Authors: Christopher Fulbright,Angeline Hawkes
Dejah ground her teeth against the ebbing pain of her wounds, and ran for it.
Shaun was just drifting into a haunted sleep when a blur on the monitor caught his attention. He watched the zombies emerge from places he hadn’t even known they’d been, which gave him a shiver, because he’d been tracking them, thinking he knew where they were hiding, thinking he’d make a break for it at some point.
So much for that.
He wondered if any of them could reason. Perhaps they were trying to outsmart him, wait until he thought it was clear and make a run for it…he shook his head to erase the thought.
They were moving deliberately back toward town, away from the lake, as if drawn by a unified purpose. Shaun looked at the other monitor, its camera facing the other direction. On the screen, he saw a woman standing on the crest of the hill. She was running. Lurching rather…a large duffel bag weighing her down on one side. She was bloody, but she was alive. The way she moved told him she wasn’t one of
He froze, heart racing, rapt on the vision of her coming down the hill. He wanted to jump and yell and tell her
here, here I am
, but instinct kept him from doing that right away, reminded him that he was safe in here for now. Scooter whined. The dog cocked its head, looking at him.
“I’ve got to help her if I can,” he told Scooter. The dog lapped his hand. Shaun absently scratched the pooch’s ear. Then he turned and edged his head above the bottom of the booth to peer out the window. There were about twelve or thirteen zombies between her and the booth. She could make it if she ran for it, but if any more time went by…the infected zombies were pouring from the forest now, coming from all directions. Their numbers overcame him with hopelessness and panic.
I can’t let her die. Not like that.
He jumped up and down waving, trying to catch her attention. “Hey! Hey lady! Over here!” His voice was loud and he didn’t know if she could hear him, but it felt good to yell, and he did it some more as she sprinted toward the booth. He watched the woman as she dodged the zombies, nearing the tollgate. Shaun struggled with the lock.
“Come on, damn it, come on.” He rattled the lock. It was jammed. The woman – the wounded, and grimy, but
woman – yanked frantically on the other side of the door.
“Let me in!” her muffled voice urged.
The herd of zombies moved toward her en masse.
“Oh Lord, please,” Shaun panted. “Please God, please God—” Visions of her being eaten alive before his eyes painted themselves with blood in his imagination.
“Open the fucking door!” The woman’s voice rose in pitch. Her wide eyes scanned the approaching figures, moving now with arms outstretched, fingers grasping.
Finally, the latch came loose. Shaun pulled the lever down. The tongue came free of the latch plate and he swung the door open. The woman dived in, dropping her duffel bag on top of Scooter who yelped and spun out of the way, claws scratching across the floor, collar jangling. Shaun slammed the door closed and relocked it just as the first infected zombie, a teenage rapper from the looks of him, smashed his face onto the outside window, smearing gluey saliva over the glass.
The woman panted on the floor. She had a gun in her dirty hand. Her face was equally dirty. Her shirt was ripped and one ivory breast hung free, a deep, severe bite showing jagged and crimson, oozing with blood. Through the shreds of fabric, her bare torso was noticeably tracked with deep lacerations, her forearms raked almost as bad. She caught her breath and tried to pull what was left of her tattered shirt to conceal her breast, but it was useless. She met his eyes.
Shaun’s face went hot in the cheeks. “A-are you…all right?”
“Yes. Thanks to you. And sincerely…thanks.”
Shaun swallowed, hating himself because he couldn’t take his eyes off her breast. He didn’t know what fascinated him more — her beauty or that very nasty bite. “I…I’m sorry, but that looks like a bad bite. Are you…do you think—?” Dread pooled in his stomach at the thought of her turning, succumbing to the infection trapped in here in the booth with him, and then eating him and Scooter for lunch.
