Authors: Christopher Fulbright,Angeline Hawkes
“Hmm, that sucks.” Then, Dejah smiled. “But did you win the game?”
Shaun’s eyebrows shot up. He looked at her, and though she had a twinkle in her eye, she really wanted to know. It was strange as hell to be talking about a football game surrounded by windows chock full of flesh-eating humans smashing their ugly mugs against the Plexiglas, wanting to slurp out their guts.
“Yup, by fourteen points.” He smiled.
“So I guess you’re a pretty good runner, then.”
He shrugged. “Sure. I was on special teams, so, yeah, that’s about all I was really any good at.”
“Well,” she said. “That’s all that really counts right now. Because you know we’re going to have to make a run for it eventually.”
He nodded. “I figured. I was just trying to figure what to do. Where to go.”
“Well, now, that’s easy.”
“Sure,” Dejah smiled. “You’re going with me.”
Frank Baum poked a finger between the yellowed plastic blinds drawn shut on the front windows of the Bocadomart, where he’d been holed up for the last couple days and nights. He peered through the narrow slit into the parking lot, darkened by the tweedy grays of twilight. Presently, the lot was vacant of the lumbering, lurching fiends he’d come to refer to as Sickies, who’d been hell bent on having
for a tasty
. Parked and crashed cars littered the broken concrete, but it wasn’t the coming of the monsters that ruined the parking lot. Even before the infection hit this part of Duncanville, Bocadomart was run down and neglected. The little barrio grocery store saw action mostly from illegal immigrants, food stamp holders, and drug dealers capitalizing on the poor and downtrodden.
What Bocadomart had going for it was the thick iron bars spaced every four inches across the entire glass front of the store. Roll-down steel, garage-type doors further strengthened the entryways, protecting the front and back interior doors. There were two interior surveillance cameras and one outside camera. Frank could watch what was going on out front without having to peek through the blinds; but being the old geezer that he was, he didn’t trust modern conveniences too damn much and preferred to have a look-see out the blinds every now and then just to make sure that what he saw on the surveillance monitor was really happening in the parking lot of the mostly abandoned strip mall. And right now, that was just about nothing.
The Sickies seemed to move around more during the daylight for some reason. Sure, there were a few stragglers that lurched about at night, but for the most part, they started banging on the windows a few hours after sun up. Maybe, he thought, they slept at night out of habit.
Frank let the plastic slat drop into position on its dusty strings. He never really came to this part of Duncanville, but while trying to find a way out of the city, he passed the store and saw the doors open and no one inside. One quick scan of the place and he knew it was a pretty good spot to ride out the Sickies for as long as possible. Food, water, reinforced walls and doors. The place was made of cinder blocks lending itself even further to indestructibility. He hauled all of his weapons and supplies inside the store from his Hummer, which he parked out front within jumping distance. When the Sickies were gone, he busily siphoned the gas out of all of the cars parked in the lot. As a result, the back storage room of the Bocadomart smelled like a gas tank.
Frank popped the top of a cold Bud and took a sip. Electricity and water still worked. That was good, although he had to wonder for how long.
He walked behind the counter to an olive-green, vinyl living room chair. It was covered with a nubby, woven Mexican blanket and a lot of cat hair. He sat and stared at the black and white surveillance monitor: same view of the empty parking lot he’d just seen with his own two eyes. Fishing around in the stack of English-version magazines he’d gathered from the magazine wall, he pulled out a
and thumbed through it. Most of the magazines in Bocadomart were in Spanish, a language he’d never really mastered despite the proliferation of Mexican immigrants in the area.
“Whole lot of nothin’,” Frank grumbled aloud and tossed the glossy magazine to the side. Even if the news contained within the magazine’s pages had been interesting, it was irrelevant now. He had no idea how far the infection had spread, if it had crossed the state or Mexican borders, but in a way, not even
really mattered. His world, his own personal sphere, had ceased to exist when Nanette died.
Leaning his head against the chair back, Frank closed his eyes and sighed.
