Authors: Russ Watts
(A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE NOVEL)
by Russ Watts
Copyright 2015 by Russ Watts
This book is dedicated to our aging heroes, to those who have left us, and to those who still fight on.
“All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.”
“Just breathe, honey, breathe.” Jonas wasn’t sure who was more nervous. He let Dakota take his hand, and her sweaty fingers gripped his tightly.
“It hurts,” Dakota said through gritted teeth. “It really hurts. I think…I think something’s wrong.”
Jonas knew she was trying not to cry. He was struggling himself. He had lifted her up onto the pool table with Erik’s help, and now Erik and Pippa were running around trying to find some fresh water and clean towels. A fluorescent strip light hung above the table, casting a bright yellow light over Dakota. Mrs. Danick was standing at Dakota’s feet, trying to help as best she could while Quinn held a sheet over Dakota’s legs. The baby had come so soon, almost a month early, and they weren’t fully prepared for the birth. Jonas wished they had more drugs, but their meager supplies had been used up over the last few weeks, and now there was nothing left. He had hoped there would be more time, but the baby wasn’t waiting, and Dakota was just going to have to fight through the pain. It was coming.
“I know, I know.” Jonas wiped his wife’s forehead. The sun was beaming in through the window, but it was cold. There was a dusting of snow outside on the ground, and she had been in labor for hours. He had been up with her for hours. The labor had taken them all through the night and into the morning. It seemed like the end was near, though, and he could see the fear in his wife’s eyes.
“Honey, look at me, nothing’s wrong. Okay?Nothing is wrong.” Jonas had no idea if he was telling the truth, but he was praying so. He was no longer certain anyone was listening, but old habits were hard to break. It seemed like only yesterday he had found out he was going to be a father. Now, in a matter of minutes, he would see his child for the first time. He was excited, nervous, and worried. This was no ordinary pregnancy, and certainly no ordinary birth. They had no medical supplies and were relying on Mrs. Danick and Pippa to handle the birth.
“It’s almost there,” said Mrs. Danick soothingly. “One more push, and…oh.”
“Oh? What doesohmean?” Dakota looked frantically at Mrs. Danick and squeezed Jonas’s hand even harder.
“I’m sure it’s fine, Dakota.” Jonas winced, convinced she was breaking his fingers. “Isn’t it, Mrs. Danick? Everything’s fine?”
He looked at her, but she was recoiling from the table, and Quinn looked horrified.
“You did this,” said Mrs. Danick, pointing a crooked finger at Jonas. “You did this. You did this!” She began shouting as she continued to back away from Dakota.
“Jonas? Tell me what’s going on,” pleaded Dakota. “What the…” Dakota screamed and screwed up her face in excruciating pain.
“Quinn?” Jonas could see her eyes wide open, staring between Dakota’s legs. Quinn still held the sheet up, but she was shaking her head from side to side. She dropped the sheet and began to walk away too. The bloody sheet slipped down Dakota’s legs, and Jonas saw for the first time what was happening. There was so much blood. It was all over the green felt of the table, the floor, and Dakota’s legs. It had drained into the corners of the pool table and slopped down between the netting onto the floor, forming small pools at each leg.
“Mrs. Danick, what…?” Jonas looked around the room, but she was nowhere to be seen. “Quinn, help me.” He reached out a hand, but Quinn had disappeared too. How could they leave him? How could they abandon Dakota when she needed them most?
Jonas looked around the room, realizing the sunlight had all but gone. A thick rain fell outside, obscuring the light and drenching the room in a foggy grey. He noticed for the first time that the walls were covered in a dark green substance that oozed from the cavities behind, running down them and mixing with the blood on the floor. The walls appeared to be almost black, and the floor was sticky, yet slippery at the same time. He heard footsteps behind him, and turned to face the doorway.
Erik stepped out of the shadows and into the room, brandishing a baseball bat. His face was expressionless, and his eyes blank, devoid of life. “We have to end this.”
Jonas saw another figure emerge from the doorway behind Erik, and Pippa stepped out holding a meat cleaver. “You did this, Hamsikker.”
“Wait, what is this?” Jonas backed away from them, noticing more figures behind them. They seemed to be made of swirling mists of grey that formed into human shapes only as they entered the room. He saw Mrs. Danick, Terry, Peter, and even Freya, all holding a variety of sharp instruments designed to maim and kill. All wore the same blank expressions on their faces.
“You did this,” they chorused in unison. “You.”
As Jonas backed away he bumped into the pool table. He had to help Dakota. Surely they would see sense. Surely his friends were here to help; if not him, then Dakota at least. He turned to face his wife and found himself staring at the thing that had emerged from her belly. Whatever it was had crawled out of its own accord, using its own energy to escape her womb. There was a broken fingernail in one wooden side of the table, and a bloody trail of evidence of where it had clawed its way out of her, dragging itself across the green felt and up onto Dakota’s belly. It was gnawing on the umbilical cord, its dead eyes coolly observing Jonas and the growing group of people behind him.
Jonas knew he was not going to get an answer. Dakota was unconscious. Her eyes were closed and her lips shut. Her arms hung limply from each side of the table, and her skin was so pale that it looked almost translucent. Blue veins coursed her legs, looking like rivers plotted out on a map, and blood pumped through them lazily. She had lost too much blood, and he knew she was going to die without help.
“Dakota,” he whispered. He looked back to the dead baby sat on her belly. It had finished eating the umbilical cord, and was now digging into Dakota’s intestines, the baby’s tiny hands pulling out stringy lengths of its mother’s gut before greedily shoving them into its small, toothless mouth. Jonas’s child was a zombie, and now he was being forced to watch it kill Dakota.
“It’s time,” said a voice from the head of the table. Another figure emerged from the darkness holding a sword above its head. Jonas clenched his hands together, more terrified than he had ever been before. He needed to stop this, to save Dakota, but he was powerless. The green sludge from the walls had reached his feet and was sucking him down into the carpet. He tried to lift a foot up, just one foot, but he couldn’t. He was stuck fast.
“You did this,” said Cliff. The man’s greasy overalls were smeared with oil and dark, crimson blood. His face was battered and bruised, and he spoke through a mouthful of broken teeth; one eye was swollen shut. Cliff raised the sword above Dakota’s head. “I’m going to put Dakota out of her misery. Then I’m going to kill your son.”
“No, wait,” shouted Jonas. “Wait!” As the sword swung down Jonas tried to wrench himself free from the green sludge, but it had slowly crept up his legs to his waist. The whole room was full of it, and it lazily filled the room making the games room appear more like a swimming pool. Steam rose from the surface, and pieces of bodies bobbed on the top of the sludge where a film of grunge had settled like the skin on a bowl of custard. Dismembered arms and legs protruded through the dirty membrane only to sink again into the mire. Jonas tried to close his eyes, not wanting to watch Dakota die, but his eyelids refused to work. The sword came down slowly, its clean, shiny blade slicing through the air as it neared Dakota’s throat.
“Wait!” Jonas shouted again, but it was too late to stop it. Cliff had found him, and the others had helped. How could they do this? Jonas wished he had his axe. He wanted to kill them all, and then he would kill Cliff again. It always came back to him.
“Dakota!” Jonas screamed as the sword severed her head from her body, and it fell away, landing in the sludge with a barely audible plopping sound.
“What is it, honey? What is it?”
Jonas felt Dakota rubbing his arm, and he opened his eyes to find her looking at him with fear and concern on her face.
“I think you were dreaming. You’ve been tossing and turning for a while. I was going to let you be, but then you called out my name. Are you okay?” asked Dakota.
Jonas sat upright. He looked around the room, looking for Cliff, a pool table, or a baby. He looked for his son, but of course, there was nothing there. Jonas still expected to see slime running down the walls, but there was none. The walls were painted a mint green color and adorned with certificates and photographs of Saint Paul’s construction. It was still the same room they had gone to bed in hours ago: a basic room full of old pictures of golfing champions and tarnished trophies locked in glass cabinets. A faintly sterile smell hung in the air, emanating from the cleaner’s trolley in the corner, still laden with bleach, dirty cloths, and polish. The thin blanket covering them had slipped off, and he drew it up to his chin, shivering as the cool air found his sweaty body. There was no baby. His mind awakened, and he knew there wouldn’t be for several months yet.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Jonas said as he tried to push the nightmare from his mind. He didn’t need to remember it. There were enough horrors in the day to occupy his mind. The last thing he needed was to freak Dakota out with stupid dreams. Jesus, it had only been one night, and already he was having worries about the baby. He was going to have to get a grip on things.
“Okay. Well, we should try to sleep. It’ll be dawn soon,” said Dakota. She turned away from him and laid her head back on the floor. They had no pillows and had balled up some old drapes they had found earlier to sleep on. It was surprisingly comfortable. Jonas knew they were both shattered and would’ve slept on a bed of nails, so despite the tightness in his neck and the pain in his shoulder, he wasn’t about to start complaining.
There was no going back to sleep now. He was too awake, and Dakota was right. The dawn would be around soon. He didn’t feel like laying there when there was so much to do and so much to learn. If things were different he might’ve taken the opportunity to try it on with Dakota. There was once a time, years ago, when they made love at the drop of a hat. Over time, the lust had faded, but they still loved each other. In the last few months they had found it impossible to get any quality time together, and it was only yesterday Dakota revealed to him she was pregnant. She was still mad at him, too, and it took some convincing on his part to get her to sleep in the same room as him. In the end he won out, and she admitted she would rather be near him than be separated whilst they were sharing the place with strangers. There were still a lot of issues to work through, but at least she was talking to him again.
Jonas slipped out of their bed quietly. Dakota was already asleep, and he dressed as fast as he could. If he was the only one up he could use the time to do a little exploring. They had been so tired yesterday that there was little time for anything else. After some introductions, Gabe and Mara had shown them around the clubhouse. It was a quick tour, just enough so they knew where to find the bathrooms and where they could sleep for the night. They had eaten a light meal and then retired, agreeing to discuss their plans in the morning. Gabe had collected up all their guns and weapons, but he promised to return them when they left. They clearly didn’t need them in the golf course, so Gabe told Jonas he would put them somewhere safe. Jonas was concerned about being unarmed, but Gabe seemed trustworthy, and the reality was that they didn’t have much choice. If they wanted to stay, they had to accept Gabe was in charge. It irked Jonas that he didn’t know where their weapons were, especially his axe. He felt odd without it. It had become like a safety blanket, and his empty hands twitched for something to hold onto.
They hadn’t discussed what might happen beyond the night. Nobody was in the mood for making small talk, and thoughts of their recently deceased friends weighed heavily on their minds, Tyler and Randall in particular. Jonas was eager to know more about where they were, and who their hosts were, and now he was up it seemed like the perfect time to do a little private exploring. Aside from the nightmare, he felt better. He had slept, truly slept, and with a good feed, he felt better than he had in a long time. Life wasn’t perfect, but they had at least managed to spend the night in safety, away from the world of the zombies outside the fences.
As he closed the door he heard Dakota’s soft breathing, and he hoped she wouldn’t suffer from the same nightmares as him. He suspected she did, but if so she kept silent about them. They all suffered from painful dreams. Freya was particularly susceptible to them and frequently woke the others in the night with her cries. Jonas walked down the upper corridor; he couldn’t hear any sounds, and trusted everyone was asleep. The silence was reassuring. It meant the dead weren’t present.
Jonas retraced his steps from last night and found his way back down to the entrance. The key was in the door, and he unlocked it so he could take a look at the golf course. The sun was barely over the horizon, and it was slowly illuminating the greens in a golden haze. Sunlight trickled through the oaks and elms that lined the fairway, and Jonas noticed it reflected off the fence that was still in place, strong and sturdy. He wondered how many of the dead were outside those walls. Were they pressed up against it, trying to get in, or had they found something else to grab their attention? Right in front of the clubhouse was the porch and a swing. Just as Gabe had said, there were two small mounds of dirt indicating where he had buried their two attackers. A man and a woman, Gabe had said, just a couple of drifters who should’ve known better. Jonas wasn’t about to risk crossing Gabe, and whilst they were staying under his roof, it was his rules. How long they stayed depended on a few things, all of which would be discussed later in the day.
Jonas returned inside and checked out the downstairs level. He passed through the bar, a lounge, a library, a couple of meeting rooms, and finally found himself in the kitchen. It was a little dirty which surprised him considering how well kept the place was otherwise. A few empty tins lay on the counter, and the dishes from last night still hadn’t been cleaned. Perhaps, with the arrival of new guests, Mara hadn’t found time to clean up. Jonas examined the cupboards and discovered a treasure trove of food. There were canned vegetables and fruit, boxes of pasta, jars of herbs, and a host of cooking materials that would satisfy even the most demanding cook. He ran the tap and poured himself a glass of cool water, finishing it instantly. He poured another, and walked over to a set of doors that he guessed might lead to a pantry. It was a huge double door, set into a recess, and when he opened it he was surprised to find that it was a walk-in freezer. The automatic light flicked on as he walked in. There were boxes and boxes stacked up on metal shelves, and he examined the labels: turkey, lamb, chicken pies, sausages, and beef patties. There was enough meat to last them for months as long as the freezer’s power held out. Gabe had mentioned something about the generator last night, and Jonas was keen to know more. If he was going to leave the others here whilst he went to get Janey, he wanted to know they were truly safe.
What with Dakota telling him she was pregnant, and with everything that had happened in the last 24 hours, he hadn’t thought about Janey much. He doubted that she and her three boys had as much food as this, and with fall rapidly approaching he couldn’t leave it any longer. Her supplies would surely be running low, and he had no idea how well off she really was. She had promised to stay at home in Thunder Bay, and he knew he could take her word on it when she said she would wait for him. But how bad was it up there? Was it any better or worse than Kentucky? He hadn’t even met his three nephews yet, and he wanted more of a relationship with them than a once-a-year conversation over Skype. That was all he’d ever had, and now he didn’t know if he would even see them again. The internet had gone belly-up the same time as everything else, so phone calls and emails were a distant dream. Mike and Chester understood their uncle lived far away, but Ritchie was too young. He was only four, and didn’t understand why Uncle Jonas didn’t visit. Well, he was going to visit them now, and nothing was going to stop him. Jonas decided that Dakota needn’t come with him anymore. It was safer here than out on the roads, and he had all but made up his mind that he was going alone. He could travel faster, and he wouldn’t have to worry about looking out for her or his unborn child. If anything, he was more determined than ever to get to Janey now they had found this place. He could bring her back to Saint Paul’s; perhaps offer her a fresh start.
A rattling sound interrupted his thoughts, and he carefully peered around the doorway of the freezer. He was still cautious about their new surroundings, and he kept silent as he looked at who was in the kitchen. Jonas watched Gabe open up a jar of coffee and begin spooning it into a white mug. There was an electric kettle boiling, and Gabe unplugged it before pouring the hot water into the mug. The aroma of the fresh coffee struck Jonas, and the smell was heavenly. It reminded Jonas of a life before the dead, when he could get up in the morning and get breakfast without having to worry if he was going to be eaten alive by a zombie.
“Think you could spare an extra mug of that, Gabriel?” he asked Gabe as he approached the counter.
