“I just don’t think it’s the best idea, ok?” I told them, not backing down.
“I’m with Loki, how can we trust them after all this? I say we keep on our way, and forget they’re even there..” Tzar chimed in, giving his two cents, sensing the same danger as I.
“Guys bear with them.. they barely made it out of NYC before it was annihilated, so they have plenty right to be skeptical of government.” Caiden said, informing the rest of the group present about our narrow escape of the decimated city.
“Look guys, Fort Wayne is one of three locations still showing an active status, and it’s the only military base of operations, between here and our destination.. It would be foolish of us not to even check it out and resupply if possible.” Bloodhound replied, trying convince us, but still something made me feel uneasy about the place.
“How about this..” The Wolf cut in, his voice, a deep and timber tone that commanded attention without even raising his voice. “We’ll stop in the next small town to attempt a resupply, and if we find enough to hold us over, we’ll keep going.. If not, then we have to stop, no debating it.”
He looked me in the eye, knowing I’d take the most convincing, out of the six of us. I just didn’t feel right about it, so I looked to Tzar, Caiden, and Serafi. They all seemed to find the Wolf’s solution to be fair, so I had to relent, and agree as well because it was. I couldn’t help it if i was sketchy of the government, those bastards were slick as a Whacky World water slide. Hell, if Hunter and I had stayed in the loft, we’d have died then and there, nothing but ash and dust.
Since we were all in agreement, the group disbanded, everyone splitting off to get some rest and relaxation before we’d scour the next town. We had driven through most of the night, before Bloodhound finally found a spot secure enough to his liking, so we could make camp. I had decided to stay up for a little bit longer, even though the Saint was on duty for watch. The crescent moon above gave little light, but the skies were clear in the sky, letting the scant luminance of its glow through unobstructed. I walked over to where I’d parked Sera’s Mustang, and leaned up against the trunk, I pulled out the cherry red glass bowl and the last bag I had on me.
I ran my fingers over it gently, just looking at it for a moment, transfixed in the memories of better times. What I wouldn’t give to hear that voice again, or to feel his touch upon my skin. I had intended to smoke, but I just found myself rolling the glass around in my hand again, for who knows how long. I suddenly saw movement in the trees, across the field from our position. I put the glass in the inside pocket of my leather jacket, then immediately pulled out the D.E., quickly checking the chamber. I looked up to where the Saint was perched on top of the Betty, and could see he had heard it too. He was looking through the scope of his rifle, then he shook his head to signal, that a visual was a negative.
I began to approach, with the pistol leading the way, and tried to make out what was there hiding in the darkness. I could see a shadow, darting back and forth through the trees, it barely made a sound, and I wondered why the Merc couldn’t see. I knew it was there thou, It was as if I could feel it, and it sorta pulled me into focus. When I saw his face, I could have screamed, but my hand clasped over my mouth. He was there and gone so quick, like a flash of lightning, so fast I thought maybe my mind was playing tricks. Two hands fell on my shoulders, causing me to jump and nearly piss myself, I turned around to find the Wolf to be the culprit.
“What is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.. are you ok?” He asked, as he rubbed my shoulders, and looked into the trees behind me. “Saint said you guys heard something, did you get a visual?.”
“Um.. Naw, I didn’t see anything.” I looked back to where I thought I saw Hunter, nothing was there, just movement from the wind. “It was just the wind playing tricks on us.”
“Yeah.. C’mon, let’s go.” I replied, and started to walk back to the camp, he hesitated a moment, but soon came with me.
As soon as the dawn had arrived, we were on the road, so we’d have the light to our advantage while we scavenged the town. It was so small, you could see from one side to the other, standing on Main st.
The streets were void of cars and debris, no sign of mayhem and infection, it looked like nothing had even happened here. It just looked like everyone packed up and left, leaving with only what they could carry. Looking around, it appeared as if everyone just disappeared, not a soul seemed to be left, alive, nor lost to the infection.
We split into four groups of three, assigning one trio to stay on the bus. That group would consist of Husk, Granny, and Patience. The young girl pleaded to accompany us, but I wasn’t having it, I left her Buster to keep her satisfied. Tzar, Serafi, and I would take the three shops left of Main. Caiden, Dr. Jhedav, and the Wolf would take the shops to the right. Bloodhound and the Saint were stuck with Jerry, by pulling the short straws during sorting, They’d check the police station and the Mayor’s office.
