Pain raced through my body as it twisted and contorted from agonising spasms, the bones beneath my flesh experienced an ache I never knew to be possible. It was as if the marrow itself was on fire, and for a moment I wonder if this be the Hell of Old Testament mythology, a fitting final destination given my life’s misdeeds.
I felt a few of the bones that made up my ribcage, snap and crack, sending shocking waves along the nerve endings of my spine. The bones in my injured shoulder started to burn next, like a hot spot, as my scapula shifted into place and my glenohumeral joint mended itself. I couldn’t stifle the wailing screams of agony that escape me, and I hoped to God any flesh eaters around were miles away. The fire and pain coursed through my entire being, till I had become almost numb to it.
The light in the tunnel continued to get advance getting bigger and brighter till it fill fill my blurred vision, but there was a small part of me that wasn’t ready to die, there was a tiny voice that willed me to fight for the gift of life. The brightness slowed to a stop several yards away, and I tried to move to more success this time. I pushed myself to my feet, my joints feeling a bit stiff with ache.
It was then I realized the light was a car, the headlights bright and blazing. It just sat there, the bright light obscuring my view of who might be inside. The door slowly opened and someone stepped out, I stiffened my spine and prepared myself, as the person started to slowly approach. I couldn’t see who it was, other than the slim silhouette of their frame. The person came to a stop a few feet away, and raised, what looked to be a gun.
“Have you been bitten?”
It was a woman, her voice was soft but her tone told me she was on edge, making her as dangerous as what I had minutes ago been trying to outrun.
“Where to begin, when answering a question such as that..” I said dryly, my voice hoarse, like I’d been singin’ at church since Sunday morning.
“You could start with a yes or no.” She replied, and I heard the safety of her gun click, no doubt preparing to shoot.
“Not with me you can’t, it gets a little complicated when you have an immunity.”
I couldn’t see her face to gage any type of reaction, and she never moved to lower the gun, letting the silence linger as she access what I’d just revealed. We stood there about fifteen seconds, as she thought it over, and I couldn’t blame her for the skepticism. Here I was covered in dirt, with twigs and leaves in my dreads, my cloths soiled with dried blood. I looked like I’d crawled my way out of a grave, and had a dinner with friends, at the local orphanage. My eyes were dry, and no doubt bloodshot, from the tears I’d cried. Suddenly, there was a roar from the forest at the top of the hill, it sounded far away, but for how long.
“C’mon, let’s get the fuck outta here..” She said lowering her gun, walking back to her vehicle, and I didn’t have to be told twice.
“Yeah, so that’s the whole story.. for the most part anyways.”
She didn’t even take her eyes from the road, only to check this radar on her dashboard. It seemed not all the satellites went down, during the world’s end, because this thing she had continued to beep the closer we got to the center.
“What is that?” I asked, but she still remained silent, staring at the road.
We drove for about ten minutes before I got fed up with the silence, I looked in the back seat and saw the glint of a combat knife, partially sheathed in the side panel. I had yet to free my hands, and that was sure to work on these cords, so I reached to the back. I was able to grab it, but she went into a panic and I felt the car swerve to a stop, I sat back in my seat and looked her.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” She screamed, pulling out her gun, pointing it in my face.
“I’m cutting these cords off of me, that’s what! To be honest that’s all I fucking need from you, afterward, you can drop me off on the side of the road, and I’ll go find my friends.” She looked at me skeptically, and I tried not to get agitated and worked up with her. “Look, I can tell you’re still doubtful of my story, and that’s alright, you have every right to be.. Here, pull up my sleeve, this was my first bite from back on the farm.”
I placed my restrained arms on the seat rest between us, and she tentatively slid my sleeves up, the scar from the teeth were now nothing but white pigment discolorations. She drew her hand back and looked at it for a moment, before she put the gun away. After sitting there a moment, she started to drive again, eyes on the road.
“It’s a transmitter for my dad’s dog..”
I looked at her, surprised she had decided to finally speak, then down to the radar on the screen. I just watched a second, as we moved closer to the target, before I set to cutting the cords.
“When the infection first hit.. and our house got overrun, he had saved my dad and I, coming in handy when my mother tried to tear the flesh from my face. He’s a smart dog, he was able to keep us safe this whole time, and we cherished him like family, he was my dad’s best friend. A few weeks ago, we thought we had found a good spot..” She paused, looking as if she would cry, but she didn’t give the tears their satisfaction. “But there’s nowhere safe anymore. There’s only safer for the moment, you got to always keep moving.. those were dad’s last words, and I’ll live by them, probably die by them too.”
I finally found my stroke with the knife, and was able to cut myself free, I rubbed my wrists to stimulate some blood flow, tossing the knife into the back seat. I looked at the pale skinned girl, with her short cropped dark hair, giving her a tomboyish look. She was pretty, some would say modelesque, but in my opinion, just pretty.