“Shit, Hamsikker, is that you?” asked Javier, dropping the spoon on the counter. The clattering sound echoed throughout the kitchen. “You made me jump.”
“Sorry, I was just checking out the place. It’s pretty amazing. You’ve enough food in the freezer to last a good time.”
“Yeah, everything you need under one roof, right? Sorry, I wasn’t thinking, it’s just habit to make myself a cup. I should put the pot on. I dare say the others might want a drink too. And it’s Gabe, not Gabriel. Only my mother called me that, and she’s with the boss upstairs now.”
“Absolutely,” said Jonas, as Gabe took a percolator from a cupboard. He took a sip from his mug as he began to spoon more coffee out and fill the percolator. “Damn, that’s good coffee. I think even Freya might be tempted.”
Jonas chuckled. “I’m sure we can find some milk or juice for her.”
“Right, right,” said Javier as he pressed the plunger down. He looked at Jonas. “If you don’t mind me saying, Hamsikker, you look like shit. You manage to get any sleep at all?”
Jonas shrugged. “Some.” The smell of the coffee had brought back memories of real life when he would spend weekends with Dakota, pouring over newspapers during Sunday brunch at their local deli. He would demolish a plate of pancakes in seconds, whilst Dakota would take her time over a bowl of muesli and homemade plum jam. He felt his stomach rumble. Jonas seemed to remember seeing some maple syrup in one of the kitchen cupboards, but it was unlikely they had any eggs. Perhaps the pancakes would have to wait a bit longer, and he pushed away his hunger pangs. It was something he was used to doing now.
Javier handed Jonas a mug of hot coffee and smiled. “What did I tell you? Sweetness and light, right? You don’t have to worry anymore, Hamsikker. You’re safe. Your family and friends are safe. You can start to relax, okay?”
Jonas raised his mug and chinked it together with Gabe’s. Perhaps Gabe was right. Perhaps this was a fresh start. He reassessed his plans in his head as he sipped on the coffee. A day or two to rest up, and he could leave the others here, happy to know they were safe when he went to find Janey.
Javier reclined against a stainless steel counter-top as Quinn and Mrs. Danick entered the kitchen. Jonas pointed out the fresh coffee, and they poured themselves a mug each.
“Couldn’t sleep?” asked Jonas.
Quinn yawned. “Not over Mrs. Danick’s snoring.”
“Keep it up, Quinn, keep it up,” said Mrs. Danick. “Actually, we slept pretty good considering. Still, it’s hard to let your guard down completely. It’s hard to think we finally made it. Of course, some of us didn’t. I remember…”
“You got any theories?” asked Javier. He wasn’t interested in their sob stories. He knew once they got started they would never end, and he had to get things moving along. “You know, about where it all came from, or why it all started? You know anything?”
Mrs. Danick gave Gabe a stern look but ignored his question and began rummaging through drawers.
Quinn sipped on her coffee. “All I know is that all those debates about carbon emissions, asteroids on a collision course with Earth, and flu viruses without a cure all turned out to be a truckload of bull. In the end, it was good old-fashioned zombies that did for us,” said Quinn. “Who, why, and when is all irrelevant now. What’s done is done. We’ll never know, and quite frankly it doesn’t matter. Questions like that don’t mean jack now. They’re here. We’re here. They can be killed. End of.”
Javier admired Quinn’s response. He noticed her pick up a large kitchen knife, and then she put it back in the drawer where she’d found it. If she was looking for anything specific, she didn’t give a clue as to what.
“This doesn’t have to be the end,” said Mrs. Danick. “There’s plenty of life in us yet. Even in an old fart like me. Like Quinn says, they can be killed. So what’s your story, Gabe?”
Javier chose to ignore the last question. “Maybe so. But we are vastly outnumbered. You all know what it’s like out there beyond that fence. How many of your friends are still out there?”
“We have God on our side, and our faith,” said Dakota as she slipped into the room. She headed straight for the coffee.
Jonas hadn’t noticed her standing there, and he wondered how long she had been listening. He thought she might sleep in, but evidently everyone was waking up. She didn’t look at him, so he stayed where he was, waiting for her to approach him. She never was a morning person, and when she was pissed at him, she knew how to push his buttons. He hated being ignored, and he knew she was deliberately avoiding him.
“We have to think of this as not a curse, but a chance. It’s a chance to prove ourselves to Him, a chance to be rescued and taken into His hands. I can’t believe we’ve been abandoned. Iwon’tbelieve it,” said Dakota.
“Youstillhave faith after all this?” Javier looked at Dakota with large eyes. “You still think someone is looking down on us and looking out for us? Do you honestly believe that someone up there is saving a space for us in Heaven? Darling, we have been screwed. God’s not just on vacation. He’s packed his bags and moved on.”
Dakota appeared to be downcast, and she was only going through the motions. Jonas could see her heart wasn’t in it. She spoke of faith and strength, but if she had any left in her it was buried deep. She said nothing to him as she took a mug of coffee and walked back to the door.
“I’m going to see Pippa,” Dakota announced. “I’ll see if she needs any help with Freya.”
“Hold up, dear,” said Mrs. Danick. “I’ll come with you. I think I’d rather be with you than stuck in here. There’s a nasty smell in this kitchen.”
As Mrs. Danick and Dakota left, Javier stifled a laugh. He’d apparently touched a nerve and was amused how easily he could wind them up. Dakota could keep her faith. It was useless in this world. It was nothing now but a stick to beat over the heads of others, a tool to make people feel guilty. It didn’t provide hope, just a sense of futility. And when you let fate take over, you were just another person lining up to join the dead.
“You find what you’re looking for?” asked Javier as Quinn pulled a whisk from a drawer beneath a large stove.
“No, I … ah-ha.” Quinn plucked out a small plastic chicken and held it aloft like a trophy. “Perfect.”
Javier studied her face for clues, but when she looked at him all he saw was mistrust. Despite letting them in, despite his offer of help, they still had reservations. Clearly he was going to have to do more to get them on side. Some of them were more important than others, more useful, and he was weighing up how much time to spend on Quinn. He had earmarked Mrs. Danick as a troublemaker from the outset. Something about her irked him. It was as if she could see through his lies.
“Is that a timer?” he asked as Quinn turned the head of the chicken around in a circle. “I didn’t have you pegged as a cook.”
“No?” Quinn smiled as the chicken started ticking.
“No,” said Javier. “Something a little more…dangerous? I’m sure you’ve broken a few rules in your time.”
“Actually, I haven’t had an alarm clock in a while now. When it’s my turn to take watch, I like to know how long I’ve got left. Once I’m properly dressed I’ll go walk around the perimeter, make sure everything’s in shape. I used to have an App, but, well, that went south about the same time as the colonel’s secret recipe.”
“Gabe, you think Mara can help rustle up some breakfast?” asked Jonas. “I’m sure we can help. Quinn, you feel like helping us out before you head out?” Jonas could feel the tension in the kitchen rising, and he couldn’t quite explain what it was, but something was off. Gabe was asking some pretty direct questions.
“There’s plenty of food to go around. We can sort something out for everyone to eat. Mara’s sleeping, but she’ll be up soon.” Javier whistled and proceeded to walk over to Quinn. “There are certain things you miss, and there are certain things you don’t even want to talk about. It’s like an itch you can’t scratch. I know it was junk, but fried chicken is one of those things. You liked it, too, huh? Don’t tell me you worked in one of those greasy places?”
Quinn tossed the ticking chicken from hand to hand as Javier approached her. “Work there? No. I was never much of a fan myself, but my husband couldn’t get enough of it. Roger would eat it every day if I let him.”
Jonas was curious. Quinn had never told them about her past. He couldn’t see her flipping burgers for a living, and this was the first time she’d ever mentioned having a husband. She was a blank canvas, and it seemed that Gabe was pressing her buttons, getting her to open up.
“Roger?” Javier studied Quinn’s face, but she gave nothing more away. It was like his name was a keyword, and she shut down.
“He’s gone now. Anyway, I should get back to the others.”
As Quinn went to the door, Javier held her arm. She twisted it away, but he refused to let her go. “What about the pantry?” he asked. “You want to see all the food we have? I’ve only shown you half of what we have here. This is…”
“Let go,” said Quinn forcefully. She yanked her arm back, and Javier let her free. “Show me later, when the others are here.”
Javier started to tell her that there was so much more to the complex she should see and that he would gladly show her around, when the ticking chicken emitted a buzzing sound.
“Time’s up,” said Quinn, and she left the kitchen.
“You know, she’s smart. You shouldn’t rile her up like that,” said Jonas. “Quinn won’t appreciate you messing with her. She’s strong.”
“Quinn’s a big girl, I can see that. I don’t doubt she can handle herself. I just like to know who’s on my side. We’re all under the same roof now, and I don’t want any nasty surprises. I’m sure you can understand that.”
“Hamsikker, you got a second? I’d like to show you something.”
Javier led Jonas back through to the library, and he pulled back the thick velvet drapes. Sunlight came streaming in through the tall windows, and they both put down their coffee mugs. Jonas noticed the library walls were lined from top to bottom with books. Around the window frame were photographs, mostly in black and white, of golfers stood outside the clubhouse. The room was cozy and elegant, with furnishings that wouldn’t look out of place in a palace.
Javier sat down on a plush leather chair and unfurled a large map of the US across a desk. He placed a finger over it and looked at Jonas.
“Here’s where we are.” Javier looked up at Jonas to make sure he had his attention. “And here’s where I need to be.”
Jonas watched as Javier drew his finger north, up through Illinois, and Wisconsin, before resting over Winnipeg.
“This is the last place my brother was living. He was moving there from Thunder Bay last I heard. I can’t stay here forever with Mara, wondering how he is. I need to know. Ineedto get up there and find out.”
Jonas waited for Gabe to continue, but the room was filled with silence. He wasn’t entirely sure how to respond; whether Gabe was looking for reassurance or information. He had no intention of telling Gabe that Janey lived in Thunder Bay. He wasn’t sure yet if it was a good idea to part with that information. “I thought you had settled in here for the long-run,” Jonas said. “You said yourself there’s enough food to last for months.”
“Water too,” said Javier. “The irrigation system is working perfectly. We have clean water, power, heating, and fresh vegetables. It’s quite safe too. It would take a hundred zombies to get through that fence out there.”
“So…” Jonas looked at the map. He was going to be taking a very similar route north, and now the caffeine had worked its way into his system, Jonas was feeling more alert. His brain was already thinking about what lay ahead, about Dakota and the baby, about where he was heading, and how he was going to find Janey.
“So, what do you say you and me take a road trip?” asked Javier as he reclined in his chair. The black leather squeaked as he settled into it. “Mara can take care of this place with the help of the others for a few days. There are plenty of vehicles out front we can take our pick from. They’re fully tanked up, and ready to go. I was thinking that maybe you and Erik might accompany me?”
“Why do you need us?” Jonas couldn’t help but wonder. Why now? If he didn’t want Mara out there with him, then Gabe could just as easily go on his own.
Javier looked at Jonas. The moment that Rose had killed Gabe, things had changed. Javier wanted her more than anything, but she was a liability. He couldn’t rely on her anymore. The events of the crash had come back to him, and he’d realized Rose would’ve left him out there on the roadside to die like Cindy. He needed to change the direction his life was going, and get back on track. Rose had been holding him back. It was time to cut her free. If she wanted to set up home, she could do so without him. Over the last couple of days they had recovered from the crash, eaten and slept well, and yet Rose refused to entertain the idea of leaving and continuing on to Canada. The fences around the golf course seemed secure, and they hadn’t seen a single zombie inside, but he really had no idea how secure the place was long-term. Fate had thrown him a bone. Going it alone was an option, but it was more useful to have someone watch his back. When he had seen Erik and the others surface through the storm drain, he had decided to let them in. Rose wanted a little fun, and when she had spotted Freya she had practically forced Javier to go along with her plan, not that there had been much time for discussion. By assuming the identities of Gabe and Mara, Javier thought they could find out what the new group of people might offer. Javier knew Rose only really wanted the girl. But there was something about Erik and Jonas that appealed to him. They had been through a lot out there, probably more than he could imagine. They were fighters. If he could get them on side, they could be useful - to a point.
Javier hadn’t told Rose about going solo, about leaving her behind, but he would sell it as only a temporary thing. He would tell her that he’d be gone just long enough to find his brother, and then he would be back. Of course, he had no intention of coming back. With Gabe’s identity hanging around his neck, he didn’t want to return to it once he was able to shake it off. No way was he going to pretend to be some worthless security guard any longer than he had to. Once he reached the Canadian border, with Erik and Jonas’s help, he could shed it, rid himself of this new identity and rid himself of anyone who thought he was Gabe. He wanted to become Javier again. Gabe would die, and so would Gabe’s associates.
“I could do with some help out there on the road,” said Javier. “You know how difficult it is out there with the dead roaming around. If I give you a couple of days to rest up, perhaps you could talk to Erik, and we could get this done quickly. I just need to get my brother, and then we’ll be straight back.” Javier didn’t know exactly where his brother was. Diego had shacked up with some girl in Lorette, just outside of Winnipeg, and Javier had no reason to believe Diego had moved on. He had been working in Thunder Bay, and been spending a lot of time between the two places. All Javier knew was that he had to find him.
“I’m not so sure,” said Jonas. He was thinking about Janey. He was thinking that maybe he could use Javier to get to Canada too. Still, he would be hard pressed to convince Erik that leaving again so soon was a good idea. “I think you’d be better off on your own. My wife is pregnant, and I’m not sure going out again so soon is a good move.”
Javier sighed. “Hamsikker, I thought you would understand. I’m offering you a chance here. This isn’t for you, or me, but for your family. This is a chance for everyone. If you do this for me, then I see no reason why we can’t all stay here. You know how good this place is.”
The inference was clear to Jonas. If he didn’t help Gabe, the offer to stay was gone. Jonas needed this place for Dakota, for his child; turning down the offer to head north to Canada would undoubtedly lead to trouble. Perhaps he could go with Javier alone and leave Erik behind to look out for everyone.
“Just me,” said Jonas. “I’ll go with you, and once we find your brother, we’re coming straight back. I’ve a sister, Janey, up in Canada. Maybe I could try to contact her when we’re there. I won’t take up any of your time though. We get what we want, and then we head on back here, agreed?” Jonas decided that once they reached the border he would split up and go to get Janey on his own. He didn’t want to waste time searching for Gabe’s brother. They would have to meet back at Saint Paul’s independently. Jonas didn’t know how much he could trust Gabe, so he wanted to keep the fact that Janey lived in Thunder Bay to himself.
Javier stood up and held out his hand. Hamsikker’s sister held no interest for him. The woman was just another zombie. Still, at least Hamsikker was on board now. “I’d appreciate it if you could keep this just between us. Mara’s got a lot on her plate, and I’d rather not have her worry about me going out there again. You know, I think we’re going to get on like a house on fire, Hamsikker,” said Javier, grinning as they shook. “To the future.”