On our side was a pet store, a bakery, and a liquor store. Serafi begged us to hit the pet store first, and we agreed, not wanting to split up. It stank inside, from dead fish and I think a puppy, whose carcass was sitting the window. After checking every room, and finding no sign of anyone, we scoured the aisles for anything useful. While Tzar and Serafi were fawning over outfits and accessories for Buster, I went in search of more practical things. Near the back I chanced upon a stash of canned dog food, I had Tzar help me load all of it into a shopping cart, and he looked at me funny before doing what I had asked. I wasn’t trying to be funny, but if things got bad, we’d be thankful for a last resort if the food ran out.
Next stop was the bakery, and we found it to be empty as well. It looked like whomever was here, stopped in the middle of whatever they were doing and left. There were cookies on the counter, that hadn’t yet gone stale, and we gobbled them down like greedy fat little kids. Tzar looked around like he was in heaven, snatching everything left whether we could use it or not, taking all we could fit into a cart. Sera had found some gourmet chocolates and decided to save them for Patience and Granny, I smiled at her, happy she had decided to join us even if it was just for a little while.
When we finally got to the liquor store, we had two cartloads of supplies, and I didn’t think we could fit anything else, but my two companions insisted. After breaking into the rear door, we made our way through the back hallway, and were about to enter the storefront but I heard something. It was coming from below, but there were only three doors around. One to the office, one to the storefront, and the other to a closet with some coats.
“I know you guys heard that..” I said, looking at their confused faces.
“Um, I really didn’t hear anything.. It might just be rats or something.” Tzar said, and Serafi agreed, as they went to the front of the store.
I could hear them gushing over the bounty of alcohol, they had their pick of, but I hung back in the hallway, wondering why I kept feeling on edge. That’s when I heard it again, it was unmistakable to me, there was something or someone here. Sera had checked the closet, but I gave it a look myself, just to double check. I split the garments down the middle and out the way, but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I noticed the owner kept several changes of clothes, he even had his hunting gear in there. I sifted through the wardrobe and pushed everything to one side, and felt a small breeze, coming from the back left corner. Upon closer inspection, I could hear sounds come from behind the false back wall. So I ran my fingers up the sides and found a latch, and the door opened to reveal stairs to the seller.
I pulled out Hunter’s pistol, and the small search light I had, then followed the stairs to the bottom. It was dark and dank, the smell of decay and mold was strong, I could see a light coming from the door at the end of the hallway so I carefully made my way over. When I got to the entryway, I could hear crying, and the all too familiar moans that accompanied the risen dead. There was blood everywhere, to the point you could smell it, and the man was crouching on the floor, cradling himself as he sobbed. Restrained in the chair, under a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, was an infected woman who was fighting savagely at her ties. When she saw me she went into a frenzy, her moans and growls stifled behind duct tape, her eyes spoke volumes about her hunger lust. She looked fresh, like she’d only recently turned, it had to have been within the last week.
“Are you hurt? What is this?” I asked the sobbing man on the floor, who hadn’t even registered my presence yet.
“Just leave us.. Please, just leave us.” He replied, through his sobs, sounding like he was a broken shell of a man.
“Where did all the blood come from? What the fuck have you been feeding her?!” I yelled, demanding answers, and the woman thrashed in her seat at the alarm in my voice.
I raised my gun towards him, as I could make out flesh and bone fragments, within the pools of blood on the floor around them. I was about to pull the trigger, but stopped, when I saw where the primary source of the blood came from. The man was missing a forearm on his left side, from his radius on down. The cut was sloppy, and it looked as if he bled out for awhile, I saw he had enough sense to burn the end of the wound to stop the bleeding.
“What happened? When did she turn?”
“Last week, I think, who’s keeping time anymore..” He replied, sitting up, looking at the woman in the chair with intense eyes. “We were all fine, until the soldiers came.. our town had been prepared for something like this for along time, we knew the end was coming and we were ready. We barely saw any of the infected, our area so remote, we were far from all of it. But then they came in with tanks and assault rifles, promising refuge and safety.. something was telling it wasn’t what we needed, I told everyone we could look out for ourselves, we didn’t need any soldiers to save us, we were already safe! We had the numbers and the self sustainability!”
“Were they taken forcefully?”
