2 • Jennifer Shaw
A grist of bees. A bevy of deer. A mob of—
What was a mob again? Yaks? Emus. It was emus, Jennifer decided. But what animal made up a gang? Or a boil? Wasn’t there some creature that combined to form a bloat? Bloat was taken, she was pretty sure.
Jennifer remembered the games her father played—this was one of many. She remembered hanging from his strong hands, her sister on the other side, as he swung them through Central Park zoo, calling them monkeys—
“A band!” they would squeal.
“You little Gorillas.”
“You smelly baboons.”
“I’m not smelly,” her sister would add.
Up and down the tree of life they would climb learning useless facts that made their peers roll their eyes and their teachers clap with delight. Their father never taught them state capitals or anything normal. Nothing other people might already know. He filled their heads with reptiles and minerals. Jennifer never saw a garter snake slither through the grass without thinking, there goes Massachusetts.
All these animals that hate to be alone, that go in groups, he tried to teach them that each had its own name.
So what was this?
It couldn’t be a plague, those were locusts. Couldn’t be an intrusion because of the roach. Wasn’t a group of midges called a bite? She thought that was right. Shame, that one. And mosquitoes were a scourge. All the good ones were taken.
Herd. Herd was overdone, as was pack. Too many animals shared those. Too obvious.
And then it came to her.
It came to her as the skull she had become trapped inside lolled down, as the nose that used to be hers twitched at the smell of meat.
An arm lay on the pavement, its owner gone.
Her nose had no appetite for it. She lumbered onward, no longer in control, forced to see whatever the head turned toward.
And now it saw the feet. Her feet. The feet of those around her. The bare feet and the feet in ragged slippers; the work boots and the worn trainers; the feet sliding and dragging; the feet of the people bumping into her, all of them moving in one direction, upwind, toward the smell of living meat.
She was one of them, and she knew what she was, what the group would be called.
And the woman who used to be Jennifer Shaw filed this trivia away. She took it with her as she disappeared into the recesses of her recollections, back to before she joined this trembling mass, this vile and grotesque thing her flesh had become. She skipped into the past, swinging on her father’s arms, beating her sister to calling this one out:
“A shuffle,” she cried. “A shuffle of zombies!”
And the animals of Central Park Zoo paced inside their cages, watching her and her dead family stroll by.
And they were all afraid.