. Hey husband was sitting at his oaken desk staring at the screen of his laptop. He looked up from his work as she entered the room. She said nothing, but dialed a number on her phone. There was no answer to her call.
"I guess I'll have to call tomorrow," she said, putting her phone down and looking back at her husband.
"What is it?" Mr. Brooks inquired.
"Zombies. They think they saw one."
Mr. Brooks gaped at her. "Both of them? Surely-"
Mrs. Brooks cut him off. "That's what they said. Veronica and Charles both saw it."
"Do you think it's true?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I don't know. Can it be a coincidence? If it was just Charles..."
Mr. Brooks nodded. "His mother," he said. "You still have the letter?"
" Of course. I couldn't get rid of it. I knew someday we might have to tell him."
Mr. and Mrs. Brooks sat in silence and did not hear the footsteps outside their door. They were too deep in thought. They did not see the look on Veronica's face because the door was closed. They did not feel the pounding of a heart as she did it taste a sourness in their mouths beyond anything previously known to them. Of all their thoughts, there were none which considered the possibility of a child listening to their conversation.
Now, Veronica thought, frightened, What should I do?