“No, the bastards chose to go! They wanted to let the big bad armed forces take care of them. All of them afraid of doing the hard work for themselves! Only a few of us stayed behind.. and I promised her.. I said we’d be safer here.” He broke down into another fit of sobs, and I couldn’t stop the flow of tears, that trailed down my own face.
I knew this heartbreak, it made you do crazy things, things you’d never thought yourself able to do. My heart hurt for this man, and I felt nothing but sympathy for him. I knew what that look in his eye meant, and what he longed to do, it was something I would long for the rest of my life.
“Do you have any people left.. ones that love you?” He asked me, looking in my eyes for the first time, I nodded in silent affirmation. “Hold them close, and open your heart, let in the love while you can.. It won’t last long in a world like this.”
“You can come with us, join our group..”
“You know I can’t do that..” He replied, a small smile graced his lips, and his eyes glazed over. “I’m not as strong as you.. I can see you’ve lost someone to this, and you did what I could not. I couldn’t set her free, I’m too selfish for that, this way apart of her is here with me.”
“This isn’t her.. what she was, that person is long gone.”
“If you had to do it over, would you you do it again? Would you let your Love go?” He asked angrily, and I stood there truly unable to answer him. “You don’t need to say anything.. I can see it all over you. You’re empty inside, and the guilt is slowly consuming you, I bet you couldn’t even tell me why you want to live anymore..”
I stood there as he read me like a scripture, thou more fact less fiction, in the text. I knew that if I had the choice, I’d probably be where this man was. It was sick, twisted, and savage but dammit, it was love.
“I’m going to latch the door behind me, and block it off..” I said to him, looking to the fair skinned woman in the chair, writhing and bucking in the chair.
“I’d like that.. It will be just us.” He smiled at me, with blissful eyes.
I went to the door, and took one more look back. He was kneeling, with his head in her lap, and she just sat there, still. He lifted his head up, and looked her in the eyes, tears in his own. For a moment it was as if she was there, somewhere in there, and it made her see him. I turned at that moment, making my way swiftly down the hallway. By the time I got to the stairs, I could hear him cry out as her teeth tore away at his face. I didn’t stick around to hear anymore, I ran up the stairs, latching the door behind me. I ran out to the store front and grabbed a metal chair, then returned to the closet, Tzar and Sera looked at me like I’d gone insane. I wedged the chair in the closet, ensuring the door had no way to open from the inside.
“What is it?.. What was down there?” Serafi asked me, worry on her face.
“Bitch, have you been crying?” Tzar chimed in, with his own perceptive inquiry.
“Let’s just take what we need and go..” I replied, pulling my dreads back with a hair tie, as I had just felt so suffocated.
They looked at me with cautious eyes, as we gathered everything, into the two carts. The two lushes had gathered quite the bounty of toxins, I couldn’t even think to where we’d store it all. The Betty was huge, but we were severely limited on space, I doubt most of it will last with these two around each other thou. As we unlocked the front door, I saw a picture hanging on the wall, in a simple wooden frame.
It was of a happier time, on a sunny day at the beach, and nary a cloud was in the sky. A woman was wrapped in the arms of the man that loved her, the bliss on their faces was radiant, as the sun cast down on them. I smiled, as joy they must have felt in that captured moment, was infectious. I continued on out the door, locking the slam lock behind me, and wished the two lovers an eternal bliss together.
“So did you guys run into anything?” Tzar asked Bloodhound, as his group boarded the Betty, behind us.
“The police station was empty, no bodies, no trace of any struggle. The armory was cleaned out, as well, you couldn’t find a bullet if you tried. Then once we got to city hall, we found the mayor had turned, from a bite to the leg, we put him to rest humanely.” Blood replied, as he plopped on the sofa and kicked his feet up.
“So in other words.. You’ve returned empty handed, am I correct?” I asked, joining him on the couch, knocking his legs down.
“They came back safe, that’s all that matters..” Tzar replied for him, all doe eyed, like a fucking virgin.
“Fucking gag me.” I spewed at him, and he acted like he didn’t hear me, as he started sorting through our bounty.
“That can be arranged if you like?” Bloodhound said laughing, throwing his legs in my lap, I just rolled my eyes at him.
“Where are Caiden, Wolf, and the Doctor?” I asked, just getting up out of the seat altogether, I wasn’t in the mood for his shenanigans. “Hopefully they have better luck finding some supplies than you did. What we have isn’t nearly enough..”
