LEFT BEHIND FOR DEAD - Zombie Outbreak (2 page)

The Interstate was rocky going. There hadn't been a road crew on it since the infection spread. Concrete was cracked and in places it was worn into potholes. The fence went along each side. Ahead of us we saw a few stragglers, Walkers like us, who had been let through. I hoped the fence didn't last all the way to Houston. We had to skirt Houston.

“We get to the edge of the city, we'll head north and take the northern route to the Rockies.”

“I used to have kin here,” she said in a small voice.

“Here? In Houston?”

We both knew if her people hadn't left, they were food for the dead.

I saw a stray tear fall down her cheek and looked away. I was hungry and we weren't going to be able to stop to eat on this highway. Others would see us and probably ask to share with us. We couldn't do that. I'd stopped sharing a long time ago when I discovered those who came up begging would just as well knock you out and steal your stuff as look at you.

I pulled the gallon of water out and stopping in my tracks, took a long drink. I offered it to Maddy. She had wiped her face and left a streak of dirt along one cheek. She looked younger than ever now. She took the water and drank deeply, sighing afterward. It was March so the heat wasn't bad, but walking is thirsty work.

The fence ended and as soon as it did, I angled across the highway for high weeds. Maddy followed. We beat our way through a dry ditch and up the incline to a slight hill. I could see the way ahead was safe.

We paused to look at the city. Houston had been a great, international city of beautiful buildings and intricate freeways. Now from the distance it looked like a smoldering pile of debris in a wrecking yard. The sky above the city hung with the smoky smog like a small nuclear disaster might have happened to the city.

We came to a convenience store and saw it was closed, but the front plate glass window as busted. I said, “Wait here.”

Inside the store was shadowy and spooky as hell. My gaze flit around nervously, looking for any movement. Most of the stuff had been ransacked, but I saw a child's toy airplane in a package hanging from a wire rack. I grabbed it. I hunted through the aisles and found a small box of colored birthday candles. It said they were the stay-lit kind where if you blow them out, they relight. I smiled, liking that.

In the bread and cookie aisle the shelves were empty. I went down onto my knees and, head to floor, I looked beneath the long counter. In the dusty dark there I spied a package and using my machete I pulled it toward me. It was a white package of Ding Dongs. Chocolate. She'd like that. It was all the birthday cake I was going to find.

I put the cakes, the candles, and the toy in my bag and climbed outside again.

“What'd you find?” she asked.

“Nothing. The place was cleaned out.”

I hoped my lie would work. I wanted to surprise her.

When it got dark, we found a copse of reedy trees with new leaves and camped beneath them. We talked about ourselves. I told her about growing up in North Carolina and how the infection spread directly into my family, turning them all, even my little sister. How I couldn't kill them. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I had to run instead.

She told me about leaving Atlanta with her dad and how the farther they walked, the more depressed her father grew until the day he just vanished.

We found ourselves feeling like shit. I opened a can of pears and we shared them, and then shared the juice. My stomach rolled, still hungry.

When it was time to spread out the sleeping bags we kept a space between us, but after lying down, staring up at the starry heaven, I heard Maddy say, “Can you hold me?”

We made love and I was as gentle as I could be given my overpowering lust. Maddy was such a pretty girl and she wanted me, that was quite evident. Once we'd kissed and touched and come together, nothing could hold me back. Maddy matched my energy, meeting me in my thrusts, our bodies slapping together rhythmically, scaring the crickets to silence in the night.

At least sex hadn't changed. Everything else in the world, it seemed, had become something else, but sex...it was the one thing left to bring us all together.


*  *  *


              We found a highway crossing Texas going west and took it. We kept along the berm and off the road, always on alert to any movement in the high grasses.

At dark fall we veered off the highway, having met no more than three other Walkers during the day. We found a clearing and a mesquite tree rattling in the wind. Long green bean pods hung from the thorny limbs, clicking against one another. We sat beneath it and I told Maddy, “I have something for you, turn around.”

She squirmed on her butt, turning her back to me. “Is it a surprise?” she asked, hopeful.

“It sure is. Just a little surprise for your birthday.”

I wanted to make it all right, make it real for her. We had no house or table, no refrigerator or bed, but we had a cupcake and candles and I meant to make it as special as I could.

I tore the package apart and spreading out the plastic paper, I arranged the two cupcakes on it. I got out candles and stuck them willynilly into both cupcakes. I found the little airplane, a green plastic toy with propellers you could swirl with a twist of your fingers. I set it next to the cakes. Then using a Bic lighter, I lit the candles and said, “You can turn around now.”

The candlelight lit up the cupcakes and the plastic toy and it looked pitiful, I knew it did, it was a travesty of a birthday party, but it was something, it was all I had to offer.