“I miss music. I played the cello. Not professionally, but I was good. The sound of it used to give me shivers. Have you heard much classical music? When you hear the cello you can’t help but fall in love. The sound it makes is so rich and sorrowful. Honestly, it’s like a piece of me is missing. I doubt I’ll ever get another chance to play again.”
Jonas never would’ve guessed Mara to be musical. Not that there was a type, but he was surprised at her honesty, for opening up to him. She had taken him and Erik outside after breakfast so she could show them around whilst Gabe busied himself in the kitchen. She cooked and he washed, that was the deal. Everyone else was washing up, trying to get themselves clean again. The bloodstains were difficult to scrub from their clothes, but at least their bodies were clean at last.
“You might. This can’t go on forever. I bet one day you’ll get to play again. I’d like to hear you. Are there any pieces of music you really like? Any favorite composers?”
Mara shook her head and looked away. “No, I didn’t have any one favorite. It was just a hobby.”
“My Peter tried the guitar for a while,” said Erik as they walked across to the storm drain. “Freaking useless. I had high hopes he would be the next Springsteen. Turns out he wasn’t. Not even close. He has many talents, but music is not one of them. Takes after his father, I guess.”
“You don’t like music?” asked Mara. They reached the edge of the garden, and she bent down to pick at some weeds.
“Sure, I do. More your old school rock like Springsteen or Hendrix. I didn’t get much time for it with the day job anyway. Work and kids soon put paid to any free time I had. I think the last CD I bought was some fluffy pop stuff for Freya.”
“A CD? What, had they sold out of old 45’s? Erik, I doubt Freya even knows what a CD is. Nobodybuysmusic anymore,” said Jonas.
“Nobody buys much of anything anymore,” said Erik wistfully.
“What did you used to do?” Mara asked Erik. She looked him up and down. “Laborer? Something like that?”
“He was a cop,” said Jonas. “A damn good one at that too.”
“Oh, right,” said Mara bluntly.
Jonas thought he picked up on something in her tone, something that suggested she wasn’t too comfortable around a cop, but he dismissed it. Most people felt nervous around a cop, even if they had nothing to hide. Quinn had been like that, too, at first.
Mara cleared her throat. “That’s the tool shed over there,” she said, pointing to a large brown building. It had a door at either end with heavy looking padlocks and dirty, dark windows. “It’s full of crap. There are a lot of hand tools, some gardening equipment, and a couple of ride-on lawnmowers. We used them to keep the course in shape, but we don’t tend to bother much anymore. It’s just a waste of gas, and there doesn’t seem much point really.”
“What’s that?” asked Jonas pointing to a smaller shed. It was painted a lurid white color, with ivy growing up the walls and clinging to the tin roof.
“Nothing of use, unless you plan on televising the end of the world. The media crew stored their gear in it. You can see the top of the TV tower from here. Gabe goes up there sometimes to look around, make sure the dead aren’t getting too close. You can smell them sometimes. It’s the smell of death. It just comes over the fence, and you know they’re there. You can’t see them, but they’re there. They’re always there.” Mara shuddered. “Look, you’re welcome to have a walk around the course, but I should go find Gabe. We have a lot to sort out today.”
“For sure,” said Erik. “We’ll take a look around and come help you later.”
Mara nodded and smiled, but Jonas felt as if it wasn’t sincere. Perhaps her encounter with the two drifters a couple of days back had her on edge, wary of strangers. It was understandable.
“I’m going to take a shower, Hamsikker. I’ll see you later.” Mara looked at Jonas as she left. He wasn’t certain, but she definitely hadn’t been comfortable since finding out Erik was a cop.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say she has the hots for you,” said Erik.
“That your expert opinion?”
Erik shrugged. “Just thought I picked up on something. Something feels a little different about her. I don’t know.”
“They seem fine, but we just have to be careful. They must be nervous having a bunch of strangers crashing their private party.”
“Don’t think I haven’t forgotten they took our weapons too. I’ll have a word with Gabe about that later. I’d feel a lot better if I knew where they were,” said Erik. “Just in case.”
Both of them started walking toward the TV tower, away from the clubhouse. Jonas was contemplating climbing it and taking a look over the fence. Would it make him feel any better knowing the dead were gathered there instead of just thinking they were? He decided it could wait. There was a lot to plan, and he needed to go and talk to Dakota. As they walked, Erik began humming a tune.
“What is that?” asked Jonas. “That song you’re so badly humming. I think I know it.”
“Oh, just a little something by the Boss. I took Pippa to see him last year. Man, he rocked.” Erik smiled and continued humming.
“Wonder what he’s up to now,” mused Jonas. “You think he’s a bad-ass zombie killer or six feet under?”
“Ain’t no question, Hamsikker. Springsteen is out there somewhere kicking some mother-fucking zombies back to mother-fucking hell.”
Jonas laughed, and Erik joined in.
“Shit, I remember listening to Springsteen when we were back in high school. He has longevity, I’ll give him that.”
Erik nodded as their laughter died down. “What about Slash?”
“You need to ask? Please,” said Jonas. “Zombie-killer all day long.”
Erik clicked the roof of his mouth with his tongue while he thought. “Okay, I’ll go with that. How about the piano-man?”
“Billy? He’s toast.” Jonas raised his hands in the air and shrugged. “Don’t blame me, I didn’t waste him.”
“The Dixies?” asked Erik. “Those country chicks know how to handle themselves.”
“Even deader. Don’t you watch the news, Erik? He went before this whole thing started. Shit, he’s probably back shuffling around looking for Dolly so he can take a nasty chunk out of her neck.”
Jonas clacked his teeth together and stretched his arms out, mimicking taking a bite out of something. “I can see it now, his eyes all glazed over and his tongue hanging out while Dolly bats him away, still trying to apply some lipstick before he severs her jugular vein.”
“Ha.” Erik laughed. “I guess the gambler lost in the end. What about all those action heroes? Remember those films we used to love? You ever think what they might be doing now?”
Jonas drew in a breath. “Well, Arnold and Sly undoubtedly are dead. I mean, come on, what are they going to do, defend themselves with their pensions?”
“Oh, tough call,” said Erik. “You know, I like to think John McClane is out there, picking off the bad guys, still kicking butt for us.”
“You know who is still kicking butt?” asked Jonas.
“Bruce. He’s fought off an army of the dead already. This is a walk in the park for him.”
“Bruce is indestructible, I’ll give you that. So who would win in a fight? Ash or McClane?”
“Seriously?” Jonas rubbed his jaw. “No. There’s no way they would fight each other. More likely they would join forces. Imagine that, the two of them side by side armed with a chainsaw and a magnum.”
“Yippee-kay-ay,” said Erik.
The two men laughed some more, and Jonas noticed the air was cooling as they talked. At one point Pippa came out to check on them, saying that Peter and Freya were having a wash, and she suggested Erik do the same. He shooed her back inside, promising that he was fine, and that they would wash later. It seemed like they finally had a chance to relax. Back when they were hiding in Erik’s place, there was no time for idle chatter or friendly reminiscing. It had been about survival back then. Jonas knew their future was uncertain, that this peace probably wouldn’t last forever, but he wanted to enjoy it while he could. For all their talk, they never covered anything serious, and Jonas knew he was going to have to bring it up. There was one thing eating away at him, and the sky was threatening rain. If he didn’t speak honestly with Erik now, he might not get time later. They reached a bunker, and Jonas sat down on the grass, inviting Erik to join him.
“So what is it? You’re about as hard to read as Freya’s pop-up books. I can tell you’ve something on your mind, so get on with it.”
“You’re too smart to be a cop, you know that?” Jonas sighed. “I just don’t know. It’s hard to decide what’s right and wrong anymore. I thought life was simple, but now…I’ve killed people Erik.
“We all have, Hamsikker.”
“No, not like you mean.”
“Back in Jeffersontown,” explained Jonas. “At the garage, when we were ambushed. Anna, Mary, and James were killed by the zombies, but Cliff…”
“What about him?”
Jonas looked down. He had to get it out, but he didn’t want to see Erik’s face when he told him. As much as he felt guilty for killing Cliff, he felt just as ashamed for letting his friend down. He didn’t want Erik to hate him or think less of him, but Jonas hated himself for what he’d done. He had to let it go, otherwise it would just eat him up.
“I killed him,” said Jonas. As soon as the words were out of his head he couldn’t stop, and the rest came rushing out in a torrent of relief. “I was so mad. I was sofuckingmad at him for setting us up like that. All I could feel was this anger building up inside of me. Then I saw his smug face as he stood over Mary’s body. He wasn’t sorry for what he did, not one bit. So, I beat him. I beat on him until Tyler pulled me off. I wanted to beat Cliff’s face in until he was broken. When his face was smashed in, I took Tyler’s gun, and I was going to put a bullet in his brain. I thought I’d better save the bullets though, so I took my axe and…
“Jesus Christ, I killed him, Erik. I mean he was messed up, but he could’ve lived. He could be with us now. What’s been going on since then, well, it screwed me up. That wasn’t me. My head was all over the place. You know that, right? At the garage, the things I saw, what happened there, just…”
Jonas remembered his father’s body and how it had climbed out of the casket at the funeral. His father had been put down, too, except he was already dead. There was a difference. There was a big difference between taking down a zombie, and killing a man in cold-blood. Jonas wasn’t sure he would ever forget it. Somehow he had to forgive himself, though. He had to find a way to move on.
“Get over it, Hamsikker,” said Erik plainly. He drew in a deep breath before continuing. “Cliff was a liability from day one. You had to make the call, I understand that. I don’t know if I would’ve done what you did, but you did it, and I’m in no place to pass judgment on you. Only He can do that, and He’ll wait until he’s good and ready. I for one am pleased you’re around.”
“That’s it?” asked Jonas, unsure if Erik was just waiting to argue, waiting to pull him up and castigate him for cold-blooded murder. “I’m not proud of what I did, you know. I still see Cliff in my dreams. I can picture myself kneeling over him, pounding my fists into his face over and over and over. I see his eyes closing and his nose breaking. I can feel his teeth rattling in his head, and the feel of his skull as it smacked back against the concrete.”
There were so many things Jonas wished he could change, but he couldn’t. He wished he had bought the velvet-lined coffin for his father. He was starting to realize that, starting to accept that he couldn’t control everything. After Cliff had died, he had wanted to take charge of everything. He’d lost his mind for a while there, and now that he was back he was determined not to mess up again. The only way he could start afresh was to be honest, with not just the others, but himself too.
“I don’t think I could do that again,” said Jonas. “Killing a man is easy in that second right before you pull the trigger. It’s the easiest thing in the world, but afterwards? There’s no law now. There’s no clear path anymore. What is justice these days? Without Dakota, I…”
Erik pulled a slim piece of licorice out of his pocket and examined it. “This is my last one. I was trying to save it, but seems like I may as well light it up now.” He tugged at the end and plucked a piece off. As he chewed on it, he offered a piece to Jonas.
“Right and wrong? That’ll depend on who you ask. Pippa and I chose a path a few years back. We follow Him and are thankful that we have Him to guide us. We have our prayers, our children, and that is all. I can’t say if you should do the same, that’s up to you, man, but it works for us. As for Cliff – forget about it. I don’t see the need to spill any tears over him, and I sure don’t see the need to tell anyone else about this. We’ve all seen and done some crazy shit. I’d never let anyone get in the way of getting my family to safety, and I know you’re the same, Hamsikker. If you hadn’t stopped Cliff who’s to say where it would’ve ended? With him getting more of us killed, probably. What’s done is done.”
Jonas leant back and looked out at the golf course illuminated by the dim light. It was serene and quiet, a world away from what lay beyond the fences. “I could do with a cigarette.”
Erik laughed. What started out as a chuckle developed into a full-blown belly laugh. Jonas watched on, bemused, as Erik finally regained control of himself.
“I tried going cold turkey a few years back. It didn’t go so well. I was a pain in the ass, and I was horrible to Pippa, just horrible. I hated myself, but we got through it.”
Jonas looked at Erik as he took a bite of licorice.
“It tastes like ripe tar on a hot day,” said Erik grimacing. “It’s foul, absolutely no doubt about it, foul.”
“Didn’t you develop a taste for it?” asked Jonas.
“Are you kidding, Hamsikker? I’d rather chew on Cliff’s bloody bones right now, but it’s all I got. I don’t miss the cigarettes anymore, and I ain’t going back. I’ll be pleased when this last one is finished. Then I’m clean.”
“You’re certifiable, Lansky.” Jonas remembered how he had left his father, and his mind presented an image of his father spread out on the stone floor with his brains splattered everywhere. Jonas and Dakota had run out of the church listening to Mrs. Danick shooting the place up. If Erik hadn’t stopped then to pick them up, where would they be now? A long time dead, probably. He owed Erik. They had saved each other countless times since then, but he would never forget that. Erik could’ve driven away. He had his own family to take care of, but he had still stopped to make sure Jonas and Dakota were okay.
“I’m certifiable?” Erik sighed and shivered. “You’re in a fit of rage, about to kill a man, and you stop to save the bullets? I don’t know how you’re wired, Hamsikker, but I can only assume Dakota keeps you grounded, or you’d be floating around in space by now.”
“You want to go back inside?” asked Jonas. “It’s going to get cold soon. You feel it? I think there might be a storm coming.”
Jonas could feel the last rays of sunlight trickling through the trees surrounding the golf course. More and more clouds were appearing overhead, and the temperature was dropping quickly. It could barely be mid-morning, but it was as if the evening was drawing in.
“No, let’s stay a while and just sit. We’ll go if it starts raining.” Erik sucked quietly on his last piece of licorice. “I want to enjoy the peace and quiet for a bit.”
Pippa, Peter, and Freya were tucked up safely inside. It had been a long time since Erik could leave them alone and relax, and Jonas knew that. He felt it too. This place was a haven, and they needed it. The zombies were securely locked out behind strong fences, and everyone inside the clubhouse was pulling in the same direction. It seemed the corner had been turned, and they could actually relax. Jeffersontown could burn to the ground for all he cared. All that mattered was that they kept their heads down. He could go with Gabe to Canada, bring back Janey, and leave the killing behind him. Erik would find out soon enough that Jonas was planning a trip back outside, and there was no reason to break the peaceful atmosphere yet. The nightmare was over. He’d talk to Erik later.
Barely half an hour had passed before the first raindrops splattered down, and quickly Jonas and Erik were running back to the clubhouse, laughing like schoolboys. The wind swept the rain into their faces and drenched their clothes.
“Now that’s what I call a proper Bluegrass storm,” said Erik as they made their way inside. He shook his thick shaggy hair, scattering water over the hallway.
“Guess there’s no need for that shower now,” said Jonas as they made their way to the bedrooms upstairs. There was no heating, so he wanted to get out of his wet clothes and check on Dakota. They raided the gift shop and found a heap of polo shirts, jeans, and even Saint Paul’s branded underwear to change into.
“Good, you’re back.” Quinn met Jonas and Erik on the staircase. “We need to talk.” She followed them into Jonas’s room and waited as he changed.
“How was it? You check the fence?” asked Erik.
“Yeah, yeah it’s fine,” said Quinn. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea leaving that TV tower up, it’s a hazard if you ask me. Looks like a strong wind could take it down. I’d also recommend we clean up the body that’s still out there. We don’t want anyone getting sick. Look, I can take you round later, but right now, Erik, I think you need to have a word with Peter.”
