When Monty Risinger returned from abroad with a Reanimate on a leash, his name was on every tongue. News spread fast and three days later people flocked to 2223 N Payton Boulevard to catch a glimpse of the living dead boy in the backyard. He had found the Reanimate in a market in Spain while traveling on business. He and Erica had always talked about getting a pet for their seven-year-old daughter to keep her company during their busy weeks. Kelly was ecstatic. Erica was not.
“Is it entirely safe?” she had asked, not ten minutes after Kelly went outside to play with her new friend. They stood in the kitchen where Erica could keep a stern eye on the activities in the backyard. Kelly and the boy sat at her plastic table under the maple tree with the boy tied firmly to the tree. She laid out her toy tea set and poured imaginary tea into the boy’s cup.
“Yes, he is very docile,” Monty said.
“What if it tries to bite her? Or scratch her?”
“All his teeth have been pulled and the tips of his fingers have been cut off so there are no risks of him breaking skin. Don’t worry, dear. Domesticated Reanimates are very popular in Spain. All across Europe for that matter.”
“Yes, and what is their current population?”
It was true Europe’s population had decreased significantly since the novo virus spread worldwide but Erica’s statement was unfair. Yes, there were many pockets between the civilized regions where the European governments were hard-pressed to contain their feral Reanimates, but that said nothing against Mr. Espino’s business or others like it. Mr. Espino dealt with reanimated children, creatures that would not grow or become stronger.
“What about food?” Erica continued. “Does it even eat?”
“Simple,” Monty said and slapped a packet of ground beef onto the counter. “Of course, he doesn’t need to eat, seeing how he’s not technically alive, but Mr. Espino said if the Reanimates don’t get food they get riled up. As he no longer has teeth, he suggested any ground meat as it doesn’t need to be chewed. He said to feed it to him raw, and that they like red meat most.”
“And the stench? I can still smell its rotting flesh from when you carted it through here.”
“That’s why Mr. Espino gave me this.” Monty retrieved a bottle with a spray nozzle attached via hose. “Scientists all across Europe made this specifically for domesticated Reanimates. It’s chemically designed to mask the stench of their rotted flesh. Mr. Espino said spray deodorant or perfume will work just as well.”
Erica just stared.
“Honey, it will be fine, I promise.”
She remained silent.
“Tell you what. If you need more reassurance, you can call Mr. Espino directly.” He produced a business card from his pocket. “Of course, you’ll need to wait until late tonight but here you go.” He set it next to the beef.
“Are you sure this about Kelly and not about you?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Remember the zoo? When she ‘accidentally’ got into the elephant habitat?”
Monty waved his hand dismissively. “That was different.” And it had been. That was the result of a bet he had made with a coworker. A bet he couldn’t afford to lose. “Besides,” he added, “think of all the media coverage we’re getting.”
By Erica’s expression he knew he had said the wrong thing. To divert her thoughts he turned her closer to the window and wrapped his arms around her. “Look how happy she is,” he said and smiled. Erica’s face was stoic.
Kelly handed an empty plate to the boy. Monty could only guess it contained an imaginary cookie. The boy reached out and grabbed Kelly by the arm and pulled her toward him. Erica broke from Monty’s embrace and rushed out the door. Monty followed.
Kelly hit the boy on the arm and broke free. “No!” she said. “Bad Toby! Bad!”
Erica swooped Kelly up and away from the boy. “Are you okay?” She inspected Kelly’s arm.
“I’m fine, Mom. Toby was just being bad, that’s all.”
“Toby,” Erica repeated slowly. “Great,” she muttered. “She’s already given it a name.” When she made sure Kelly was one hundred percent okay, she returned to the house. She glared at Monty on her way by.
Kelly stared at her mother’s retreating back, then looked up at her father’s face.
Monty cleared his throat and smiled. “Toby is a wonderful name,” he said, then followed Erica inside.
Kelly wanted to bring Toby in for the night.
“Absolutely not,” Erica said. She stood at the counter and chopped vegetables for stew. This time she had her back toward the window. She didn’t want to see the thing…Toby…while preparing dinner. She didn’t like how it stared at them from across the yard. Monty was setting the table.
“But, what if he gets scared?” Kelly asked.
Erica had to repress a manic laugh. “It—he won’t get scared.”
“Or what if it rains? I’ve seen the weatherman on TV and he says a storm is coming in from the west and it could get here any day!”
“Then Toby will just have to stay under the tree.”
“The branches aren’t thick enough. He’ll still get wet.”
“Tell you what,” Monty said as he placed the last bowl. “What if we built him a shelter so he can stay warm and dry?”
Erica stared at him. “Like a dog house.”
“Yes. Bob, you know Bob, his cousin is a contractor. I can give him a call tomorrow.”
“Couldn’t you just build it?”
Monty shrugged. “I’m no good with tools.”
Kelly jumped up and down on the tips of her toes. “Oh! Oh! Oh! Can it look like our house?”
He smiled. “Sure. It can only be one room, though. Enough space for him to walk about if he chooses to.”
Monty tore open the package of ground beef and dumped it into a bowl.
“Can I feed Toby, Daddy?” Kelly asked.
“How about you wash up instead?” Erica said. “Dinner’s almost ready.”
They ate dinner. Erica insisted the curtains stay drawn.
Later, when Monty and Kelly were fast asleep, Erica crept downstairs in the dark and returned to the kitchen. She took the business card from the counter and the phone from its cradle and dialed the number. As the phone rang, she worried she might be calling too soon, or too late. What was the time difference again? Eight hours ahead? Nine?