Infection took her only four hours after they found out about the sickness. The doctors told him outright that she would likely die, that it wouldn’t be long before she slipped into a comatose state and then … he could tell from the looks on their faces that she’d become one of
. Even as they tried to convince him to stay there, he ignored offers of a wheelchair, carried her out to the car himself, and took her home. Nanette made him promise that if she didn’t die, if she woke up as one of the Sickies, he’d put her out of her misery. That was his Nanette: tough old bird to the bitter end. When he protested, she said she didn’t want to become some sort of rabid dog — she made him promise to take her out if she woke up from her coma snarling and clawing like that bastard Ellis who lived two doors down from them, who left his trash in the street and the dogs tore into the overfull bags every week.
God graciously spared Frank from the task. His darling Nanette never woke up from that coma. He was on his sixth cup of coffee — black — and shaking like a junkie when he noticed the slight rise and fall of her frail chest had stopped. Softly, he touched her pale face, which, even after seven decades of living, was smooth and as beautiful as the day he met her. She didn’t twitch. Putting his ear beside her mouth and nose, he listened for the breath that didn’t come. He slid his hand under the thin cotton of her favorite rosebud-covered nightgown, onto her chest, hoping for the telltale beat of her generous heart, but it was still. The heart that had loved him with a force beyond reckoning was silent.
Frank scowled. It was always supposed to be him that kicked the bucket first. Old, crotchety, drinkin’, smokin’, never-say-die
. Not Nanette.
Frank finished the rest of his beer.
“Damn it, Nanette.” He wiped his watery eyes and lifted the broken plastic shield away from the cigarette case. It hadn’t always been broken; he bashed the thing with his rifle butt until it shattered.
Grabbing a package of Marlboros, he ripped the cellophane from the top and opened the box. He simultaneously fumbled for his lighter as he stuck a cigarette in his mouth. The little flame engulfed the cigarette end and he took a puff. “Yeah, yeah, I know, Nanette. I’ll stop next week.” He laughed. Somewhere Nanette was rolling her eyes.
The television was useless. No cable and what few channels the storeowners must have been able to pick up on a normal day were off the air. Nothing but loud static as he manually turned the dial on the old television. Frank turned it off in frustration.
He had everything he needed except his Nanette and entertainment. In the storage room, he found three VCRs. Presumably they’d been used to make security tapes at some point, but now none of them worked. The radio he found in the men’s bathroom sometimes yielded a channel, but it was AM and the programming was obviously pre-recorded, so it didn’t help him. He wanted to hear news. Updates. Something telling him what was happening. He hadn’t seen an uninfected person since he drove up to the Bocadomart. The last non-Sickie he’d seen had been a panhandler on the street getting mauled by about fourteen Sickies, and damn it all if he was going to stop his Hummer for some damn window-washing pest that contributed to the clogged traffic problems.
In hindsight, maybe he should’ve stopped and at least took a few shots at some of the Sickies, but who knows how that might have ended up. He didn’t survive the battle of
to end up lunchmeat because he stopped to help some goddamn no-good vagrant.
Frank gave another loud sigh.
“You should get some sleep,” he said to himself. He’d been doing that a lot today: talking to himself. He needed to hear a voice even if it were his own. He was pretty sure that staying holed up in here would drive him nuts long before one of the Sickies got him.
Frank went to the back storage room where he’d made himself a bed out of a yellow Corona inflatable pool float, a pile of assorted clothing he’d found in the store, and a handful of new beach towels decorated with big red letters that spelled: Tecate. If the damn Sickies were going to sleep at night, he might as well too. Of course that was just a theory. He just hoped the bastards stayed away so he didn’t have to be proved right or wrong. He lowered himself to the floor and crawled onto the bed, pulling a beach towel over him for a blanket. His elbow banged the cold, cinderblock wall as he stuck his arm beneath his head for a pillow. “Damn!”
Every time he shifted, the pool float’s air dispersed to a different part. His feet popped up and down with every movement. His butt met the hard floor beneath no matter how he positioned himself and his boots hung over the end of the rigged up mess.
“I’m too old for this shit.” Frank closed his eyes. Somewhere he could hear his Nanette:
Quit your bitching and be glad you don’t have to sleep on the bare floor
. The old girl was always right. “’Night kid, I love you.”