“Why? What’s happened?”
“Nothing really, but that’s not how Gabe sees it.” Quinn pulled out a chair and sat down. “Pippa let Peter take Freya for a shower.”
“Yeah, I know, Pippa told me.”
“Well he probably should learn to knock first. He walked in on Mara.”
Jonas caught Erik’s eye and couldn’t help but laugh.
“Can it, Hamsikker,” said Quinn. “Gabe wasn’t too pleased about it.”
Erik began to laugh too. “Look, it was an accident, right? So, no harm done. I’m sure Peter didn’t mean anything by it. I’ll talk to him, make sure he apologizes. Anything else we missed?”
Quinn shifted in her seat nervously. “Well…”
“Well what?” Jonas dried his hair on a blanket. He wasn’t feeling too concerned about the shower incident. Peter had copped an eyeful, and Mara was good-looking, so good for him. It was a lot of fuss over nothing.
“Terry and Mrs. Danick have been checking the place out. Mrs. Danick was looking at the pictures on the walls, reading about the golf club’s history and stuff.”
“Great,” said Erik. “Think we can go to my room now? I need to get changed.”
“Hold on. You need to hear this. She said she couldn’t find asinglephoto of Gabe anywhere. You’ve seen this place. They must have a hundred photos on the walls, and yet he’s not in any. Mara neither.”
“So what are you saying?” asked Jonas. “Did she ask Gabe about it?”
“No, she wanted to wait for you.”
“Well, there you are. I’m sure there’s an explanation,” said Erik. “If that’s all you’ve got to worry about…”
“Come on, Erik.” Quinn stood up and walked over to the door. “I’m trying to tell you that things aren’t necessarily what they seem. You weren’t here when Gabe was shouting at Peter, telling him he was a pervert for spying on Mara in the shower. You should talk to Mrs. Danick. Look, just get changed and come downstairs will you? Both of you. We’re all gathering in the library before lunch.”
As Quinn slammed the door behind her, Jonas looked at Erik. “We should go talk to her.”
“Perhaps we should try and let things blow over. It doesn’t sound like much to me.” Erik went out into the corridor, and Jonas followed him into Erik’s makeshift bedroom.
“I know you have your doubts about Quinn,” said Jonas, “but she’s got a level head on her.”
Erik looked at Jonas with surprise.
“Yeah, I can read you too, and I know when something’s on your mind. You’ve never fully believed in her. What is it?” he asked Erik.
Erik pulled on a tight black polo top emblazoned with the Saint Paul’s logo on the chest. “She’s fine, but we don’t know anything about her. Before she turned up on our doorstep, what was she? Who was she?”
“Does it matter?” asked Jonas. “As far as I’m concerned she’s one of us. She’s never let us down, she always pulls her weight, and if she thinks something is up we at least ought to listen to her.”
“I guess.” Erik looked at his reflection in the window as the rain battered against it. “I need a shave,” he said rubbing his hands through his untamed red beard.
“Mrs. Danick deserves to be heard too. Come on, Erik, let’s just go down and smooth things over. We don’t need things going pear-shaped now.”
“You’re right, Hamsikker. Shit, is this what it feels like?”
“To be an asshole? I thought you had the rights to that.”
“Funny man,” said Jonas. “Let’s go before things get out of hand.”
In the library they found Mrs. Danick studying a photograph on the wall. Quinn was sitting with Terry at the desk where Javier had earlier shown Jonas the map of the country. The map was no longer there, and Javier was stood next to Mrs. Danick pointing out various golf players and long-standing members.
Mrs. Danick saw Erik and Jonas walk into the room. “So I see a lot of staff photos here Gabe, you must be very proud, except…I can’t see you in this one either. What gives?”
“This one was from the Christmas party last year. Unfortunately, I had a bout of the flu, so I missed out. Such a shame. It’s a good photo.”
Mrs. Danick turned to look at Jonas. “Seems you must be very unlucky, Gabe. You missed out on a few. Maye you need to take more vitamins, fight off the bugs.”
Javier smiled. “I was wondering, Mrs. Danick, how you survived so long.”
“You mean on account of me being a little old lady?”
“Well, to be blunt, yes. I mean, there are not exactly a lot of people like you left.” Javier strode over to the window where the rain was steadily beating against it. “I’d say you’re the oldest person in Kentucky right now. Living, that is.”
Mrs. Danick pulled her handbag tight to her chest. “I carry a .38 special snub-nosed revolver with a two inch barrel. Light enough to carry discreetly in my bag without being too heavy for practical use. A .22 caliber would be too small. When I need to take down one of these motherfuckers, I want to be able to blow its brains out with one shot. And trust me - I’ve taken down a lot. If you’d like to let me have my gun back, I’d be happy to show youexactlyhow good a shot I am.”
Jonas looked at the surprise dawning on Gabe’s face, and then he burst out laughing. Erik followed too with a big booming laugh that echoed around the room. Jonas saw Gabe joining in the laughter, but he could tell Gabe had been offended. It was like they were all laughing at him and not sharing the joke.
“I’m sorry,” said Jonas. “I don’t even know why I’m laughing. Look, Mrs. Danick can handle herself. Believe me, Dakota and I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for her.”
“I see. Okay, okay. Well good for you, Mrs. Danick. I’m pleased to be in such sharp company. May I know your first name?” asked Javier.
“No. My name is Mrs. Danick, and that’s all you need to know, young man. My late husband, God rest his soul, would tear a strip off you for being so impertinent. If he were here now…”
Jonas stifled another laugh. “Mrs. Danick, leave him alone. Gabe, why don’t you…”
“No, no, let her speak. If we are to live under one roof together, we need to be honest with each other. I think Mrs. Danick has a problem with me, so let’s hear it.”
“Can I suggest we save the chat for another time,” said Terry. “I’m worried about this weather. Have you been through many storms here, Gabe? Are the fences strong? Quinn thinks they’re good, but we’ve only had a brief look. Is there anything we need to do to make sure?”
“And I thought Mrs. Danick was the old woman of the group,” said Javier sighing. “It’s Terry, right? Look, you have nothing to worry about. We’ve been through plenty of storms before, and I’m sure we’ll roll right through this one too.” Javier had no idea how Gabe had looked after the place, but was happy to assume that everything was in order.
A rolling thunder boomed out and rattled the windowpane. A few seconds later, and a flash of lightening lit up the room.
“The storm’s getting close,” said Erik. “I think we should…”
Everyone in the room shook as a tearing sound filled the air followed by a tremendous crashing and booming noise from outside. It sounded like the earth itself was being torn apart, and Jonas raced to the window.
“What is it? The fence?” asked Mrs. Danick.
“The TV tower is down. It’s fallen on one of the fence panels. “Oh shit. The dead…” Jonas turned and stared at Erik, his eyes wide open with panic. “They’re in.”
“We need to get to the weapons before they cut us off. I stashed them out in the workrooms behind the garden. Hamsikker, Quinn, you come with me,” ordered Javier. “Erik, can you…”
“I have to find my family,” said Erik as he backed out of the room. “Get me my gun, Hamsikker. I’ll meet you on the front porch in five.”
Without waiting for an answer, Erik charged out of the room with Mrs. Danick chasing after him. Jonas heard her promise to help find Dakota too.
“Shit, look at them all,” said Terry. He was peering through the window as a succession of grey figures stumbled onto the golf course. “The TV tower brought down a good section of the fence. We’re not getting that back up in a hurry.”
“Terry, forget it, and come help us,” shouted Jonas as he followed Javier out of the room. “We need to hold them back until the others are safe.”
The three men ran from the library, through the clubhouse, and headed to the back entrance. Their feet pounded against the wooden floorboards, and the noise ricocheted around the building, clamoring for attention alongside the thunderstorm raging outside. Javier flung open the door, and they were all immediately hit by a wall of rain. The storm was right overhead, and the sky was so dark that it could have passed for night.
Cold pricks of water hit Jonas in the face as they charged outside, heading for the gardens and the storage sheds. He knew Dakota was safe for now, somewhere inside the clubhouse, but for how long? He looked south at the fallen TV tower. The earth had softened with the rain and caused it to fall right on top of the fence. A stretch had come down, about twenty feet of it, and he could see the zombies coming through. There was nothing to stop them, no barrier at all, and he managed to count a dozen before they reached the workshop. So they had been there all along, packed up against the wall, just waiting for an opportunity to get in.
Javier opened the door, and reached down to the pile of weapons he had left on the floor.
“Terry, take these,” said Javier, thrusting a couple of guns at him.
“I’ll take Erik’s Glock and give it to him,” said Jonas picking it up. He trusted Erik to come help, and wanted him to use a gun he was familiar with.
“I’ll leave the door open in case we need more.” Javier pointed out the rows of shovels and hand tools as he stuffed ammo into his pocket. “If things don’t work out, we’re gonna need to get to the white van and the SUV parked out back. I loaded them up in case of an emergency with food, water, and weapons. There’s a hammer, a nail gun, even a hand-held chainsaw. All sorts of stuff we can use.”
“Don’t even think about it,” said Terry. “We arenotlosing this place. We only just got here, for Christ’s sake.”
Jonas picked up his axe. It was still bloody, but when he felt the weight of it in his hand, he knew it was all he needed. He wasn’t a very good shot with a gun, but he never missed with the axe in his hands. The head was strong and sharp, and the blade never seemed to dull despite the numerous skulls it had crushed. As he took it, he relished the feel of it, enjoying the coarseness of the helve. He ran his fingers across the smooth oak from which it had been fashioned, and he felt stronger immediately. He could do this. They could do this together, and beat them back. The zombies stood no chance.
“Runner!” shouted Terry.
A gunshot rang out, and Terry took the first one down before it reached them.
“Follow me,” shouted Javier. He led them back to the clubhouse, and positioned himself beside a water barrel. He told Jonas and Terry to line up beside him underneath the back porch where they had shelter from the rain. Javier began shooting with Terry, trying to take down the front of the pack. Runners came splintering away from the group, but they were hard to pick off as they ran in a zigzag, bumbling their way through the horde.
Through the rain and the bullets Javier picked his targets carefully. He didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire, and ducked under a tall elm, ready to take down any runners that evaded the gunfire.
“There’re a lot of zombies coming through that gap in the fence,” shouted Terry over the gunfire. “Mostly stumblers, but we can’t let them keep coming.” Terry continued firing at the faster ones. As Terry shot at the dead, he could tell that they were only just managing to stay on top of them. All the time, he could see more and more zombies piling in where the fence was down. Gabe was a good shot, but the numbers were not in their favor.
“Shit!” Jonas yelled as the first of the stumblers reached him. A woman appeared almost from nowhere. The rain was blinding, and as if emerging from a waterfall, the woman reached out for him.
Jonas gritted his teeth and sunk his axe into the woman’s neck. He sidestepped to the left, and let the woman fall to the ground where he hit her again, smashing in her skull. Another figure emerged from the rain, a dead body ambling toward him menacingly. Whether it was male or female he couldn’t tell, and he didn’t wait to find out. He swung the axe sharply across the figure’s face, and the skull split apart instantly as the axe wrenched the person’s head from the body. The exposed bone was shiny and white, and Jonas watched as the zombie staggered forward before dropping to its knees. Rainwater pooled at Jonas’s feet, and it turned red as the zombie’s innards began spewing out onto the ground. Once he was sure it was dead, he had no time to react as another zombie reached him. It was a runner, and it was fast.
Jonas saw the zombie almost too late. There was a crack of thunder, a flash of lightening, and then he saw it coming from the corner of his eye. A young boy, probably no more than eleven or twelve, still fully clothed, and still with all his limbs, ran to Jonas emitting a horrifying groaning sound. The boy ran with his arms outstretched, as if desperate for a hug. Jonas saw the angry red face of a bird on the boy’s shirt and recognized the boy wore a Cardinals shirt, the same sort of one that he had worn at that age. Amazingly the boy still wore a Cardinals cap, too, and for a second Jonas wondered if he was mistaken. Perhaps the boy just needed help and was runningawayfrom the dead instead of with them. In his heart, Jonas knew there was no way the boy could still be alive, and when he got closer, Jonas could see the dead boy’s face. His jaw had been gnawed away to the bone, exposing two rows of teeth. Maggots filled his cheeks, and the skin was a dark gray color. The boy’s eyes were a deep brown, ringed by tiny freckles, and almost looked alive. Reluctantly, Jonas swung his axe once more, letting the blade slice through the boy’s head. The Cardinals cap flew through the air, landing at Jonas’s feet. The zombie fell to the ground, and Jonas turned to face the house. The poor kid didn’t deserve that. He had been somebody’s child, and now he was just another zombie, another dead body on the ground with a lost soul and a mangled face. Jonas sighed. How many more was he going to have to kill? Where were the others? Amidst the noise of the storm, he had lost track of how many shots Gabe and Terry had taken. He could see bodies scattered throughout the drive where the runners had fallen, but they were still coming.
“Terry? Gabe? Where are they? We can’t keep this up much longer.” Jonas watched as Terry took down another two runners, and then reloaded his gun. He watched Gabe do the same, and then he saw Erik run from the house.
Erik ran up to Jonas, and he handed him his Glock. Erik fired off two shots without hesitating, and he took down a couple of stumblers. “Everyone else is inside. Quinn’s going to see if she can get one of the trucks over to the fence, and block off the hole.”
Jonas heard the rumble of an engine behind him and saw Quinn moving one of the trucks across the garden. She was peering through the windows trying to see clearly, and he hoped she could do it. If they could somehow find a way to block the gap in the fence, they might just be able to save the course.
Erik put a hand on Jonas’s shoulder. “She’s fine. She’s with the others waiting in the lobby. If things go sour, they’re ready to go.”
Jonas nodded. “We should try to clear a path for Quinn. It’s hard enough driving in this weather, but any zombies in her way are only going to slow her down. If we don’t get that hole patched up, we’re going to lose this place.”
Erik said something in agreement, although quite what he said Jonas didn’t know. Erik’s voice was lost in the cacophony of the storm. Jonas darted over to Terry just as Erik began shooting.
“Gabe, Terry - concentrate your fire on the zombies that are headed for the house. I’m going to take Erik and clear a way for Quinn.” Jonas didn’t wait for a reply but headed straight back to Erik.
“Come on,” said Jonas as they left the shelter of the tree and made for the slow-moving truck.
Jonas stayed in front of Erik and used his axe to take down any zombies that got close enough while Erik shot at any who looked like they were about to get in front of the truck. Jonas could see Quinn struggling to keep the truck moving, and as it veered over the fairway, it began to lose traction. The truck was heavy, loaded with supplies, and it gradually began to move slower. Jonas watched as two zombies fell under it, and their bodies helped the rear wheels gain some grip. It lurched forward, and Erik dropped more right in front of Quinn. The dark sky above opened up, and lightning coursed through the clouds again, illuminating the golf course fully. Jonas saw Quinn heading for the TV tower, but he also saw what lay beyond. Further down the fairway, to the south, another stretch of fence had gone down. It might have been the storm, the winds, or even the sheer weight of the dead pressed against it, but whatever had caused it to collapse was irrelevant. The golf course was covered in zombies. Hundreds of them were scattered over it, all walking or running to the sound of the gunfire. Jonas thought there could be a hundred or more. Their numbers were insurmountable, and he knew they had to go. They could fight them back, try and repel them, but eventually they would run out of ammo, and then they would be reduced to fighting by hand. It was too dangerous to stand and fight. The golf course was lost. They had been so close, and now it was gone.