“I think I’ve found him.. we had a chip implanted in his paw, because he was so prone to wander, it’s accurate within a mile’s distance.” She said pointing at the screen, and I could see we were right on top of the dot.
“But he could be anywhere around here you said..” As I looked out the window, and saw nothing but woods on the side of us.
“Watch when we get around this turn, I’ve been past this area a few times.”
We pulled around the bend, and there was a cut off road that was easy to miss. She turned into it and traveled the dirt path, that came out into an open field. I grasped her arm and smiled at her, my heart growing light in my chest.
“The Betty.. the motherfucking Betty!!” I screamed, nearly jumping out of my seat.
“Who is Betty?” She asked, looking at me funny, but I just couldn’t stop smiling, I was home.
“Holy shit!” She screamed, as she took off running. “It’s my dog!”
The beagle howled, and took off running towards us, meeting the girl halfway. She latched onto him and broke down crying, he licked away her tears, and howled to the sky. The rising sun in the east, was soon to breach the horizon. When Tzar and Patience saw who it was, they bolted in my direction, they crashed into me and knocked us over into the grass. Proceeding to smother me in hugs, that almost suffocated me, but I didn’t protest. We cried a little, and that was alright to me as well, I missed them.
“Caiden and the Wolf guy are out searching for you, they should be back any minute now.” The young girl said, as she dried her face with her sleeve. “And you might want to take a shower, you look like you been rolling in the river, then some mud and the bushes too..”
“You don’t know the half of it sweetie.. I had a run in with our friend Bison and his boys.” I said, breaking the bad news to them right away.
“How they hell did they survive? Seems there are more dangerous monsters in this world, than the undead..” Tzar muttered, as he helped me up from the floor.
“There are.. ” I replied, and a shiver ran through me, he felt it, so he hugged me close.
“Patience, go get Granny, let her know what’s going on..” Tzar told the young girl, who quickly took off running, he turned to me and smiled. “She was worried sick, can you believe it, the ol’ biddie finally warmed up to us.. She’s not quite fond of the Doctor though, and some things were said.”
He laughed, but I could only shake my head, at the old woman’s antics. I couldn’t help but love her, as she was an essential part of my new family, even if she was prone to fits. The dog barked at me and jumped up to lick my face, and I stroked the back of his ear.
“Good boy, you are a lucky charm after all.. Hey, I got a quick question, what did your dad call him?” I asked the girl, as she approached, a smile on her face for the first time since I met her.
“His name is Buster, my dad named him that as a pup.”
“Wow, we’ve actually been calling him that all along, Patience coined the name.. What a coincidence.” I said, as Tzar and I looked at each other funny.
“Well, I’ll introduce myself..” She said, turning to Tzar. “My name is Serafi, I picked up this little bit of road kill, looking for my dog. As Fate would have it, he was with you guys, and Busters always been an excellent judge of character, so I sorta feel safe around you all.”
“I’m Balthazar, Loki’s cousin, you can call me Tzar for short.” He stuck his hand out for her to shake, she took it and gave it a sturdy shake. “Your name is kinda.. umm.. ya know ‘ethnic’ for a white girl, what’s the deal?”
“Rude.” I said, elbowing him in the ribs and shooting him a look, he just shrugged.
“My father was an archeologist, with a fondness for Africa and it’s culture, he was a bit of an eccentric to some people. He had the craziest theories and ideas, but people wrote him off as a nut.. I still loved him thou, through it all. You can call me Sera for short, as it gets tiring to say.” She answered, to show she hadn’t taken offense, and I noticed her real Beauty shined when she graced her face with a smile.
“Hey, are you hungry? I can whip something up really quickly, I was just gonna start breakfast in a little bit.” Tzar asked her, giving her one of his trademark smiles. “It’s no trouble at all, and I promise it’ll be a treat.”
“How can I say no to a smile like that, and you promise a good meal? I’m in.. Let me just pull the car up next to the Betty.”
“I’ll come with you!” Tzar chimed in, and I could tell he was smitten with her, he’d always been prone to girl crushes.
“I’ll just meet you guys in the bus..” I called out, before turning around, and bumping into someone. “Oh, excuse!”
It was Granny, the old woman was solid footed, because I’d almost fallen backward when we bumped. She had a funny look in her eyes, as she stood there a moment, silently looking at me. She suddenly grabbed me into an embrace, tight and tender, that brought moisture to my eyes. She let me go and smoothed her dress out, checking for any stains to her gown, before she looked back up to me.
“You’re filthy.. and you look like you’ve been through Hell.”
“You could say that.” I said, giving her a smile to know I was really okay, and happy to be back with them.
“And you’ve been bitten again.. How fast did it heal this time?” She asked in a hushed tone, giving me a knowing look.