He listened to the ticking of the plastic clock hanging on the wall and prayed that God showed him some sign of hope tomorrow. Or even the next day. But as he drifted toward sleep, his brain recalled a bunch of fire and brimstone evangelists and this that and the other End Times message of the dead rising from graves, bodies floating through the skies, and fire raining down from the heavens to destroy the world. Pleasant stuff like that, which, up until this moment, he’d chalked up to overzealous preachers on power trips trying to part some poor suckers from their hard earned money.
Up until this moment.
Now, seeing all this crazy shit unfold, he wondered if those lily-white preacher boys knew a thing or two that he should’ve lent an ear to. Then again, those preacher boys might be dead or infected, roaming the streets, doing their best to send a few souls to their final destinations on their own.
“Oh, hell,” Frank muttered, smacking his dry lips. “Just go to sleep.”
Tomorrow would be a whole new day. Something would change tomorrow. He just knew it.
Dejah and Shaun sat with their knees folded, heads down, talking in whispers for about an hour before the infected zombie hordes around the tollbooth began to disperse. Finally, Shaun pretended to be asleep, but watched a monitor with one eye, while Dejah did the same. Shaun told her how he’d seen some zombies hide as if to set up an ambush for him, so they tried to remember where the infected headed, tracking them on the monitor, noting where they seemed to disappear. Scooter slept peacefully curled next to Shaun. The smell of them in the booth was almost zoo-like, bearable only out of necessity.
Dejah was intent on going one way – across the lake using the bridge, taking 303 to Duncanville Road, down to Camp Wisdom Road headed east, toward Mesquite, Rockwall and Greenville beyond. The plan was to dash out of the tollbooth and run for the first vehicle with no bodies in the seats and keys in the ignition – preferably something big that could push other vehicles out of the way.
“Do you think we can make it all the way across, even in a truck?” Shaun asked her.
“I think so,” Dejah said. “It doesn’t look crowded enough that we can’t weave our way through.”
Moments went by. Both of them were getting antsy.
“It doesn’t look like they’re going to thin out much more,” Shaun finally said.
“Too many of them were drawn over by me when I came in, I guess.” There was a hint of defeat in Dejah’s voice.
“No,” Shaun said, “You drew them out. That was a good thing. It’s just, now—”
“Now we can’t get out of here without having to fight some of them off.”
“If only we had a distraction,” he said.
Scooter stirred. His tags jingled on his collar as he licked Shaun’s hand. As he went to pet the dog, Shaun’s eyes locked with Dejah’s. Neither had to say anything aloud to know what each was thinking. “No,” Shaun said.
Dejah just looked at him, sensing his internal battle, knowing he had to fight this out on his own.
“No,” he said again, and now the tears were coming. “He’s the only family I’ve got left. Really. Both my parents were only children. My grandparents are all dead. My parents and sisters were it. That’s all I had. Now they’re all gone, and that’s it, and
Scooter’s all I’ve got left
He couldn’t help what happened next. He broke down utterly and completely, and cried like he was six-years-old, and his hitched sobs pulled forth a pain lodged so deep within him that it changed him the moment that reservoir of hurt was tapped and started to flow. It aged him, it hardened him; it buried an anguish and hate and bitterness in him that no sixteen-year-old had any right to have to live with. But it was true. Everything was gone.
His whole damn life
. And he’d been raised Christian all his life, so he knew that while God probably didn’t
this happen, he sure as hell
it to happen, like some kind of modern day Job, and maybe that was worse.
Dejah pulled him close. He let her hold him, closed his eyes and tried to pretend she was his mother. It didn’t work.
Scooter licked his cheeks. Shaun blinked hard and brusquely wiped away tears, his cheeks burning. Dejah let him go, and he looked away from her.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I understand. Scooter has to go with us.” She smiled, and it was a pretty smile. Somehow. In the midst of all this there was still beauty.
Shaun nodded. Scooter whimpered. Rage fueled his resolve, and Shaun was suddenly wound tight as an energy coil, ready to move. “Let’s just make a run for it.”
Dejah looked at him, glanced at the monitors. She seemed to evaluate the situation in a split second. She pulled out the gun and put an extra bullet in the spent chamber. She latched the cylinder back into place and started to pick up the duffle bag.