I watched her face and my heart melted seeing the smile. “Ohhh...” she breathed.

“Blow out your candles, birthday girl, and make a wish.”

I knew what she'd wish for, that was no secret. Just like me she would wish for a return to a normal world, to government agencies that worked, to police departments and firemen, to school teachers, and convenience stores and gas stations and walks on the beach and birthdays indoors, a family around a table with a real birthday cake...

She closed her eyes and blew out the candles, but when she looked they popped back into flame. That's when she laughed and that's when I knew this girl really meant something to me beyond a travel companion and a bed mate. Her laugh was so pure it changed the dark night into a magical place where laughter was heard again and the world might go on some way.

She blew at the candles over and over, laughing the whole time, and I joined her, laughing, happy to see someone happy for a change.

When the candles finally gave out and didn't light again, she plucked them one by one from the cake, licking the candle bottoms of icing. She handed one to me and we ate like children. Like children at a birthday party.

She loved the airplane. She twirled the propeller and made engine sounds, dipping the toy through the air beneath the thorny tree, and I fell in love with her. Fell so hard it was like hitting the bottom of a deep well, splat!

When we made love that night, I held her tight to me afterward. In her hand she kept hold of the toy airplane as if it were a talisman.


*  *  *


              Maddy gave the airplane to Zed. We found him wandering down the highway, his sneakers blown out and flapping, his head hanging, his breath coming in gasps from dehydration.

“Why are you traveling alone?” I asked, while he drank from our water supply. We sat on the edge of the road, the morning bright and moving toward a clear noon. We were still in Texas and I guess we would be for days more. It was like crossing a continent.

The boy wasn't even a teen yet. I judged him to be eleven or twelve.

“My folks got et,” he said when he finished drinking. “Three days ago. We got caught at night and they tried to...they fought...but...”

I put a hand on the boy's shoulder. “You can come with us.”

It looked like I was gathering my own family. I missed Sherill and Kevin and Marcus, I'd always miss them, but my life was turning into something else now and that was all right too.

The three of us continued forward. I told Zed we were going to the mountains, the big mountains, and we hoped to hide out there until the infection died out. He was welcome to come with us.

“I guess so,” he said.

Maddy gave him the little airplane and I looked over his head at her, winking. He took it and behind the grime on his face I saw the shadow of a smile. That's all we needed really, a little hope, whether it was a small inappropriate birthday gift or a life-saving swallow of water.

We came to a town and had to barter for more food. A farmer was in town with a wagon of onions and cauliflower and broccoli. We gave him an extra knife Maddy carried and got a bagful of the vegetables. We went by a burned out dump and found a metal pot we cleaned out in a little stream that ran beside the road. We sat beneath a mighty oak, feeling the cooling breeze, as we waited for the chopped vegetables to cook together in a thick stew. It wasn't meat, but it would make us strong nevertheless. Even Zed didn't complain and ate his fill.

That night we sleep three in a row with Maddy and me holding hands and Zed lying next to my other side.

Before dawn we were fighting for our lives. They had come creeping to the stream, thinking to catch us unawares. I slept lightly and had ever since I'd embraced the Walking life. Any sound, rustle, creak, crack and I came wide awake. Luckily I did this night too. I saw them, hunched over on their hands and knees, coming across the ground like hedgehogs.

I got Maddy and Zed awake. Zed ran toward the road to wait and Maddy got out her sledge hammer to stand with me. I slashed and she knocked them into tomorrow, smashing their heads like ripe watermelons. It was a bloody fight, but it didn't last long. There were only five of them. The sun rose too bright, showing the guts and brains on the ground, the sprawled rank corpses of those who should have stayed dead and never stood up to walk again. I turned away, disgusted.

We washed ourselves in the stream, took up the pot, washed it too, and Maddy put it into her backpack. We met with Zed on the road and began our day's journey.

“They almost got us,” he said in a shaky voice. “That's how they got my mom and pop. That's how they et them.”

I let the boy talk and even Maddy kept her silence. We knew you had to get out all the bad stuff inside if you expected to go on every day. All the bad stuff had to get out in the open.

When he finished and stood weeping, his shoulders shaking uncontrollably, we stopped in the road and between us, Maddy and I hugged the boy, a circle of love and of understanding.

We were making a promise without words. Unlike my childhood friends, Maddy and I wouldn't give up on one another while we still had breath to breathe. We had made our unspoken pact. We'd keep Zed safe if it killed us. We'd never walk away from one another, no matter what happened.

We were a family and one day we'd make it to Colorado. That's exactly what we'd do, come hell or come high water or come the zombie horde. We'd make it...




Thanks for reading. Look for Part 2 of the Zombie Outbreak coming soon to Kindle. Follow the trek this threesome makes to the mountains and see what they find when they get there.


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