“Granny.. since the bites, I’m not the same anymore, something’s been changing me.. something on the inside.” I couldn’t stop the tears that fell, just when I thought I’d cried myself dry.
She hooked her arm in mine and we started to walk to the Betty, the sun rising in the east, casting a warmth over us.
“None of that matters, you’re still you.. and you came back to us. Whatever happens, we’ll be here for you, because we are all we have left.” She looked up at the sky, taking it all in, so I joined her. “Caiden and that handsome dark buck went to go find you, rushing out of here as soon as we heard you’d been taken. They took that priest, or whatever they call’d him.. Left me here with the Paki, and that annoying Jew.”
“She’s Indian, I believe..”
“Explains the curry smell, I just thought Balthazar was getting a little heavy on the spices.. Jesus..” She exclaimed, crossing her heart, she have me a serious look. “Something’s fishy about her, I just feel it, especially when she and that pest get to whispering.”
“Gran, we just met them less than forty eight hours ago, it’s gonna take some time to get used to them, even longer to trust’m..”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.. I’ll try to be nice, but I don’t want her touching me with those filthy hands, who knows what she’s got carried around on her, you can catch all types of things where she’s from, I hear they shit in the fields.”
I just groaned, and left it at that, happy with the little bit of progress we’ve had with the woman. She was able to retain certain facts and constants, even with her erratic personality shifts, it was best we could hope for. As we climbed aboard the Betty, Serafi and Tzar were pulling up parallel to the Bus. When we were all aboard, the only ones awake this early were Husk, Patience, and Dr. jhedav.
“Serafi this is Husk, Dr. Jhedav, and Granny..”
“Anymore of you bitches show up, I might have some competition..” Granny remarked, as she nonchalantly made her way to the stove, pulling out the kettle to brew some tea.
“Loki, you look absolutely frightening, what happened to you?” Dr. Jhedav asked, looking me over for wounds, beneath my bloodstain clothing.
“Well, after being snatched up by a group of savage rapists, I was bitten again.. it was while making my escape, then I ran into this saving grace looking for her dog. Low and behold, it’s Buster! From what I understand she’s traveled a long way to find him.”
“Risking death and those things out there, just for a filthy dog? Sounds like the asinine antics of a fool..”
“And this charming piece of shit, is Jerry, feel free to ignore him completely.” I told her, tossing a thumb his way, as he stumbled sleepily to the sofa.
“What an eclectic group, it’s a wonder how you all get along” She replied with a hearty laugh, seeing what I had to deal with.
“It’s a wonder.. make yourself at home, and if any of ya need me, I’ll be in the shower.” I said, grabbing some supplies from my closet.
Hot water, the Betty was a treasure for this alone.
Even though the Betty had a water recycling system, we tried to practice restraint with the resource, but I considered this an emergency. Turning the water up as high as it would go, letting the scorching water cascade over my face, I tried washing away the remnants of filth and fluids. I think I cried a little bit, but who knew for sure. I found my hair was a task to clean, but I still managed to keep the shower time down to ten minutes.
Coming out, dressed in one of my fav old Gucci shirts, and some fitted True Religion jeans. I opted for my boots, over tennis shoes, preferring the practicality. My hair was still sopping wet as I sat to the bar, drying it with a towel. The doctor was sitting on the couch, sipping her tea and reading the same old PEOPLE magazine I’d skimmed though before, with a snoozing Jerry, stretched out along the back end of the wraparound.
Patience was sitting on the floor, playing with Buster, while Serafi looked on smiling. Husk was gone, so I figured he must have been checking the perimeter, and keeping a lookout for the rest of the group.
“Here.” Tzar said, as he slid a steaming cup, carefully across the bar to me. “Granny made tea before she went to rest, she hasn’t slept while you were gone.. I’m sure she must be exhausted.”
“Yea, she expressed to me how worried she was.. I love that old bitch!” I said, bringing the cup up to my lips, and blew lightly before taking a sip.
“Me too!” Chimed in Patience from the floor, as she rolled around, roughhousing with the dog.
We laughed, despite the reproachful look from Dr. Jhedav, not appreciating the humor. She quickly looked back down to the gossip magazine, as she sipped her tea, it came off kind of elitist but I tried to ignore it.
“So Patience, how did you know his name was Buster?” Serafi asked the ebony young girl, as she stroked the dog’s belly. “That was a mighty lucky guess you made.”
“That’s what he told me his name was.. Duh!”
I saw the Doctor’s eyes shoot back up and lock right on Patience, she didn’t say anything, but there was something about way her eyes seemed to glaze over. I looked at the other two, and saw concern on their faces, the dog barked, eliciting another laugh from the young girl as they play upon the floor.
“Well ok then, there you go.” Serafi said nervously, looking at us with a shrug.
“Chile.. Welcome to the family, this shit gets stranger and stranger everyday..” Tzar told her, as he took a sip from his cup.