“Let me carry that,” Shaun said.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, you’re hurt. You shouldn’t—whoa. What the hell?” He stared at her arms, where she had deep lacerations only a couple hours ago. The wounds were almost completely healed. Just red welts where deep cuts had been, the slightest traces of scabs in lieu of gaping wounds. Same with the wounds he could see on her torso, which she’d said she got from the barbed wire and the infected dumpster lady.
“I know, I … can’t explain it,” she said. “I wish there
some kind of explanation. Maybe I’ve got good epithelial cells or something.”
“Epithelial cells. They make up the tissue that forms skin.”
“I used to be a teacher,” she said.
“Or you’re from the planet Krypton.”
She laughed. “You know, I’ve run through it a hundred times walking through the forest on the way here. Even as a kid, I can’t remember getting badly hurt. I mean, beyond bruises and scrapes kids get; well, and childbirth, and I guess I healed really fast from that, too, but…” She shook her head, paused, studying her own wounds. She traded a look with Shaun and searched for something in his eyes. “Anyway, then all this crazy shit happened, and I … I had the same thing happen just yesterday. I was bad-off, should’ve been dead. Actually, I’m pretty sure I
dead. They got me.” She nodded at the windows of the booth. “They ate my guts. One of my legs was stripped down to the bone. But, then I woke up.
. And it doesn’t make any damn sense.” She held out her hands. Her eyes shone with a need for understanding, but a greater need to reach her goal. It was as if she’d passed her need empathically to Shaun, and he dug into it, used it to fuel his own resolve to help get them out of this.
“Lucky break for you,” he said, giving a light hearted laugh to ease the moment. “Right now, we have to think about getting out of here in one piece. I’m pretty sure I don’t have Wolverine regeneration powers or anything like you.”
Dejah smiled and laughed. “Wolverine, huh? If only! I’d bust out with my adamantium claws and slice these meatheads to ribbons.”
Shaun blinked at her. “Okay,” he said. “It’s official — you’re cool.”
“I have my moments.”
The quips were welcome respite. They helped break the tension. Eased the fear and desperation. But ultimately, they had to move.
She gripped the gun. “Okay. Are you ready?”
“Let’s do this.”
Shaun strapped the duffel bag over his shoulder. They sat up slowly, peering over the edge of the windows to see as far across the Mountain Creek Lake bridge as they could to spot a likely vehicle.
“That Jeep might be best,” she whispered. Shaun could smell the beef jerky on her breath. It made him strangely self-conscious about his own breath, which probably smelled like cat shit at best. He figured the overwhelming scent of piss from the corner did a good job detracting from whatever ungodly fumes drifted from his mouth.
“Maybe. Is that the one you want to try for?”
Dejah nodded. “Let’s go.”
Shaun said a silent prayer then reached for the doorknob. He did his best to quietly unlock it and get ready to dart out. He looked at Scooter. The dog’s snout was in the small opening he made as he cracked open the door. The hound sniffed the air hungrily. Shaun had just turned back to Dejah to say
Are you ready?
, when the door was pulled open, jerked from his hand.
“No!” he screamed, hoarse, as he realized what happened. The door hadn’t been pulled open. It had been
Scooter shot out into the middle of Pioneer Parkway and headed in the direction opposite the way they planned to go. “Scooter!” he shouted after his dog, but Dejah clamped a firm but soft hand over his mouth to quiet his cries.
The zombies reacted immediately to the emergence of Scooter, who seemed heroically to make as much noise as possible running the opposite way, barking and snarling. The infected milling around the booth turned as one and went after the canine.
“Now. We’ve got to make a break for it.”
Shaun growled, an anguished, tear-choked sound as he swallowed the hard truth of the situation. There was no sense allowing Scooter’s self-sacrifice to be made in vain.
“Come on!” Dejah hissed.
They ran from the booth. Dejah vaulted over the toll gate. Shaun went underneath with the duffel bag. Off the lake, the brisk winds came cold and crisp with the scent of fish. The water gleamed with a pre-dawn light as they edged around the back of a Chevy Impala, climbed over two cars, hopped over a motorcycle, and ran across twenty corpse-laden yards to the Jeep they’d marked for use.