Someone picked up the line and greeted her in Spanish.
“Hello?” Erica asked. “Is this Mr. Espino?”
The voice, in fluent English, confirmed she was speaking with Mr. Espino.
“My name is Erica Risinger. My husband, Montgomery Risinger, bought a Reanimate from you for our daughter when he was in Spain.”
Ah, yes, Mr. Espino remembered Mr. Risinger well. A very charming man. Very polite. And how did their daughter like her new playmate?
“She loves it—him. She’s named him Toby.”
Mr. Espino thought Toby was a perfect name for him. But, how did Mr. and Mrs. Risinger like Toby?
“Monty is fine with him.”
And Mrs. Risinger?
“Frankly, I’m concerned for my daughter’s safety. Monty explained about the teeth and the nails but how docile is he? He’s already grabbed my daughter’s arm.”
Mr. Espino assured her that all his Reanimates are trained to be passive, yet it is in their nature to attack people. No amount of training has completely eradicated that part of their behavior. But they have nothing to worry about, for his domesticated Reanimates are the most docile.
“I have your guarantee?”
Yes, she had his guarantee.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Espino.”
It was no worry, no worry at all. If Mrs. Risinger had any more concerns, she was free to call at any time.
The line went dead.
Erica peered through the curtains. The street lamp behind their fence cast a yellow light on the yard. Toby was still tied to the maple tree. He wandered back and forth, changing direction every time the leash pulled against his neck. He did seem passive. But she remembered the stories from Europe. Even here in the States. There were hordes of them down south, and in the Western Wastes. They always seemed slow and stupid, but became savage when they saw anything living.
She heard Monty’s calm voice in the back of her head. Those are feral Reanimates. Toby is domesticated.
She didn’t trust Mr. Espino’s guarantee but she knew from experience when Monty got an idea in his head it was useless to argue with him. She would just have to be more vigilant.
Grant, Monty’s friend’s cousin, arrived two days later with the supplies for Toby’s shelter. Along with him came the spectators who came to see the Risingers’ new pet. Under the sound of hammers and nails and the grinding saw, the small crowd whispered. Was the boy really as docile as the Risingers claimed? How did Mr. Risinger get him through customs? Was this entirely legal? Should the authorities be told? When a group of teenagers started throwing sticks and stones at Toby, Monty came out and chased the spectators away but not before beaming before a camera and answering a few questions posed by the local news station. By the end of the first day, Grant had laid out a foundation and started constructing two of the walls.
The storm rolled in that night. Rain crashed against the window. The branches of the maple tree heaved in the wind. Toby stood beneath its trunk, undaunted. Monty and Erica slept soundly in their bed.
A light flicked on in Kelly’s room and shone beneath the crack of the door. The door opened and Kelly snuck downstairs and through the kitchen. A few minutes later, the sound of a low moan could be heard, a slap, and Kelly whispering, “Bad Toby!” She led him through the house and back upstairs.
Her door closed.
The light flicked off.
Monty lurched awake. The glow from the clock on the bedside table said it was a quarter to midnight. Was it the storm that had woken him? No, he usually slept through the most violent of storms. Then he heard it again.
From Kelly’s room.
He leapt from the bed and rushed down the hallway and burst into his daughter’s room.
Kelly sat up in bed, sobbing. She clutched at the base of her neck. Blood streamed through her fingers and soaked into her pajamas. Erica sat next to her and tried to hold her, but Kelly pulled back.
“Mommy killed Toby!” Kelly wailed. “She’s killed him! She’s killed him!”
Monty looked to the floor. Toby lay sprawled, his head bashed in. A bloodied copy of The Complete Oz Adventures lay nearby.
“How did this happen?” Monty asked.
Erica glared at him. “You said she was safe, but then that thing attacked her.”
“His name is Toby!” Kelly yelled.
It looked as if Erica did all she could to refrain from slapping her daughter across the face. “You said she was safe,” she repeated, her voice low.
“But…his teeth,” Monty said. “He has no teeth.”
“Look again.” She fought against Kelly’s protests and carried her from the room.
Monty knelt next to Toby’s body and pried his mouth open. Jutting through the top gum was a broken, jagged tooth.
A quarter past midnight found Monty pacing the kitchen with Mr. Espino’s card in hand and the phone against his ear. Erica sat on the front porch with Kelly and waited for the ambulance.
Mr. Espino answered.
“You bastard,” Monty said. “You lying bastard.”
Mr. Espino asked to whom he was speaking.
“Risinger. Monty Risinger. The monster you sold me attacked my daughter.”
Ah, yes. Mrs. Risinger had called a few days ago with the same complaint. But their daughter is perfectly safe. They needn’t worry. Unless, something else has happened…?
“It still had a tooth. You had said you pulled every damn tooth from its mouth, but it still had a single, broken chip of a tooth and it bit my daughter.”
Ah. Mr. Espino regretted to inform Mr. Risinger there were rare—extremely rare—cases where a tooth, or a nail, or even a piece of bone, is missed in the final inspections leading up to a sale. If Mr. Risinger so desired, he could return the Reanimate and get a full refund.
“My wife killed it.”
In that case, all Mr. Espino could do was offer the Risingers his deepest condolences as the return of merchandise, once damaged, was strictly against company policy. Mr. Espino was unable to refund Mr. Risinger…unless Mr. Risinger wanted to sell him their daughter once her transformation was complete?
Monty hurled the phone against the wall and screamed.
The flashing lights of the ambulance soon pulsed through the front windows and bathed the walls in red.