“Erik, we have to go,” shouted Jonas as he killed a zombie, whirling his axe around him like a baton. As the dead body fell at his feet, Erik stopped firing and looked at him.
“No way; wecan’tlose this place, not now.” Erik resumed firing, picking off the zombies nearest to Quinn. He managed to get off headshots nearly every time, and Jonas was impressed. But Erik was wasting his time and bullets.
“Erik,” said Jonas pulling on his friend’s arm, “you have to stop. You know what I’m saying. It’s too late.”
Erik looked at Jonas and the swarming dead around him. His eyes sank to the ground. “But we can’t lose this, we can’t. It isn’t fair. My kids are shattered. Pippa was finally beginning to think we had a future again. I was. I…”
“I know,” said Jonas, “but we have no choice.”
Erik looked up. The dead were coming at them from all angles. The wind was tearing up branches and leaves, whirling them around and sending them tearing through the air like darts. The rain hadn’t eased up either, and another boom of thunder rolled across the Kentucky plains.
“Fuck,” said Erik plainly. “Just…fuck.”
Jonas began waving at Quinn to stop, but she had already stopped. The truck had become stuck by a sandpit, and the wheels were spinning uselessly, kicking up sand and water.
“You go back,” shouted Jonas. He had to make sure Erik heard the plan, as the storm was not abating. The zombies were closing in on them, and the sounds of the moaning dead were increasing too. “Get Gabe and Terry, and tell them that we’re evacuating. Gabe said there were two vehicles prepped and ready. A white van and an SUV, I think. Get everyone inside them and ready to go. I assume Gabe will take one, so let him take the van. I want you behind the wheel of the SUV. Come and get me as soon as you can.”
“What the hell, Hamsikker? We’re not going without you. If you’re off on one of your suicide missions again…”
“Erik, we don’t have time to argue. For the record, no, I’m not off on a suicide mission. Quinn needs help. There’s no point us both going over there. Make sure your family is okay. I’m counting on you, so get going.” Jonas practically pushed Erik away, and he turned to face the van Quinn was driving.
Gunshots rang out around him, and Erik ran back toward the clubhouse. Jonas started forward to go and fetch Quinn. She was still trying to get the van free of the sandpit, but the falling rain was only making it harder to get out. Three zombies had surrounded the cab, and he was going to have to take them out before Quinn could get out safely. There were runners coming in, too, and he was going to have to be smart to avoid them. He sliced his axe through a dead woman as he ran to Quinn, and then slipped behind a huge oak tree. Its trunk was thick, and it hid him briefly from the view of the dead. Jonas counted to five slowly, and then spun around, knowing the runners would be there. This time he was surprising them, and he split their skulls open before they even knew where he was. Particles of brain splattered him, and he brought the axe down upon them on the ground, making sure they couldn’t get back up again. He left the shelter of the tree and sprinted over to the van.
“Quinn!” he shouted, but she wasn’t paying attention to him. He could make her face out through the front windshield, but she was looking out the passenger windows, at the zombies trying to get in. They were hammering on the doors, pounding their hands against the side of the cab, and she looked scared. Was she thinking that they would leave her? If Jonas didn’t think he could do it, he might have done just that. He had to make his own family a priority, but things would have to be seriously dire for him to leave anyone behind. However small a chance there was, if he could save someone he would. Quinn had plenty of life left in her yet.
Jonas summoned up all his energy. Breakfast had been cold ham and coffee, and he could feel his arms tiring already. The axe was a brutal weapon, but it left him feeling exhausted, and with the storm swirling around them, he knew he was starting to tire. With the zombies’ attention on Quinn, Jonas had little trouble picking them off. One by one he cut them, slicing through their necks and shoulders, severing their heads from their bodies, pressing them down into the dirt when necessary so he could finish them off. When they were dead, the passenger door swung open, and he climbed up inside.
“Hamsikker, am I pleased to see you,” said Quinn. “The damn truck’s stuck. I can’t free it.”
“Leave it,” said Jonas. “We’re going. Come with me.”
“Wait, what? Leaving?”
“Quinn, have you seen what it’s like out there? They’re everywhere. Maybe on another day, if we can get more ammo, we can come back and try to retake this place. Today, though, right now, we have no choice but to leave. There’s more of the fence down on the south side. Probably the storm. I guess it wasn’t as secure as Gabe thought. Maybe he missed something, I don’t know. Look, Erik and Gabe are coming to pick us up. I know it’s not what we wanted, but this way we get to fight another day.”
Jonas could see the disappointment in Quinn’s eyes, but he also saw acceptance there. She was not just strong, but intelligent too.
Quinn turned off the engine, and they sat in the cab silently for a moment, listening to the wind and the rain batter the truck.
“Fine. Let’s go,” agreed Quinn. “I don’t have anything though. Did Gabe at least give you the weapons back?”
Jonas nodded and looked in the mirror. “I can’t see for the rain. Can you see if they’re coming?”
Quinn shook her head. “Can’t see shit.”
“Right.” Jonas put his hand on the door handle. “Let’s start making our own way back. We hang around here much longer, and we’ll get surrounded again. Plus, I don’t want the others to get stuck like you did. Just stay behind me. We can outrun them. I’ll take care of any that get too close. Okay, let’s go.Now.”
Jonas jumped out of the cab, making sure Quinn followed him. He ran around to join her and instantly put his axe to use. An old black man dressed in crimson shorts and a turquoise polo ran up to him, the man’s eyes white and his face bloody. As the runner let out a low moaning sound, Jonas cleaved off its jaw, and the zombie crashed to the ground. It floundered in the sandpit, trying to find Jonas, but another swift blow to the head, and the man was still.
“This way,” said Jonas. He led Quinn back toward the clubhouse, aware that there were more runners behind them. Quinn ran beside him, and neither of them looked back. Unless he felt something grab him, Jonas wasn’t about to waste time looking behind him. Instead, he focused his attention up ahead, and he tried to see through the falling rain where the others were. He spotted a white van moving slowly away from the work sheds, but he couldn’t tell who was driving. A figure ran from the clubhouse and jumped up into the passenger side of the van, after which it picked up speed. Jonas wondered where it was heading when it turned back toward the house; then he realized the main driveway that led back to the road was on the other side of the house. He had assumed that they were going to have to punch a hole through the dead and drive out through the fence, but as long as Gabe had the keys, they could go out of the main entrance.
“That our ride?” Quinn pointed out the brown SUV coming up behind the van. It was accelerating quickly, and the wipers were swishing back and forth rapidly.
“That’s it,” shouted Jonas. He saw the SUV plow through the vegetable patch, churning up dirt and mangling the crop as it did so. It was the most direct route to them, and Jonas was sure Erik was driving. Jonas batted away the rain from his face, and saw Erik. It looked like the passenger seat was empty, and as the SUV pulled up beside them, the door flew open.
“Get in,” shouted Erik. “Get the hell in,now!”
Jonas shuddered as he experienced a startling moment of déjà vu. When this had all started, back at the church for his father’s funeral, Erik had said exactly the same thing. Erik had picked him up and rescued him from the dead then too, and here he was doing it all over again. The setting was different, and instead of an achingly hot sun, the sky was full of thunder and rain, but it didn’t escape Jonas’s attention that they were repeating something they had done once before. All the effort they had gone to, and yet they were still on the run, still having to escape the zombies’ attacks.
Jonas jumped into the vehicle and made sure Quinn was in, too, before shouting at Erik to move it. Jonas snapped his belt in quickly, and saw Quinn had settled into the back seat next to Terry and Dakota.
“Everyone okay? Everyone out?” asked Jonas as the SUV spun to his left and began to catch up to the white van.
“All accounted for,” said Erik.
He was gripping the wheel so tightly that Jonas thought he might yank it out completely. The SUV tried to spin out of control on the dirt, but Erik managed to bring it under control and get them back onto the driveway. Jonas was grateful that his friend was a cop. All of Erik’s knowledge and experience had saved them countless times. If Erik had ended up a computer programmer or a desk clerk, who knew what state they might all be in right now?
“Gabe has the van. Mara’s sat up front with him. Pippa and Mrs. Danick took Peter and Freya into the back with them. It’s packed full of supplies so it ain’t gonna be comfortable in there for them, but it seemed the best thing to do.”
“They’ll be fine,” said Jonas, hoping that Gabe was as good a driver as Erik. As they skirted the fringe of the fairway, Jonas looked back at the course. The dead were everywhere. There had to be a hundred of them staggering beneath the gloomy sky, soaking wet, and all now heading for the van and the SUV. They began to slow down, and Jonas instinctively grabbed his axe.
“Gabe’s got to open the gate,” said Erik. “He has the keys, but it’ll take him a minute. Hamsikker, we’re low on ammo. It took everything we had getting everyone safely in the van. I think Gabe has a couple of rounds left. Me, too, but with Mrs. D’s, that’s about it.”
The SUV pulled up to a stop behind the white van. Through the windshield everything was blurry and grey. Gabe was hidden behind the raindrops and the wind that carried leaves and dirt, and Jonas could hardly see what was going on. The engine rumbled idly as they waited, and every second that passed felt like a year. He stared ahead at the back of the van, willing it to move, wanting it to race away out onto the open road and away from the dead.
“Hamsikker, this is taking too long,” said Terry from the back. “What if he grabbed the wrong keys? What if he got attacked?”
“They’re getting close,” said Erik quietly. His side window had fogged up, and he wiped it with his forearm. “The runners are…”
“I got it,” said Jonas jumping out of the car.
“Jonas, don’t you…”
Dakota’s words were lost as Jonas slammed the door behind him and began advancing on the white van with his axe raised. If something had gone wrong, if Gabe had been attacked, he was going to have to get the others out of there. The SUV would be a squash with everyone packed in, but there was no way he was leaving anyone behind.
Jonas crept around the side of the van to the driver’s door and saw that it was open. Up ahead, a figure was crouched beside the fence. Huge wrought iron gates were sandwiched between two posts, and Jonas saw a sign through the railings hanging from an ornate lamppost. The road itself was clear, and he guessed the zombies had all been drawn to the opening in the fence further down the course. They would be lucky to find the road empty, but he could hope. As Jonas passed the van’s open door he glanced inside and saw Mara. She was sat perfectly still, with her feet up on the dashboard. The visor was pulled down, and she was examining herself in the small mirror. She was too preoccupied applying some lipstick and didn’t notice Jonas, so he continued on to see if Gabe needed any help.
“Fucking thing,” said Javier as he punched in the numbers to open the door.
“Everything okay?” asked Jonas.
Javier straightened up, and there was a clanking sound as the two gates began to open slowly. “Yeah, I just had to get the code in. I lost the piece of paper I had it written down on, so it took me a while to remember it. We’re good to go now.”
“Okay, let’s get the hell out of here,” said Jonas grimacing. “We should…”
Suddenly Jonas pushed Javier to the side, sending him sprawling to the floor. Directly where Javier had been standing was a zombie. A tall, thin man with spectacles and spindly arms was inches away, and Jonas quickly brought the axe up, catching the man under the chin, and smashing open his jaw.
“Get back,” shouted Jonas, as Javier got to his feet. “Stay behind me.”
Jonas wrenched his axe free and lifted it up to strike again and end the man’s undead life. Holding his axe aloft, Jonas heard a cracking sound, and the man’s head exploded. Jonas turned away to avoid being covered in gore and blood. He still held his axe in his hands and was unsure what had happened to the man.
“You can thank me later,” said Javier as he holstered his gun.
“Sure,” said Jonas slowly as he lowered his axe. “I had it under control, but sure.”
Javier ran back to the van, leaving Jonas standing beside the dead body. The gates were now fully open, and Jonas waited for the van to pass. Erik pulled the SUV up, and Jonas ran around it to climb back in the front.
“What was that about?” asked Erik. “You good, man?”
“Yeah, I’m good. Let’s just get out of here.” Jonas dropped the axe in the footwell and wondered why Gabe had shot the zombie. There really hadn’t been any need to. Surely he could see that? Perhaps he was nervous. Perhaps Gabe just wanted to prove he still had it, could still shoot straight. Jonas shrugged it off. They were away from the course. The dead could go to hell. He looked back at Quinn and Terry and then at Dakota.
“You all right?” He reached back for Dakota’s hand, and she squeezed his hand back. She smiled and nodded, but then withdrew her hand from his.
Jonas let it go and told Erik to keep following Gabe. Wherever they were headed, it had to be better than the golf course. Right now he had to trust that Gabe knew where he was going.
“So where now, honey?” asked Rose.
Javier reached for the glove compartment by Rose’s knees and pulled out a crumpled up map. “You tell me. I’m driving, you do the directions.”
Rose took the map and studied it for a moment. “Oh, I see. I know.” She rolled down her window, letting in a flurry of rain, and threw the map out.
“What the fuck are you doing?” asked Javier.
“Me?” asked Rose as she wound the closed the window. “Why ask me? I’m just the pretty little housewife, right? I cook and I clean, and I fuck when I’m told to, but I really don’t know how to do anything more than that.”
Javier looked at Rose. She was smirking, as if she knew the answer to everything. If he wasn’t driving he would’ve wiped that cute smirk from her face, but as it was he had to keep both hands on the wheel. The road was smooth and straight, but the storm was making it difficult, and he was trying to monitor the road ahead for stumblers.
“How about, what the fuck areyoudoing?” Rose put a hand upon Javier’s thigh. “We had it all, you know. Now it’s all fucked. We could’ve made something of that place, but you had to get all buddy-buddy with them. If it was just us two we might have been able to deal with it, but with so many of them dumb fucks running around, we had no chance. I don’t know what’s got into you, Javier.”
“Keep your God damn voice down,” said Javier. “Don’t blow our cover now. They hear you talking like that, and we’ll find ourselves facing a mutiny. I don’t want to stop this van and open up the back door to find a gun in my face. You?”
“Do you know anything? Jesus,Gabe, the redhead, Erik, he’s a fucking cop.A cop! We should just off them now.”
Javier swerved the van around a corner and narrowly missed crashing into a stationary tractor that had been left halfway out of a ditch.
“I don’t care what he was before. He’s nothing. All of them. I’m in charge now. They follow me. If we play this right, then they follow us. Get it? You want to get out there, get your hands dirty? Be my guest. Otherwise, listen up. Forgetting the little girl, we have eight people running with us now. That’s a lot of people to watch our backs. Remember the trouble we had getting out of Jeffersontown? Remember Cindy?”
“Yeah, so what?”
“We were forcing it. This is much easier. These people need us. They want us. We string them along just enough to keep them interested, and we have an easy ride. I’m telling you,Mara, that with their help we can get to Canada and start over. Set up home. Really make a go of it.”
