Authors: A.R. Wise
By A. R. Wise
Copyright 2012 Aaron Wise
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"I have to admit, Bea," said Audrey as she sat in the plush cushion of the chair on the deck, "I'm a little jealous of you." She held her drink by the stem of the glass, and the miniature umbrella, a relic of the old world, spun along the rim as the toothpick handle was pushed around by the ice cubes. Her strawberry daiquiri on the rocks was sour and heavy on the rum, so she was waiting for the ice to melt a little more.
Beatrice chuckled and her martini sloshed over the side. She held a thin cigarette in her right hand, between her index and middle finger, and brought it to her lips to take a long drag. She coughed, her lungs not used to the indulgent burn, and waved away the haze.
"Lord have mercy, you're going to give me a heart attack." Beatrice's accent was thickly British, although it had been two decades since she'd left the UK for the island nation where they lived now. "Dame Audrey Winchell is jealous of me?" She fanned herself, pretending to be on the verge of fainting.
"Stop teasing." Audrey settled back into the cushion and looked up at the blue sky. Gulls chattered from the shore, and a cool breeze rustled the curtains as it brought in the scent of the sea. "You know what I mean."
A young, tan man was treading the sandy shore, wearing nothing more than a Speedo. His muscular figure, wet with a layer of sweat, gleamed in the sunlight. Audrey put her hand to her forehead, above her sunglasses, to block the glare as she lecherously gazed at him. It was William Packard, and he'd been in for his surgery just weeks ago. She wondered how long it would take for him to pad his new physique with a layer of fat from his legendary sweet tooth.
"Believe me, Audrey, I'm far from lucky. You have no reason to be jealous." Bea set her drink on the granite countertop of her kitchen. Her heels clicked on the wood floor as she made her way to the luggage near the entrance to the room. This area of her home was designed to mimic a cabana. Her large, modern mansion was in view, stretching out across the beach, perched upon the edge of the white sands where the lush vegetation encroached. From this room, she could see the wide expanse of her property, and down to her nearest neighbor's abode, half a mile away.
She unzipped the front pouch of her Louis Vuitton and pulled out her pack of cigarettes. It was a long, green box that had been hidden away for two decades in anticipation of this day. She took another cigarette out and offered it to Audrey.
"No, thank you. You know I can't have any of that."
"Come on, celebrate with me," said Bea.
"No," she said again, with more insistence. "I have to be careful. I have another few years to wait before I can celebrate. Besides, it's been so long since I smoked one of those that I'm not even sure I'd know how to anymore."
Bea coughed and nodded. "Same here." She examined the lit cigarette between her fingers. "I forgot how much they burn your throat. To be honest," she scrunched her nose and shook her head, "I don't even really like them anymore."
"I wonder if you'll still want to smoke them after tomorrow," said Audrey. She leaned forward and lifted her sunglasses to look at Bea.
"I don't know." Bea shrugged and put the pack into her bag. "I never thought to ask."
"I guess we'll find out soon enough. How long is your flight?"
"Sixteen hours," said Bea with a grumble that was followed by a long sigh. "I hate flying, and the last hour is in a wretched helicopter. I'm not looking forward to that even a little bit."
"Victor and I used to fly to Bora Bora from time to time, but it's been years since we've gone. He's just not up to it these days."
"Is he ill?"
Audrey quickly waved off Bea's concerns. "No, no, nothing like that. Just getting old, like all the rest of us."
"You can say that again. All in all, I'm looking forward to a change of scenery. I can't wait to see the cabin they built at the Transfer Facility. From what I've heard, it's in a gorgeous area."
"It's on the mainland though," said Audrey. "Doesn't that make you nervous, what with the living dead and all."
"Darling, that's why we have big men with guns all over the place."
"Still though," said Audrey, "it's a little creepy to think about. Gives me the shivers."
A man's voice chimed in through a speaker in the corner of the room. "Miss Dell, you have a visitor." The home's computer used to speak with a staccato rhythm, but had recently been updated to have a more soothing tone. Bea, however, preferred the original voice and now felt as if a stranger had invaded her home, constantly chattering at her about things that needed to be done.
"Who is it?" asked Bea.
"Mrs. Claire Stanley."
"Ugh," said Audrey.
"Well, let her in. Tell her we're in the Cabana Room." Bea waved dismissively at the speaker and the smoke from her cigarette stung her eyes. She stamped it out on the granite countertop in annoyance.
"Wonderful," said Audrey with sarcastic flare. "Claire's here."
"Stop it," said Bea. "You be nice." She pointed at her friend, who rolled her eyes and then settled back into her chair. Audrey's sunglasses fell off her forehead and to the bridge of her nose as if she'd meant for it to happen as she stared off at the beach.
"Beatrice?" Claire called out from far off.
Bea put her hands to her mouth and shouted down the hall. "In here, Claire."
Claire hurried through the hall. Bea saw her coming and was appalled at her drab outfit. Her neighbor was wearing a robe and slippers, and her hair was a mess. She hadn't even bothered to put on makeup this morning. "Lord have mercy, Claire, you're a mess."
Claire wasn't wearing her wig, and her grey hair was an assault upon Bea and Audrey's refined tastes. Neither of them would've been caught dead outside of the house without their wigs on.
"I came as soon as I heard." Claire put her hand on her bosom as she panted.