She knew what he was getting at. “They’re not werewolves.” She laughed. “I’m pretty sure some of us have immunities to the infection. Explains why some people aren’t sick and some are. I’ve been bitten before. I haven’t turned into one of them. I don’t think it works that way. You either die from the infection or you wake up like them.” She tapped on the window at the snarling mob of infected banging on the glass around them. “But who’s to say it won’t happen to all of us before long? I don’t know…maybe some of us just take longer to exhibit symptoms of the infection.” She looked at him and then winced. “But, maybe not. Maybe some of us are just left to try to stay alive and not become snacks for the infected who didn’t die.”
Shaun took off his jean jacket and handed it to her. “Here, maybe this will fit.”
The woman smiled through her pain. “Thanks.” She draped it over her shoulders. It fit okay. They were about the same size. “I should clean the wound.”
“I have some water here.” Shaun offered her the remains of the water bottle left behind by the tollbooth operator.
“Thanks.” She poured some water over the raw bite. It was a whitish pink crater in the upper slope of her breast. The vision of the blood washing away to reveal the fatty tissue and pinpoint red nerve endings made Shaun feel woozy with sickness. He turned away until she was done.
She cursed as the pain seized her, but then she was quiet, her breathing heavy. “What’s your name?”
“Hi Shaun. I’m Dejah Corliss.” She held out a slim hand.
He took her hand. Her touch was cool and smooth and evoked a surge of desire.
Cripes, don’t be sick about this man. This woman seems nice. She needs help. Maybe she can help us, too. Besides, she’s a lot older and she’s probably married and stuff. The chick’s been through a lot. Good grief.
“Nice to meet you,” Shaun said. “This is Scooter.”
The dog cocked his head and barked. They both burst out laughing. Scooter licked their faces.
As soon as they had regained their composure, Dejah said: “Well, it seems we’re in a helluva situation. Granted, a much better one than if we were on the other side of these walls.”
Shaun nodded, looking up from where they sat on the floor. “Yeah, I’ve been in this ‘situation’ for a couple of days now.” The vacant faces of the infected stared in at them, eyes lolling. He watched them as they pressed in around the booth. The view on the monitors showed that still more were headed their way to join the mob surrounding their fortress against the world gone mad.
“Looks like we might be here a while more,” Dejah said. She was looking at the monitors. “Nice to have these at least.”
Shaun shrugged. He was trying not to let more feelings of hopelessness well up inside him and cause him to cry right here. Not that the woman would probably care, but still. He didn’t want to seem like some kind of sissy. Some kid who couldn’t handle himself.
Yeah, because you’ve handled yourself real well up until now.
Scooter licked his cheek and he wrapped his arm around his dog’s neck.
“Hungry?” Dejah unzipped the bag she’d been carrying. She moved gingerly, babying her wounds. “Water or Coke?”
The smell of chocolate and beef jerky wafted over the scent of urine that had permeated the tollbooth. He’d already filled up the plastic wastepaper basket with pee and wadded up papers that they’d crapped on. He’d been planning on dumping it outside as soon as the infected zombies gave him a break. Until then, the plastic bin was overflowing, and the stench was none too pleasant. Dejah hadn’t mentioned anything. She looked smart enough. She’d know he had no other choice.
“Oh hell, yes. Coke.” His stomach flipped and even Scooter got antsy. She handed him a pack of beef jerky, Snickers, and a Coke. “You’re a life saver.”
“Tit for tat, as they say.” She smiled and took a bite of a large chunk of beef jerky, washing it down with water. “Anyway, seemed like a good idea to bring as much along as I could while I was hiking through the woods. Not so much when I had to run away from those
out there.” Her eyes went to the windows where the infected still had their faces mashed, staring in at them with eyes filled only with hunger.
“You think they’ll ever get better? Like, the virus will run its course and they’ll be normal again?” Shaun had been thinking about it in terms of what had happened to his parents, how they’d been killed, wondering if they were out there wandering, mindless flesh-eaters like this. He couldn’t bear the thought of it. Better if all of this was just temporary. Better if they, and his sisters, were just dead. Not like
He hadn’t thought about the infection like Dejah had described it: that his family must have been immune because none of them got sick, or hadn’t gotten sick yet, there hadn’t been much time. Still, if they’d been immune, that meant when you got eaten, you didn’t come back like some sort of Hollywood zombie or werewolf. You either got away from the infected people and lived, or died from your wounds. Although the pain of their deaths was still raw, knowing they couldn’t come back to cannibalize others and drool and shuffle around like the fiends on the other side of the glass was somewhat of a relief.