Javier could see the hope in Rose’s eyes. By the time they got to Canada and found his brother he intended to be flying solo again. He would use them along the way and dump them when he was tired of them or they became useless. Until then, everyone was going to be at his disposal, and that included Rose. All he had to do was make the right noises, say what they wanted to hear, and he could get people to do whatever he wanted.
“You know,” said Javier quietly. “There’s no reason we can’t keep the girl. You can do the parents. Start with the cop if you want.”
Rose bit her lip. “You’re my eagle. Forever. I’m sorry I doubted you. I just wanted you to fill me in. I thought something must be going on, but it was confusing, and…”
“Never mind that now,” said Javier. “Just look out for a road sign. We need to get out of this storm, some place safe and warm, preferably somewhere without a pack of ravenous zombies on our asses.”
Rose smiled. “On it.”
Javier knew what she was thinking about. She would already be planning who to kill first. He had had to rein her in lately, but as long as she took her time, she could have some fun. He was going to have some fun too. Just for a short while. Once they had regrouped and thrashed out a plan, he could get on the road north. In a couple of days they would be in Canada, and he could free himself of the others. Hamsikker would be the last to go. He was useful, certainly. Back at the gate, if he hadn’t shown up when he did, Javier knew he might have a death sentence or worse right now, but Hamsikker had saved him with that damn axe of his. He would save Hamsikker for last, have some fun with Dakota, and then enjoy watching the life drain from their bodies.
“Pull up behind Gabe, but keep the engine running. I’ll have a quick word with him. If we’re stopping, I’ll give you the nod. Stay alert.”
Jonas asked Erik if they knew where they were, but he had to admit he was lost. He didn’t recognize any features on the land, and the town names meant nothing. From that, they took it they were heading out of Kentucky. They had been driving for just over an hour, and they were getting nervous the further they drove. With no way of contacting Gabe, Jonas and Erik had followed, hoping he was leading them away from Jeffersontown. They had no wish to go back there, and Jonas couldn’t think why they would. There was nothing there for them anymore, nothing but the dead.
They had taken small back roads for a while, skirting past towns and villages, keeping their distance from the main developments and built-up areas. It felt like they were heading north, but the storm had taken a while to die down, and the sun was hidden behind a bank of dark, grey cloud for a long time. Even now, the sky was a hazy shade of blue, and the air was cool.
Jonas jumped out of the SUV and scuffed his boots into the ground. The earth was soft and salty, but almost dry. Evidently the storm had largely avoided this area. For the last few minutes they had driven very slowly, and there was no sign of the dead. Erik had followed the white van down a small side street on the outskirts of a small rural town, and eventually they had pulled up next to a soccer field. The nets were still up, and the lines across the pitch painted white, but they were mostly hidden by overgrown grass. Jonas looked around. He had to admit it felt like a safe enough place to stop. Other than the rumbling engines of the van and the SUV, there were no other sounds present. There were no voices, no birdsong or dogs, and no groaning sounds indicative of the dead. He saw no movement, and, therefore, no reason to panic. He approached the driver’s side of the white van and looked into the cab.
“How you holding up, Hamsikker?” asked Javier with a slight grin. “I think we’re in the clear now.”
Jonas rested his axe on his shoulder and looked back at the SUV. A mere nod of the head told Erik all he needed to know, and the engine stopped. Jonas watched as Quinn, Terry and Dakota got out, and they all began stretching their legs.
“Let’s just take five minutes. Seems clear. You did good, Gabe. Thanks. I bet your passengers need a break.”
“You got that right,” said Peter.
“How’s everyone inside?” asked Jonas as he watched Peter climb out of the back of the van. He held open the rear doors, and out came Pippa with Freya hanging onto her anxiously. Mrs. Danick got out slowly, and Peter helped her out.
“No windows, just a sunroof to let the air in. It’s no fun, I can tell you that much,” said Mrs. Danick as she rubbed her legs. “You want to trade places, Hamsikker? Jump on in, and try sitting on a box of Gatorade for the next hour. I’ll go sit up front of that nice SUV you got there. Honestly, I don’t mind.”
Jonas rubbed Mrs. Danick’s back as he watched Gabe and Mara get out of the van. “How’s the ankle? Better? I’m thinking we can stop here a while, so maybe walk around on it, and get the blood flowing.”
“You can ride in the SUV,” said Terry as he approached the van. “I’ll swap with you, Mrs. Danick.”
“Thanks,” said Mrs. Danick. “I thought we were through with running. It never gets any easier, does it?”
“Hey, be careful will you?” Erik called out to Peter who was taking Freya to see the soccer goals. “Don’t go too far. Yell out if you see anything, and haul ass.”
Javier grabbed a box of snack bars from the back of the van and ripped the top open. He took a handful out and held them towards Quinn. “Here, take these, and pass them around.”
Quinn took them and handed them out. “I’ll go take these last two to Peter and Freya.”
“Thanks,” said Pippa. “I’ll come with you. I need to stretch my legs.”
“You have any idea where we are, Gabe? I appreciate you taking the lead back there, but we can’t keep driving in circles. We need to formulate a plan before it gets too late, or we’ll end up in the middle of nowhere. Where do we go now?” asked Erik. “It seems like we have a lot of options, but they all come with a lot of questions attached.”
“Options?” Dakota rubbed her eyes. “Surely, we’re going back? Why would we even think about going anywhere else?”
“Why would we go back?” asked Rose. “We only just got the hell out of dodge as it is. Saint Paul’s is gone. Louisville is just down the road, and you’re looking at close to a million zombies when you factor in Jeffersontown, St Matthews, and New Albany. Hell, I think we should leave Kentucky far behind. We’ve got a van full of gas, plenty of food for now, and more water than you can shake a stick at. I'm sure we can find somewhere better.”
Jonas looked at Dakota, his eyes wide as if to suggest she was crazy. “What’s the appeal in staying here, in going back to that hell? We need to move on.”
“Are we really giving up that easily?” asked Dakota. “Areyou?”
“We’re not giving up,” explained Jonas. “We’ll keep away for a while, and perhaps we can go back when they’ve dispersed. If we can get the fences up again, we could still make it work. There’s a lot to consider though, Dakota.” Why did it feel like every conversation he had with her had to turn into a battle? Jonas wanted her to be on his side for once, but it seemed like they wanted different things these days.
“I understand where you’re coming from, Jonas,” said Dakota, “and maybe you’ve had your fill of being on the road. We all have.” Dakota poked the tip of her tongue out between gritted teeth and rubbed her eyes once more. “Look, I’m tired, and Kentucky is no better or worse than any other state really. Where would we go? I seem to remember back at the golf course there were plenty of gassed up trucks ready to go whenever we needed. What’s the rush in leaving so soon? I looked around the place when we got there, and I’ve got to tell you, that place could be nirvana. We should go back.”
“Could be, Dakota, could be. Truth is, it isn’t right now, and we’re not equipped to make it happen.” Jonas reached for his wife, but she turned away. “I’m not sure about going back, not now, and maybe not ever.”
“It’s true,” said Erik. “Maybe you didn’t see it, but I sure did. There were hundreds of them things all over the place. The fence was coming down, and no way could we deal with them all. We can find something better, something…”
“Gabe, surely you’re with me? Come on,” said Dakota. “Tell ‘em. Tell us about how you made it so good. You lived there for a long time, right?”
Javier leant back against the van and looked at Dakota. He could see the desperation in her eyes, but he couldn’t lie to her. He couldn’t afford to let her convince the others to go back. “The golf course has an impressive irrigation system that we turned to our advantage. Rainwater collects in several drums and stations that are situated discreetly throughout the property, and it’s channeled into a tank and a series of pipes. The greens and lawns are kept pristine even in summer. There are sprinklers spread over the grounds which we turned off to preserve our supply. There’s a recycling system that purifies the wastewater, and it feeds into the showers and kitchens. The whole place is pretty self-reliant and runs without much interference. Subject to enough rain, we potentially have a never-ending supply of water. The solar power would keep us going a while, and we have gas and a back-up generator running just fine. As long as we were careful, we could live there for months, if not longer.”
“See?” Dakota let out a triumphant smile.
“But…” Javier shook his head. “But…”
Dakota’s smile began to fade, and Javier sighed, purposefully making a big deal of it. It felt good to crush the woman’s hopes. He could derive a good deal of pleasure from someone else’s pain. He didn’t always need to use his fists. “The fairway was actually still in good condition, considering we didn’t maintain it over summer. The grass was green, just thinning in patches where it had turned brown and sour. The cedars smelt beautiful, and the outside world, as horrible as it was, was hidden from us by the trees, and, of course, the fence. A twelve-foot high perimeter fence extended all the way around the course – until this morning. Andthatis your problem. I was remiss not to check it, and I never thought the TV tower would come down like it did. I’m sorry about that, truly I am. Patching up the fence with those zombies around is not going to happen, no matter how much we want it to. With all the commotion, there will be even more of them back there now. There are millions of them out there. How many do you think are behind us, right now?”
Javier watched as Dakota looked at Mara for backup.
“Don’t look at me. I’m with Gabe on this.”
“Millions, Dakota. We need to keep moving forward. Right, Hamsikker?” Javier knew he had done enough. He planned on letting Jonas explain to his wife why they were doing the exact opposite of what she wanted.
“Dakota, have you forgotten about Janey? Have you…”
“Have you forgotten I’m pregnant? I felt sick enough this morning, but riding around in the car for the last hour hasn’t exactly helped me feel any better. You…” Dakota blinked back tears. “Never mind. Just do what you want to do.”
“Dakota?” Jonas felt helpless as she walked away. He couldn’t put her attitude down to the pregnancy. There was a small part of him that wanted to go back too. It had seemed so good.
“Leave her be.” Erik shoved half of his uneaten snack bar into his pocket. “She’ll hammer it out with Pippa, that’s what she does, and she’ll come around. We’re making the right decision here. We can’t go back.”
“So where do we go?” asked Javier. He knew the answer, but he didn’t want to spell it out for them. He had already planted the seed in Jonas’s mind earlier. Javier slipped an arm around Rose’s waist. “I’ve got my Mara to think about. We’ve all got family to take care of.”
“And the rest,” said Mrs. Danick suddenly.
“The rest?” Javier had forgotten about Mrs. Danick. She had been walking around the van, trying to shake off the pins and needles in her legs, listening to the conversation, but saying nothing.
“I might have fifty years on you, young man, but I’m not senile yet. What about the rest? That place was a paradise compared to what’s out here. Yet you’re happy to give up on it, just like that. Tell me, where were the bankers and the lawyers? Hm? Where were the golf nuts, the corporates, the sleazebags, and all those rich types that frequent those places? You telling me that they forgot about their wonderful golf course? You telling me hardly any of them showed up asking for help? This all seems a little too… contrived to me. Why are you so quick to move on?”
“Mrs. Danick, I hardly think…”
“Shut up, Erik, you big oaf. You’re smart, but even you can’t see the bigger picture here.”
“Listen, now is not the time to start arguing amongst ourselves,” said Jonas. “Why don’t we take five to…?”
“You need to clean your ears out, too, Hamsikker.” Mrs. Danick frowned as she spoke. “I heard these two arguing about something on the way out of the golf course. I don’t know what, but they’re not the loving, peaceful, tree-hugging couple they’re trying to make us believe they are. Not everyone is up front and honest like you, or have you forgotten about Cliff already? I know he was a bad egg, and he led us into trouble with that garage. It got some of us killed, and we need to be more careful now than ever. We don’t need some asshole like that messing with us again.”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Mrs. Danick, but I can assure you we’re allfriendshere.” Javier shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and smiled at her. “We weren’t arguing. We were just worried about everyone. As for the golf course, well, of course it’s upsetting to leave it behind, but as I explained, there’s no safe way of getting it back. As for all the members, well, maybe they all got in their private jets and are living it up in Bora Bora. How the hell should I know where they are?”
Mrs. Danick stared at Javier as if waiting for a further explanation.
“All right, Mrs. Danick, let’s just focus on what really matters right now,” said Jonas. He looked around the field, noticing that Dakota was deep in conversation with Pippa. Peter and Freya had found a deflated soccer ball, but they were still kicking it around the long grass as best they could. Quinn was sat on the sidelines, just watching patiently, nibbling on her snack, keeping a lookout for them. “Look, Mrs. Danick, do you think you could go talk to Quinn? Make sure she’s okay?”
“That’s right,” muttered Mrs. Danick. “Get rid of the old woman.”
Jonas could see she was still brooding over something, but he didn’t want to get into anything else right now. She was picking up on something that wasn’t there, and their main concern right now was to find somewhere else to stay.
With a click of her heels, Mrs. Danick turned about and grunted. She headed across the soccer field, walking briskly and wrapping her shawl around her tightly. If he wasn’t wound up so tight, Jonas would’ve laughed at the sight of her. She still held onto that shawl, day and night. It was probably the first thing she’d grabbed when they’d had to leave Saint Paul’s.
“Here’s the thing,” said Jonas. “Kentucky was my home once, but it hasn’t been for a long time. Truth is, I don’t know what is home anymore. We need to keep moving. North is my best advice.” Jonas looked at Gabe, wondering if he was going to chip in. From the silence Jonas guessed that Gabe hadn’t told Mara yet about heading north. Or maybe that’s what they had been arguing about earlier.
“Anywhere that’s not here,” said Erik. “North is good with me. Let’s keep on trucking until we find somewhere to stay the night.”
“We could take the I65, head past Indianapolis, and then right on past Chicago, up the I90 into Wisconsin.” Jonas started tracing his finger up the door of the van as if drawing out a route on an imaginary map. “If we stay east of Minneapolis and avoid the city completely, we could get around the edge of Lake Superior. That way…”
“Whoa, hold your horses, Hamsikker. I thought we were just vaguely heading north, looking for a safe place to bed down for the night. Sounds to me like you’ve thought this through. You’re not making this up on the spot.” Erik glared at Jonas through his bushy eyebrows and gave him a withering look. “Care to share?”
“I suspect what he was trying to suggest is a way north that avoids the major cities. Right, Hamsikker?” Javier looked from Erik to Jonas and back again. “Seems that the safest places are well away from the large cities. Places like Columbus and Chicago are big no-nos. I mean, personally, I’ve never been north of Indiana. Never found the need. You guys will know a lot more about this than me.”
“Yeah, I was just spitballing, trying to figure out where we were headed. I guess I got a bit carried away.” Jonas glanced at Erik, and his answer seemed to placate the man who was relaxing again. He didn’t really want to tell him about Janey just yet. He wanted to do it in his own time, to talk to him about it, and explain why he needed to go her. Jonas didn’t want to have to explain everything in front of Gabe and Mara.
“Well, wherever we go,” said Erik, “the chance of finding an easy path is slim. Thousands and thousands of people took to their cars when this shit started, and the roads are likely to be clogged. We’ve been lucky up until now, keeping to the smaller roads. Once we hit an interstate, I’m not sure we’ll have as much luck.”
“You know, I think you told me that your sister lives in Canada, Hamsikker,” said Javier. “We could make a rough plan to get to her place, perhaps. Her house might be safe. What was her name again? Jenny?”
