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"Okay," Lisa's mom asked. "Is everyone all bundled up?"
Lisa rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, but Robbie nodded so enthusiastically that his too big hat dropped over his face. Aunt Margot promptly straightened her nephew up. "I think we’re ready," she said.
"Then let’s go."
Lisa knew it was never as simple as just 'going'. First, she had to get the snow sled out of the shed because who would have thought to get any of this ready before right now? Then they had to strap everything down. Then Robbie had to use the bathroom again and she had to wait and get all hot in her winter clothes while her mom and aunt wrestled him out of his stupid snowsuit and back into it. Then the dog had to go outside and be put back inside. Forty five minutes after the fact, they were finally on their way.
Except when her mom had to run inside and get the camera.
They didn't live in town, so they could do this just by going into the woods behind the house. Lisa's shoes got wet and cold immediately, but she was never going to wear her boots because they were ugly.
Robbie was excited about the whole thing, but then, her brother still believed in things like Santa. He'd been so excited he couldn’t eat his breakfast. Lisa couldn't remember the last time she couldn't eat her breakfast, which was probably why Jennifer had called her chunky in gym the other day.
She hoped Jennifer's mom got eaten by zombies someday.
"Now what are we looking for?" Aunt Margot asked Robbie as they crunched through the snow.
"The perfect one!" Since this was Robbie’s first, he got to pick.
Since this was Robbie's first, Lisa thought, it was going to take all day. She blew her hair out of her face. "There's no such thing as 'the perfect one'. And I don't know why we can't just go into town like the rest of the world and buy one."
"Because that's not in the spirit of the season," her mom said shortly.
Lisa closed her eyes. If she heard about the 'spirit of the season' one more time, she was going to kill someone.
They tramped through the silent woods while Lisa's feet got colder and her nose got redder. The first one was too tall. The second was not tall enough. Each one that Robbie came across had something wrong with it. After almost an hour of walking through the woods, Lisa was getting fed up and cold and tired.
Then in the midst of a clearing, they found it. Overcome by delight, Robbie ran straight for it, yelling, "This is it! This is it!"
"Robbie!" her mother and aunt yelled at the same time. But their hands were full and their legs were slow. Lisa leapt, tackled him, and took him down feet away from the perfect zombie.
She looked up at its frosted face. It had once been a man and it'd been crawling towards civilization; its frozen legs were missing below the knee. That made its head just the right height for the axe swings of a child at his first culling.
Lisa grabbed her brother by the back of his snowsuit and hauled him up, shaking him like a cat shakes a mouse. "Just because it's in the snow doesn’t mean it's frozen solid, you idiot. You wanna end up like dad?"
"Lisa," her mother warned.
Well, maybe if they talked about Dad and his mistake, Robbie wouldn't go running towards a zombie like an idiot, she thought, also noticing that no one had thanked her for taking her brother down. "Look, Robbie. The first rule of winter culling is - don't assume it's dead unless you killed it yourself."
"And not even then! 'It's just as nice to axe it twice!'" he added cheerfully.
"Well, at least you learned something in kindergarten," Lisa muttered as their mom handed him his first very own axe. It was an early Christmas present; every kid got one when they were old enough to handle it without killing themselves or injuring others.
Of course, most parents just took the family to the town square where, years ago, someone had enterprisingly brought in zombie torsos for kids to use in their first culling. It was clean, easy, and not too expensive at all. She'd also have gotten to go to the mall.
Mom and Aunt Margot were traditionalists though.
Aunt Margot held up the camera and Mom watched him like a very nervous hawk. “Don’t raise your axe so high, honey. Remember–-“
"Control. I know. Let me do it by myself," he ordered.
The three women obediently kept their mouths shut while he brought his axe down on the zombie's head. It took four or five more frustrated swings before Robbie made visible progress, but it didn't take half as long to break into its skull as Lisa thought it would. Mom had sharpened the axe really well.
When frozen bits of blood and brain covered the ground, he stopped, stepped back, and watched - just like he'd been taught. Then he swung his axe once more for the coup de grace, turned around and grinned. "I did it!"
"Yes, you did," her mom said proudly. "I think there's hot chocolate waiting for you at home, too."
Robbie handed his axe back to Mom, who put it on the sled. He was too young to carry a weapon all the time and he wouldn't even be alive for the culling if he hadn't learned to follow the 'always stay with an armed adult' rule.
Lisa, her mom, and Aunt Margot destroyed the not-perfect zombies on the way back home. Weekends for the rest of winter would be full of culling parties - right until the first spring thaw and then it would be back to the business of walking softly and carefully at all times. Lisa doubted she'd be invited to any of the cool ones, but she didn't care. She hated high school.
She hoped it would be overrun by zombies someday. Again.