“Just stop it already, you worry about everything!” Tzar cut me off, and point a thumb towards the man on the couch. “You’re worse than he is, why do you guys have to always overthink everything? It’s exhausting.. Really it is.”
“I’ll keep my comments comments to myself..” I said, cutting my eyes at him, and leaving the bus.
I couldn’t believe he was that naive, people like him are only alive now, because of people like me and the Bloodhound. We were the ones that had to question morality over survival, everyday, even though the mercenary had been at it longer than I have. When I stepped off the bus, I could see Saint, Sera, Patience, and Granny had finished packing the Betty’s undercarriage with what we had so far. I could see the older woman and the younger girl snacking on the chocolates, Serafi had swiped for them, and delightful smiles adorned their faces. Saint was walking around the perimeter, keeping a lookout, but I could see Serafi kept catching his eye. She was oblivious, of course, but stand where I was, a blind man could see it.
“Loki, c’mon here, taste this one!” Patience yelled out to me, as she ran up, I was about to decline but she had already shoved it in my mouth. “Other than my mommy, this is what I miss most about things before this.”
Her smile was so bright, and so infectious, I had to return one of my own. She was like a beacon of light in all this, and there was a part of me that wanted to protect this innocence. She was a child, she needed to have these years to develop her womanhood, safe from the savagery of this world. Yes, things were different now, but we could bring some of the old into the new. I let the young ebony skinned girl pull me towards the group, everyone waiting for the last of our comrades. I could see Jerry leaning up against the side of the Betty, sulking, with a sneer on his face. He mumbled something under his breath as I walked up, so I put my finger up to my newly regenerated ear, and asked him to repeat it. His eyes widened in shock, as he noticed I lacked a wound, his jaw slackened but he didn’t say anything. He absentmindedly rubbed his hand, where the hole was, the gash was stitched but still tender.
Just when I was about to inquire about the last group again, we heard a some screaming, everyone turned to see the Doctor running our way. I looked to the Saint, and I could see him immediately pull his scope up, he reported a negative visual on the Wolf and Caiden. I yelled for the girls to get back on the Betty, and get ready to bug out, Jerry ran along with them, like the sorry sort he was. I took off running to meet Karishma part way, and she looked like she’d been beat with a bag of flour.
“What happened?! Where are the guys?!” I asked, but she was out of breath and couldn’t answer, she didn’t need to because in the next moment one of the buildings exploded.
“We got cornered in the diner, and they told me to run..” She finally replied, as the sky was lit up with flame. “I didn’t know they were going to blow the building up!”
“Just hurry to the Betty, I’ll be right behind you!” I commanded, running toward the fiery heat, and wreckage.
I saw a woman, at least I think it was, crawl from the flames, her arms were thrashing about as she rushed towards me. I put her down with a shot to the head, and quickly dodged, as an infected man tried to latch to my back. I swung my fist as hard as I could into his face, breaking his nose, he proved to be unfazed and relentless. I caught his chin, with his teeth a breath’s distance from my throat. I jerked his jaw sharply to the left, snapping his neck, and severing the crown of his spinal cord. I didn’t get a moment’s breath as more of the risen dead, came rushing towards me, from every direction it seemed. I dispatched three of them, and started running back towards the Betty. Along the way, one of the ghouls snatched my ankle, bringing me hard to the pavement.
I shot him in the head, and quickly looked up and caught two more, that where about a foot away. I scurried backwards, as more of them crawled from the wreckage, and my heart stopped when I bumped into a pair of legs. I spun around on the ground quickly, only to find Caiden standing over me, with the goofiest grin smeared across his face. He pulled out a shotgun and hopped over me, as he cocked it, before he started blasting away at the incoming dead. Timber Wolf ran over to me and grasp hold of my hand, pulling me to my feet. He had a grin to rival Caiden’s, and I could only shake my head at these fools, this was a like a game to them. Suddenly Caiden went flying past us, and I could see him lift a grenade to his mouth, to remove the pin. He smiled at us as he tossed it over our heads, and the Wolf and I met eyes at the same time.
“I think that’s our cue to go..” He said laughing, as he grabbed my hand, and we all ran as fast we could to the Betty.
“Why can’t we just have a quiet day for once..” I asked, as the explosion went off behind us, sending dirt, fragments, and debris into the air.