“Janey?” Erik glared at Jonas again. “This all about her?”
Jonas began talking, hoping that Erik wouldn’t put two and two together and make seven. There was no conspiracy, but if Erik found out he and Gabe had been making plans without him, it might look bad, as if he was deserting them. “Erik, you traveled around a bit after college, right? I heard you took some time off before college. If the major highways are clogged with vehicles, we’ll need a good navigator. I know the main arteries, but we go off the beaten track, and I’m clueless. Chicago is a day’s drive easily, probably two. Let’s not even think about what happens after tonight. Erik, switch with me. I’ll drive the SUV, you navigate. Gabe, you can bring the van after us. What do you say Erik? Think you can find somewhere for us to go tonight?”
“Yeah, Erik,” said Rose. “You’re the smartest one here. You can figure this out. You were a cop, so it’s only natural you take the lead now. Youwerea cop, weren’t you?”
Jonas could feel the tension rising, and wondered what the hell was going on. There were so many lies, so many things not being said, that he was getting lost. They should be thankful they had all made it out of Saint Paul’s in one piece, but instead, they were taking shots at each other.
“Erik. Please? We can talk later, I promise,” said Jonas, “but right now we need to move. Who knows where the hell we are. We don’t want to get stuck in a dead-end town with nothing but the dead for company, the sun over our heads, and a prayer to keep us safe.”
“Round everyone up,” said Erik. He folded his arms and looked up at the sun. It was burning away the clouds, and the light made Erik’s beard seem redder than ever. “I think I can figure a way back to the Ohio River. From there I’ll find a way across it. If we stay out of trouble, we can be somewhere safe tonight. Maybe a house, or it could be anything. Right now we don’t have the choice to be fussy. As long as we have a roof over our heads and four solid walls around us, I’ll take it.”
“Thanks, buddy.” Jonas knew Erik wasn’t stupid. He had figured out something was going on when Gabe had mentioned Janey. Why had Gabe done it? Was he trying to stir things up? He seemed so sincere that he probably hadn’t even realized what he was saying. Jonas would talk to Erik later and smooth things over. He would talk to Dakota first though. She was the most important person in his life, and now that she was carrying his baby, he needed her on his side more than ever.
“How are you for gas?” asked Erik. “I think we have enough left for today.”
“The van was half empty. We’re down to nearly a quarter of a tank,” said Javier. “We might need to stop soon and get more. If there’s no gas station, don’t worry; any vehicle will do. I can siphon it out.”
Erik nodded. Jonas could tell he was surprised that Gabe knew how to siphon gas, but he said nothing about it. “Let’s roll.”
As they regrouped, Jonas got behind the wheel, and Erik got into the passenger seat.
“Hamsikker, I don’t need to know what’s going on in your head all the time. Shit, I don’t think even God knows what goes on in your head half the time. But while you’re behind that wheel, you’ve got me and my family’s lives in your hands, so don’t fuck up.”
“No sweat,” said Jonas as he clipped in his seatbelt. “You tell me where to point this thing, and I’ll take it there.”
“We good?” asked Erik.
Jonas looked into Erik’s sparkling blue eyes. “We’re good.”
Quinn and Dakota nestled themselves into the back, and then Terry joined them.
“I thought you were switching with Mrs. Danick? She okay?” asked Jonas.
“Yeah, she changed her mind. Said she preferred to stay with Freya and keep an eye on her. Suits me. I’d rather be squashed in the back with two beautiful women than the back of a van any day.”
Jonas saw Dakota and Quinn smiling, and they all groaned as Terry winked at them. Jonas suspected Mrs. Danick changed her mind more so that she could keep an eye on Gabe and Mara, but he chose to keep his thoughts to himself.
“Buckle up,” said Erik.
“Sir, yes, sir!” Quinn and Dakota giggled, and then Quinn held up her hands in surrender. “Sorry, must be all that fresh air.”
“Or that sugary snack,” muttered Erik.
“Maybe you’re just glad to be alive?” Jonas put the SUV into drive, and took them out of the field and back onto the road. He couldn’t catch Dakota’s eye in the rear view mirror, but he was pleased to see she was smiling. Being with Pippa and the kids was good for her. He didn’t want her stressed any more than she had to be. It was going to be difficult enough with the baby, and worrying about where they were spending the night, how many zombies were waiting for them, or where their next meal was coming from was something he wanted to take care of for her.
A couple of hours passed, and they drove cautiously. Jonas kept checking the mirror to make sure Gabe was still with them. Erik eventually found the river, and they followed it a while before coming to a bridge where they could cross over into Indiana. From there, Erik tried to hug the Interstate, although it was difficult. A few times they came across a blockage that they couldn’t get past, and they were forced to turn around. Jonas wanted to get at least as far as Indianapolis by nightfall, but they lost a lot of time going over their tracks. It was mid-afternoon when Jonas noticed the headlights flashing in the mirror.
“That’s Gabe. I think he wants to stop.” Jonas pulled the car over to the side of the road, and Erik jumped out. They were in between towns, surrounded by a few abandoned vehicles and not much else. There was a signpost indicating they were coming up on Greenwood in ten miles, but as far as Jonas was concerned, they could be on Mars. Erik reassured him he knew where they were going, but driving blind was unnerving. Now and again they saw zombies. Occasionally the dead would stray into the road and sometimes give chase, but they never caught up with them. Jonas was relieved that the zombies were always in the distance, never close enough to do any damage. He wasn’t reassured, though, by the fact that they hadn’t seen anyone else alive. There hadn’t even been a single trace of anyone else living. No moving cars, no lights, no signs for help; it was as if the whole world was dead.
“I’ll go see what he needs.” Erik cocked his gun. “I know. Be careful.” With that, he jogged back to see the others.
“Hey, Erik, we’ve been coasting on fumes for the last ten minutes,” said Javier. “I was hoping we’d come across a gas station, but it looks like we’ve run out of time.”
Erik nodded and looked at the road ahead of them. “There’s a town a couple miles ahead, and I’m sure we’ll find a gas station. Gotta be worth trying. Think you can make it?”
“I guess so. I’ll flash again if we have to stop.” Gabe banged on the panel behind his head. “We’re stopping in a minute folks,” he shouted. “Just hold on a few more minutes.”
Erik looked at the van, puzzled.
“They’re not too happy back there,” Javier explained. “Fair enough, really. Can’t be too pleasant being cooped up in there.”
“Let’s be quick then,” said Erik, and he returned to the SUV, leaving Javier and Rose alone.
“We stopping?” asked Quinn as Erik got into the car.
“No,” said Erik. “They’re running on fumes, but we’re going to try to make the next town, see if we can’t find a gas station there. When we stop, we need to switch over vehicles too. They’re cramped up in the back of the van, and it’s no fun for any of them.”
Jonas cruised the next few miles with little trouble, and finally came upon a road sign welcoming them to Westport, Indiana, population 1663. The town border was desolate and dusty, and the welcome sign was riddled with bullet-holes. A lone crow picked at something red and fleshy which Jonas hoped was just road-kill. The bird abruptly flew up and settled onto a telegraph pole when they drove past, watching them from a distance. As the number of buildings began to increase, Jonas began to hope they would find a gas station soon. Driving down the main street, nobody came out to see them. Nobody from Westport came out to welcome them, but nobody came out to attack them either. Jonas really didn’t want to get sucked into the town center where there was more risk of being attacked.
“Looks deserted,” said Erik.
“Think there’s anyone around?” Dakota leant forward. “Anyone living here?”
“Doesn’t look much like it.” Jonas eased off on the gas. He wanted their arrival to be discreet. It was best to get in and out quietly and quickly.
“It’s not the living I’m worried about,” said Quinn as she scanned the empty streets.
“There,” said Erik, “pull up by that campervan.”
Jonas stopped a few feet short of the van, which was parked underneath a billboard offering ‘tomorrow’s real estate at yesterday’s prices.’ The gas station was offering two for one soda, and Jonas scanned the forecourt. Everything was still. As they watched the white van pull in and park by the nearest tank, nobody came out of the small store attached to the garage.
“I’ll go help,” said Jonas.
“I’m going to check out that store,” announced Terry. “They may have some gear we can use.”
“I’ll come with you,” said Dakota yawning. “I’m feeling a bit car sick, so I could do with stretching my legs.”
“Me too.” Quinn opened the car door. “I’m not waiting in here; I’ll come with you.”
“Okay everyone, just be careful, and don’t go too far.” Erik wound down his window and reclined his seat. “I’m going to close my eyes for a minute. I’m exhausted. Yell if you need me.”
“You take it easy. We’ll be back in five.” Jonas picked up his axe and turned off the engine. He jumped out of the car and strolled over to the van where he could see Gabe trying the pumps. He watched Terry, Dakota, and Quinn head over to the store. It was small and appeared to be deserted. The large window offered a pretty good view inside, and all he could see were a few empty shelves and an open cash register. They might come back with a few Hershey’s bars, but he doubted they would find much of real value, like medication or water.
“Anything?” Jonas approached Gabe who was thrusting the nozzle of the final pump back into its slot.
“Nothing. All empty.” Javier looked at Jonas and wondered what it would be like watching him die. Right then he wanted nothing more than to pull his gun out and shoot him between the eyes. Progress was slow, too slow, and maybe his idea of having help wasn’t going to work out. They were all too casual, too carefree. What were the others doing going into the store? And it looked like Erik was having a nap. He was going to need to shake them out of their comfort zone. Maybe when they realized they hadn’t any gas they would realize the severity of the situation.
“How much you got left in the tank?” asked Jonas as he opened the back doors of the van.
“Squat,” said Javier. “Unless you want to push us all the way to Canada, we are not going anywhere.”
Jonas watched Peter, Freya, Pippa, and Mrs. Danick clamber out of the van. They all looked tired too. Their night at the golf course seemed like an age ago. Before and since then, they had been fighting and traveling, and one night’s rest wasn’t enough.
Jonas watched as Pippa, Freya and Peter went over to see Erik. Freya was twirling the keychain in her hand as she walked, and it reminded Jonas of what they were doing. The keychain from Fort William was a reminder that Janey and his nephews were still out there waiting for him, relying on him, and he couldn’t afford to get slowed down by anything. “Can you siphon some out of another vehicle? We shouldn’t hang around here too long.”
“You think?” Javier sighed. He looked back at the street. There were a couple of cars parked close by. “I guess. I’ll get Mara to help me. We’ll go check out those cars first of all, then…”
Two screams simultaneously filled the air, causing Jonas to spin his head, firstly in the direction of the store, and then in the direction of the road. Someone inside the store was in trouble, but he couldn’t see who or what was happening. The second scream was from Pippa. The door to the campervan they had pulled up beside was now open, and a man was stepping out. He practically fell out, and stumbled towards Pippa who managed to push Freya away. The man’s face was peppered with scratches, and as he got to his feet Jonas knew the man was dead. Peter charged at him, not waiting for the zombie to attack, and then Jonas heard another scream from inside the store. This time he knew who it was: Dakota. The scream was definitely one of terror, and it ended abruptly, the echoes of it ringing in his ears, leaving scars across his worried mind. He sprang to life, and sprinted for the store, hoping he wasn’t too late.
A bell tinkled as Jonas pushed open the door and entered the store. The air smelt warm and stale, and he saw Terry straight away. He was stood in an aisle with his back to Jonas. He held a large knife above his head and was walking backwards slowly.
“Terry, what the fuck is going on?” Jonas gripped the axe in his hands, looking for Dakota and Quinn.
Terry whirled around. “Hamsikiker? I think…I think she’s…”
Jonas saw Terry’s eyes dart to a door at the back of the store. “What is it? Are they in there? What’s through that door?”
Jonas walked past Terry who wasn’t answering. The man looked petrified, and Jonas couldn’t afford to waste any more time. If Dakota was in trouble, Terry would just have to take care of himself. Jonas put his hand on the blue door. It was cold, and it creaked as he opened it. Beyond lay a narrow corridor, and Jonas could feel the air get cooler with every step he took on the tiled floor. Another door to the left was closed, and Jonas called out softly. “Dakota?” There was no answer, and he tried the door, but it was locked. Up ahead lay another blue door, and he heard noises on the other side. Voices. They were faint, but he wasn’t imagining them, and he hoped it was Dakota and Quinn. They were too muffled to be heard clearly.
He pushed the door open slowly. “Dakota?”
As the door opened and revealed the room beyond, Jonas was taken aback. He stepped forward into a large garage with a roller door to one side and walls with metal shelves surrounding him loaded with tools, cans of oil, dirty cloths, and spare tires. A large A-frame ladder rested by one wall, and a car stripped of parts lay in the center of the garage like a rusted dinosaur with nothing left of its body but bones. In the middle of the garage were Quinn and Dakota. All around them, suspended from the ceiling, hung dead bodies, all of them naked. Jonas counted five in all. Four of the bodies were twitching, their legs and arms jerking spasmodically. This wasn’t the last desperate attempt of a family trying to avoid becoming part of the undead, but a cynical murder. Someone had forced them up there and hung them, leaving them to forever hang in suspense, never able to free themselves. The four twitching bodies belonged to men; some old, some young. The fifth body, the one not moving, was a woman, and it looked like she had a bullet hole in her forehead.
There were a few bloodstains on the ground which Jonas tried to avoid as he approached Dakota. “Are you hurt? What happened?”
Dakota flung her arms around her husband as she sobbed. Jonas looked to Quinn for answers, searching her face for clues as to how these people had ended up like that.
“They were all like this when we found them. Dakota came in here first and got quite a shock. I’m guessing you heard her scream.” Quinn looked shaken. Jonas couldn’t recall the last time he had seen her looking so upset, so tired - so beaten. “Who would do such a thing? They must’ve pissed someone off. Who would kill these people and just… Jesus, just when you think you’ve seen everything.”
Jonas had to admit, he couldn’t understand why anyone would hang four men and leave them to die and then to return. Stripping them naked just seemed malicious. It was as if the murderer wanted them not only to die, but to be humiliated too. He couldn’t fathom as to why the woman had been spared the ignominy of returning as a zombie. She had been hung, but shot in the head. What was the point? Perhaps Jonas was wrong to feel sorry for them. Perhaps they deserved it. Who was he to know what those four men had done? Perhaps they were the evil ones, and they deserved what they got. The smell of the oil and the blood took Jonas back to Jeffersontown, to the day when he had gone into a garage with five other people but had only come out with one other man still alive. The smell forced him to remember Cliff. Was what had happened to these men really any worse than what he’d done? He had killed Cliff and left him to rot. The method was different, but the result was basically the same.
“I heard two screams,” said Jonas. The coolness and stillness of the garage was unrelenting, and he found himself wanting to leave. The bodies above were uttering faint moans, and the movement of their bodies caused the rope to make groaning, squeaking sounds.
“Me again,” said Dakota as she pulled away from Jonas. “There’s a body over there in the corner.”
Jonas looked and saw an old man dressed in dungarees and a red and white striped shirt. The top of his head was caved in, and blood streaked his face.