"Hello, dear," said Audrey. She barely raised her hand to greet their haggard old neighbor.
Claire ignored Audrey and reached out to hug Bea. The embrace was a shock, and Bea staggered back from the force of it.
"What are you on about?" asked Bea with an uncomfortable chuckle.
Claire retreated from the hug, but held onto Bea's arms as they looked at one another. "You haven't heard?"
"Heard what?" asked Bea.
Audrey raised her large shades and set them in her red wig. She sat up to take notice of their conversation.
Claire let go of Bea's arms and raised her hands over her mouth. There were tears in her eyes. "Didn't you get the message?"
"What message?" asked Bea, concerned by Claire's bizarre entrance.
"Didn't your house tell you?"
"Tell her what?" Audrey shouted, her patience with their flighty neighbor having run out.
"I turned off most of his notifications," said Bea. "I can't stand his new voice. Now, what? What message?"
"I don't want to say." Claire took another step back, as if afraid of Bea.
"God damn it, Claire," said Audrey as she got up from the plush deck chair. "Just get on with it."
"Where's your screen?" asked Claire.
"It's in my bag," said Bea. "I'm leaving for the States today. What bloody message are you on about? Out with it already."
Claire stammered as she explained. "I got the message too, because one of my girls was involved."
"Involved in what?" asked Audrey as she walked in through the patio doors.
"Involved in what?" asked Bea when Claire didn't answer immediately. "What's going on?"
Claire looked like a deer caught in headlights, terrified that she was about to die as Bea and Audrey advanced. Finally, she blurted out the terrible news. "Our girls escaped." Claire clenched her eyes shut and braced for Bea's reaction.
"They what?" Bea screamed in a panic.
Audrey gasped and held her hands over her mouth as she muttered, "Oh my God."
"I'm so sorry, Bea," said Claire.
Beatrice grabbed Claire by the shoulders and shook her. "Tell me what happened you dizzy bitch."
"I don't know."
"What happened?" Bea screeched and then slapped Claire. She pushed the old woman away and then fell to her knees in front of her Louis Vuitton. She dug through the clothes and jewelry until she found her tablet PC. She was crying as she pulled it out and fumbled with the buttons to turn it on. Her nails clicked on the metal as her hands shook.
"She doesn't wake up for another few hours," said Bea as she waited for the computer to click on. "I just talked to her yesterday when she got up. Nothing seemed wrong. She didn't sleep well, but that was it. Oh my God, this is a nightmare."
Audrey walked up behind Bea and set her hands on the elderly woman's shoulders, then squeezed in an attempt to comfort her. Claire backed away, one hand over her mouth and the other on the side of her cheek where Bea had slapped her.
"Hurry up, you piece of crap." Bea jostled the tablet as it booted up.
"Do they know if they're still alive?" asked Audrey of Claire.
Claire shook her head and then said, "They don't know. They didn't say."
Bea's tablet finally turned on and she tapped on the letter icon that opened her email. She quickly found the urgent message from Facility 23 and expanded it. She read it to herself as Audrey stared over her shoulder.
"What does it say?" asked Audrey.
Bea shushed her angrily as she continued to read. When she finished, she dropped the tablet to the stone floor and put her hands over her eyes as she cried.
"What did it say?" asked Audrey again.
"Cobra's gone," said Bea. "They don't know where she is."
"Oh my God," said Audrey. "Oh, that's terrible, Bea. I'm so sorry."
Beatrice picked up the tablet and threw it against the wall behind Claire. It shattered and Claire dodged the debris. She yelped and covered her face.
"Computer!" Bea struggled to stand and Audrey helped her up.
"Yes, Miss Dell," answered the amorphous voice of the home's computer.
"Get Jerald Scott on the line."
There was a pause before the voice responded, "I'm sorry, Miss Dell, but Mr. Scott is not currently available to…"
"Get him on the phone!" Bea was shaking and her face turned red as she screamed at the walls of her home. Audrey backed away as if Bea was hot to the touch.
"Mr. Scott has temporarily put his account on hold while he…"
"Listen to me, you useless twit, you get Jerald on the phone right this instant. Call the Facility, call the Base, call the fucking President if you have to, just get him on the line. Now!"
"I'll do my best," said the computer.
Audrey dared to approach Bea. "Honey, listen. It might not be as bad as you think. They just said she escaped, not that she was dead."
"That's right," said Claire. "I haven't given up on Hailey yet."
"Shut up, Claire," said Bea. "It's not the same. You've still got another one. Cobra's all I have left."
"I'm sure everything will be just fine," said Audrey. "They have ways of finding the girls. If she's out there, they'll catch her. You'll be fine."
Bea stared at the wall of her house and scowled as she said, "I'll find her. If I have to go out there my God damned self, I'll find her."
I was chained up, as were the other bleeding, weeping, battered, and shocked people in the back of the truck with me. The townspeople of Vineyard had been kind, but insistent when they shackled me. It was for my own good, or so they said. We were in danger of turning into the undead monstrosities that they called zombies.
The chains rubbed the skin on my wrist raw, but I'd suffered far worse wounds than that in the past day. My body ached, but the anguish I felt from losing Hailey eclipsed everything else. I couldn't get the image of her bloody face out of my mind. Her already pale skin had turned ghostly on top of that pile of fallen victims. The guards from the Facility had demolished Vineyard, and now we raced away after the last remaining helicopter had been destroyed.