At least they’re in Heaven now.
Dejah shook her head, studying him closely.
She’s recovering well from her wounds,
he thought. The wounds on her arms already seemed less irritated, scabbing over.
A little water sure went a long way for her.
“I don’t know,” she said. “All I do know is what they said on the news – that it’s a virus and spreads rapidly.” She took a bite of her jerky and fed a piece of it to Scooter, who snapped it up. “What do you think?”
He shook his head distantly, eyes going back to the monitors.
I think we’re all screwed
. “I don’t think things will ever be the same.”
She gave him a thin-lipped smile and rubbed his shoulder in comfort. Scooter nuzzled against her for more jerky and she gave the dog a piece. Shaun ripped open the Snickers and took a bite, washing it down with a swallow of Coke. He couldn’t help but wonder what came next … what they could possibly do but stay here until they ran out of supplies and then die together. However, before Dejah had arrived, the zombies wandered away from him and Scooter after a few hours. Maybe that would happen again. Still, he recalled how some of the zombies hadn’t really gone away, but just laid in wait, ready to ambush him if he tried to escape.
“How long have you been here, Shaun?”
“Four or five days, I think. We tried to leave town Saturday afternoon. A bunch of my friends, teammates, died Friday night after our last football game. Things got out of hand so fast with the sickness that my Dad thought we needed to get out of town before everyone else did. Thing is, after about twelve hours, things got so bad that other people had figured out what Dad figured out and were all going the same way on the interstate. Traffic was jammed for miles. Before we knew it, the infected were all over the place, coming from all directions. There was a lady, a few cars ahead of us. She had a couple little kids and a baby. She was out of her car, running between the lanes. Dad saw her, and went to help. He was good like that.” Shaun sucked in a loud breath, he took another bite and swallowed, masking the surge of emotion at the memory of what had happened next. At Dad going down beneath the wave of infected. Still, it felt good to talk about what happened. “My parents’ Suburban is about six or seven cars away. Down the left lane.” He looked over and found her studying him with compassion. “They’re dead,” he said matter-of-factly. “And so are my sisters.” He was able to say it now despite the surge of pain in his throat. He felt a little like he was in shock. Maybe he was.
He nodded, staring at the monitor that was aimed the direction of his parents’ car. “What about you?” he said. “What are you doing out here?”
“My daughter. She’s with my husband in Greenville. I’ve got to get there.”
“Really? I was just there last week. That’s where my football game was — before we all got sick.”
“You were in Greenville?”
“Sure. I play for Millward Christian High. Or, used to anyway. We had a game at Greenville Christian Academy last Friday. In fact, we were on the bus coming home when we saw the plane explode – I guess it set all this off.”
“The thing exploded right over our heads. We were crossing the Hunt County line headed back home when the night lit up like a thousand fireworks. The boom of the explosion shook the bus.”
“Yeah. Everyone was sick before we even got home. Bus driver rolled the bus right up to the ER. I’m the only one that isn’t dead out of the whole damn team. Coach too. Whatever it was, we got it first thing. Got out before they quarantined Hunt County. I guess we’d still be in Hunt County if we were driving any slower. Or at least I’d be in Hunt County. Everyone else is just dead.” Shaun absently pet Scooter, thinking back to how he’d been mulling over the unfairness of how Jana had used him like a pawn to get her old boyfriend back. Now it seemed so insignificant compared to all of this. He wondered if Jana was still alive. He secretly hoped her jackhole boyfriend was a slobbering zombie eating rats in some alley. “I don’t even know if any of my other friends ended up infected or not. Dad whisked us out of there so fast. He was big on end of the world
type scenarios. He was instantly freaked out.”