Dejah pulled open the driver door and screamed. A heavy woman in sweats with a dark mottled complexion and feral eyes fell out the door. Worst of all, on the back seat of the Jeep a baby was strapped into a car seat, growling like a caged animal, thrashing against its straps, clawing the air. The woman grabbed Dejah’s ankle and mewled. Dejah had to force herself not to fire the gun into her head. Shaun helped kick her away.
“There!” He pointed at a long, old white Cadillac with chrome rims, and dark-tinted windows. It looked like a tank, the kind of a car they made in the 1970s, like from an old TV show.
Dejah took the cue and ran for the driver’s side door. Shaun went to the passenger’s side. Dejah paused and looked over the roof of the car at him. The zombie mom in sweats was shambling toward them. A few others were awakened now by the scent of their flesh and the sounds of commotion.
“My side’s locked.” Shaun said in a panic.
Dejah swallowed hard and pulled open the car door. She stepped back and aimed the revolver into the driver seat. It was empty. Keys dangled in the ignition. She jumped in and reached across the great expanse of the front seat, unlocking Shaun’s door. He got in. When they shut the doors they paused to take in the car’s interior: fuzzy dice hung from the rearview mirror, rick-rack with pom-poms hung from the velvet ceiling. The steering wheel was furrier than a Yeti. A bobble-head Madonna was adhered to the front dash in a big glob of hardened glue, and hanging from a string of rosary beads, Christ dangled in all his plastic glory, crucified on a glow-in-the-dark cross.
Dejah twisted the keys in the ignition. The car fired up right away. Two zombies were coming at them from the front of the car. She floored the gas pedal and plowed into them. One of them seemed to break in half on the front left fender of the car. The second bounded up onto the hood, denting metal as its head came down with a thud. Its body twisted and crumpled, smearing blood over the windshield as it flew up and over the cab, landing finally on the asphalt behind them in a pile of writhing, infected flesh.
Dejah turned on the headlights. The windshield wipers came on, smearing the brackish blood across their view until she activated the juice to wash it away.
Shaun turned around and looked behind them, over the back seat, and through the rear window. Adrenalin surged in the aftermath of their escape. Sadness at Scooter’s loss hung heavily with him, the mournful ghost of a good friend.
“I’m sorry, Shaun,” Dejah said, reading the expression on his face like she could read his mind. She was steering the car around a Toyota Prius, maneuvering their way along the bridge to the other side.
“Yeah,” he said, morose. “Yeah, me too.” He turned around and sat stoically in the passenger seat, watching through the front window. They drew closer to the tall hill where the DBU campus and its bell tower silhouetted in the moonlit sky.
* * *
Dejah and Shaun made small talk to distract them from the horrors of the night, and of the last week, but all the while she was watching the road, thinking the lack of vehicles so far was pretty fortunate. Then they hit a small snarl at the intersection of 303 and Duncanville Road, where they had to turn and head south.
“What a mess,” Shaun said. He leaned forward in the passenger seat, studying what looked like a crash-up derby gone public. Cars were wedged into the intersection as if a massive electromagnet had been activated at the crossroads, piling them together.
The sun was creeping toward the horizon and cast a low orange glow into the sky. It gave her the first view of Shaun in daylight. A few hours together and she already felt like they’d known each other forever.
One helluva kid
, she thought.
And he’s been through nothing but hell
. The fact that he wasn’t a quivering mess right now said a lot.
Dejah rolled the car to a slow stop. She studied the wreckage around them, keeping an eye on the rearview mirror in case any infected were shambling around waiting for their next meal. “I can back up and try to drive over the curb. Maybe make it across the parking lot of that thrift store and go around all this to get where we’re going.”
“Long as we don’t pop a tire on the all the curbs.”
“The other option is to get out and change cars.”
Shaun went pale.
“I’d like to avoid that if possible. Besides—” she let a grin curl the corner of her mouth, “I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown pretty attached our Mexican hoopty here.”
“You’ve got a point there. This is one sweet ride. It’s got some great shocks. And you can’t beat a glow-in-the-dark Jesus.”