“He wasn’t like that when we found him,” said Quinn. She held up a bloody crowbar. “The first scream must’ve alerted him to our presence. He was dead and came out of nowhere. We figured he must’ve been trapped in here. You would’ve heard Dakota’s second scream when he jumped her.”
Dakota wiped her eyes. She had stopped crying, although Jonas could see she was still shaken. “I just saw him come out of the shadows at me. Thank God that Quinn was around.”
As opposed to me, thought Jonas. “Thank God you were,” he said.
Quinn shrugged. “Let’s get the hell out of here. This place is horrible.”
“Shouldn’t we do something,” asked Dakota feebly, “about, you know, them?” She looked down at the ground, but pointed above her head.
“It’s too risky,” said Jonas. “We shoot, and we risk bringing more of them here. It may not feel right, but this is not our argument.”
They made their way back through to the store. Dakota and Quinn continued outside whilst Jonas checked on Terry.
“So I take it you didn’t find anything useful in here?”
Terry looked disconsolate. “No. The place has been turned over, but there’s nothing. I’m sorry, Hamsikker. Truly, I am.”
Jonas looked outside. The zombie that had been attacking Pippa was lying on the floor, and the others were crowded around the campervan. He would have to check on the situation, but right now Terry needed help. The man’s usual demeanor had been replaced by a look of weariness that Jonas was beginning to see all too much of.
“What is it, Terry?”
“I can’t do this anymore. After we lost Randal, I didn’t know what we would do. Then when we came across Saint Paul’s, I thought we’d be able to survive this. Today, right now, I’m not so sure anymore. I heard Dakota screaming, and I froze. I’m ashamed to say that I let Quinn run in there after her, and I stayed here. I’m a coward, Hamsikker. I left a pregnant woman alone. The thought of seeing just one more zombie…”
“I don’t think you’re a coward, Terry. You’ve done more than enough to prove to me that you’re anything but.” Jonas remembered how he had been the first one to try and help Randal when he was attacked. Terry had certainly changed though. He used to help look after Freya, but now he kept his distance. It was as if Terry was cutting himself off from the group.
“I just can’t face being responsible for other people’s lives. I couldn’t help Randal or Tyler, and the rest of you are so good that… Look, I’ve been thinking about it a while, and I think it’s best if I leave.”
Jonas stepped forward and opened the store’s door. The voices of the other’s talking became clearer, and Jonas held it open. “Terry, those people need you. I need you. We’re a team, and any talk of leaving is just crazy. So you froze up, so what? We’ve all been there. You think I don’t get scared? You think you’re any worse than Erik or Quinn? There’s nothing to worry about, Terry, we’re all with you, we’ll all help you. Come on, let’s get back to the others and see if we can’t get on the road again.”
Terry joined Jonas at the door and looked outside at the rest of the group. “No. I’m leaving, Hamsikker. I’ve always thought we should head for the coast.”
“Terry, not that again. You know how hard it will be to…”
“Don’t, okay? Just don’t.” Terry took a step outside, and Jonas followed him, letting the door close. “I know you think I’m mad, but it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I kept going along with everything, but I have to go. I need to. If I stay with you I’m just going to end up driving myself mad or do something worse, and someone will end up getting hurt. I’ll go tonight. I don’t want any long good bye. I just want to slip away, so do me a favor, and don’t tell anyone else about this, please. I need to be on my own, and this is what I want to do. Honestly. I’m going to get myself to the east coast, find myself a boat, and take it from there.”
“Sure.” Jonas didn’t know what else he could say. He knew it had been on Terry’s mind for a while about trying for the coast, and it seemed like the man had made his mind up. “Just do me a favor, Terry, and don’t disappear before I get a chance to say goodbye. I’ll sort you out a few supplies, enough to last you a few days at least on your own. Deal?”
As they walked back towards the others, Jonas wondered if there was anything he could say to convince Terry to stay. He couldn’t blame the man for freezing back there, nor could he blame him for wanting to try to make it on his own. It wasn’t easy being thrown together with a bunch of strangers and putting your life on the line every day with them. He doubted Terry would change his mind, but he would give him every chance to reconsider.
“Everyone good?” asked Jonas as he approached Gabe.
“We’re fine. Pippa got a bit of a fright, but no harm done. This guy came off worse.” Javier pointed to the zombie that had emerged from the campervan. Prostrate on the ground, his head was nothing but a pile of red and white gore, his brain mashed into the sidewalk. “Peter was quite the hero.”
“He sure was,” said Rose. “Very dashing.”
It seemed almost as if Rose and Gabe were enjoying the action. Jonas noticed they were the only ones smiling. “Did you manage to get any gas?”
“No, not yet,” said Javier. “What with all the excitement, we got a little sidetracked.”
“I was going to ask you about that.” Mrs. Danick nudged Jonas’s arm. “I think we should ditch the van and take this camper.”
Javier laughed. “Yeah, sure, and we’ll stop for a picnic lunch later while I write the postcards.” He looked at Jonas and rolled his eyes.
“Actually, that’s not a bad idea,” said Hamsikker, ignoring Gabe’s sarcastic comments. “There’s still plenty of room for the supplies, and the windows and seats will make traveling a lot more comfortable for those in back.” It was smaller than the white van, but would provide a lot more comfort for traveling. Jonas was sure that Gabe would understand.
“Hamsikker, can I remind you that time is not on our side?” Javier was fed up of the distractions and eager to get moving. Hamsikker was too easily swayed by the others. Javier was beginning to doubt he’d made the right decision in letting the others tag along. Instead of inheriting a small army, it felt like he’d inherited a group of children, constantly demanding attention.
“It won’t take us long to transfer the gear if we all help,” said Mrs. Danick. “Plus, I checked the gas, and it’s near full. There’s a bit of a funky smell in there, thanks to our dear departed friend, but a few minutes on the road with the windows down should sort that out.” Mrs. Danick smiled at Gabe triumphantly.
“Fine, let’s do it then.” Javier bit his tongue and resisted the urge to slap Mrs. Danick in the face. “Then we really need to get going. I want to be much further north by sundown.”
It took them a further ten minutes to get everything organized, and they resumed their seats when everything was transferred into the campervan. Jonas returned to driving the SUV, while Javier took the camper. After a quick bite to eat, Erik got them back on track, and they spent the afternoon hours navigating their way north. The sun never managed to fully break through the cloud, and by early evening a drizzle had settled in, making progress slow. They avoided any more confrontation with the dead, and as they neared Indianapolis Jonas realized they were going to have to find somewhere to stop for the night. In the gloomy dusk, the dead were harder to spot, and he had to swerve around several at the last moment. Erik was struggling to navigate in the darkness, and when they passed a sign that stated Indianapolis was thirty miles away, Jonas called it.
“Erik, we need to quit while we’re ahead. Let’s get somewhere safe tonight, and call it a day. I’m straining to see much in this damn weather, and if we keep going into the night, we’re liable to hit something on the road.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Erik shuffled around in his seat. “That all right with you guys?”
Dakota, Quinn, and Terry all concurred, and they decided that Gabe would follow them wherever they stopped. The others would surely see it was too dangerous driving at night.
“There’s a town up ahead. Martinsville, I think,” announced Erik. “Commuter town for Indianapolis. We’re on the fringes now, so everyone keep a look out for somewhere to stay. We don’t want to go right into the center, that’s way too risky. I know we’d all like a decent bed for the night, but I’m inclined to say we take somewhere that’s likely to be empty. Maybe a warehouse or…”
“Or a factory?” asked Quinn. “Look over there to the right. There’s a small business park. I doubt we’d find much company in there, dead or alive.”
“Please let there be a mattress factory,” said Dakota as they turned into the side road toward the park, “my back is killing me.”
They slowed down to a crawl and monitored the buildings as they drove past warehouse after warehouse. Nothing moved, nothing came crawling out of the shadows, and nothing stirred when Jonas pulled up outside a textile factory. They sat in the car waiting for the camper to stop behind them and watched the building. It had a small brick office at the front, with two square windows and a lime green door that was wide open. Surrounding it was the hub of the factory, a huge oblong shaped building with a forklift parked up beside what appeared to be a delivery bay. A gantry ran up one wall where a signpost was being erected. Evidently the work had been stopped before completion, and the letters above the door only read ‘C.R.Lew’, before abruptly stopping.
“It looks quiet.” Jonas turned off the engine and waited. “The door’s open which makes getting in easier. What do you think? We could scope it out, and if it’s a go, we could bring the vehicles right up to that delivery bay. No one would even know we’re here.”
“Well, I would feel happier if we assessed the security situation first. Someone should go in there,” said Erik, unbuckling his seatbelt. “I’m happy to go, but I need someone to watch my back.”
“If I’m going to spend the night here, I want to know nothing’s going to gobumpin the night. I amsocoming with you,” said Quinn.
“Me too,” said Jonas.
“No,” said Erik firmly as he opened his door. “You stay here. If there’s any trouble you need to get your wife out of here, and let Gabe know too. Anyone but Quinn or me come out, get the hell out of here. It’ll be faster if there’s just the two of us anyway.”
Jonas opened his mouth to protest, but Erik gave him a glare, and he knew there was no point arguing. It did make sense. As Erik and Quinn jumped out of the cab, Jonas felt beneath his seat for his axe. He knew it was there, but he couldn’t help it. He had to touch it, to feel it, to truly know he wasn’t defenseless. The firmness of it made him feel better. It made no sense, he knew that, but logic went out of the window the day the dead started walking.
“Terry, you mind running back to Gabe and letting him know what’s happening?” asked Jonas.
“Sure. Honk if anything happens.” Terry got out, leaving Jonas alone in the car with Dakota.
“How’re you feeling, honey?” Jonas turned around in his seat so he could see her. He expected her to brush him off or to ignore him, but she actually looked directly at him and reached for his hand.
She stroked his hand and spoke in a low voice. “I’ve felt better. I suppose the stress isn’t good for the baby, but it’s hard to shrug it off. I keep feeling sick, and all I can think about is how this is affecting her.”
“Well, I don’t know.” Dakota smiled. “It’s just a feeling.”
Jonas looked at his wife, feeling more proud of her then than he ever had before. “I love you, Dakota. I’m going to sort this out. Get everything sorted out so we can be safe, once and for all. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a boy or a girl, as long as it’s safe. I promise we’ll get through this. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure of that, you know that, don’t you?”
“Hm.” Dakota sighed. “Jonas, I apologize if I’m a little distant, but I’ve a lot on my mind at the moment.”
“I know, what with the baby, and…”
“No, just shut up for a minute will you? It’s not just the baby. I mean, I’m worried about it, but we’ve got a long time to figure out how we’re going to manage living with a child to look after. I’m worried about you too. The things you do, the way you are, the things you’ve done; you can’t do it again, Jonas. You can’t kill someone and justdecideto take their life away.” Dakota didn’t speak accusingly or angrily, but softly, as if chiding a child for sneaking an extra biscuit from the meal table. “Jonas, I want you to promise me that you’ll never do that again. Ever. There’s no going back from that. Despite all this shit around us, we have to be better than that. When Tyler told me what you did to Cliff…”
“I get it, I do. I’m not going to go into what went on in that garage, but I hear you, Dakota.” Jonas knew that explaining it to her was pointless. She had her views, and she wasn’t about to change them.
“Killing zombies is one thing. Cliff wasalive. He still had something to offer, and whatever he did, you took away any chance he had at redemption. You shouldn’t have done it. I can’t reconcile what you did with the man I married.”
“I’m not sure I can either. But I can’t undo it. I did what I thought was right at the time. I can assure you it wasn’t easy, and I won’t be doing anything like it again. I was out there, not in control, trying to deal with too much. I know I was acting like an idiot, but…what happened at the garage really got to me. Seeing what happened to Anna and Mary. What happened to Cliff was…”
“Promise me,” said Dakota. “Promise me you won’t do anything like that again.”
“I do. I promise.”
The door next to Dakota swung open, and Terry jumped inside. “Gabe’s happy enough here. Mara seemed a bit sniffy, but I suppose she’s used to living in luxury after being in that golf club place for so long. The others are just happy to get out of the van. I’ve gotta say, it still stinks a bit in there.”
They waited in the increasing darkness, listening to the patter of the rain on the roof of the SUV. Jonas found it soothing, although he couldn’t fully relax until Erik was back and they were all tucked up safely for the night inside. It took a minute more before he saw movement. Quinn came running out of the open office door and ran up to them. Jonas opened the door for her, and she jumped in, beaming.
“We’re good to go,” she said. “The place is deserted. We couldn’t get any power on, so we’ll park up close by. There’s plenty of room inside, and a vending machine still stocked up with crap. If anyone’s got a hankering for a Hershey’s, you’re in luck.”
“Pregnant ladies first,” said Dakota.
Jonas moved the SUV closer to the office door and let the others go inside. He waited for Gabe to pull up alongside, and then the rest went inside carrying a box of food and drink each.
“Thanks,” said Jonas. He and Gabe were the last ones outside, and he held out his hand to shake. “We sure appreciate your help, Gabe. I’m not sure that anyone else would’ve welcomed us as much as you and Mara have. We owe you. I just wanted you to know that.” He noticed Gabe hesitated in taking his hand, but when he did it was a firm handshake. The man was probably a little intimidated by them. Seven people had just turned up on his doorstep demanding sanctuary, and less than a day later they were back on the road. It was perfectly understandable that he might keep his guard up for a while. Jonas would’ve done exactly the same thing if the roles were reversed. He remembered the house in Jeffersontown they had been staying in, and when Randall and Quinn had showed up. It had taken a few days for them to be accepted into the group. They had surrendered their weapons and been so weak that they couldn’t possibly have posed any danger. Yet living on edge all the time kept you on your toes, and Jonas wasn’t about to accept anyone into their lives easily. Trust had to be won these days, and blind naiveté led you down a dangerous path. Gabe was right to be careful. He had a wife to think about.
“Don’t mention it,” said Javier. “What did I tell you? I’m all sweetness and light.”
Jonas picked up a pile of blankets from the campervan, and brushed past Mara coming back out as he entered the building. “Don’t be too long,” said Jonas, “we’ll want to close up soon. Best not to stay outside too long in case we draw attention to ourselves.”
“Thanks, Hamsikker,” said Rose. She watched Jonas disappear inside and turned to face Javier.
“Let’s leave them. Let’s take the van, and get out of here. I’m sick of them already. I thought I could do this, but their whining is driving me insane. What happened to you and me? What happened to you, Javier? The girl, Freya, she’s cool. Ilovehow freaking quiet she is. We could keep her, but the rest of them? Let’s just go, or get rid of the others now, please? Especially that cop and his goody-two-shoes wife. I want them gone.”
“Be patient,” said Javier, making sure that no one was listening. “I know it’s difficult, but we have our own little army now. You won’t need to get involved in any dirty work with the zombies any more, we can send our minions out to do it for us. If they happen to run into trouble, perhaps get bitten, well bad luck for them. Until we don’t need them anymore, just wait and go with it. I’ll keep them in line. If anyone gets out of order, I’ll see to them. The cop’s nothing but a big pussycat. He looks tough, but he’s a softy. Hamsikker’s the one to watch. He likes to make out he’s a nobody, but he’s a threat, for sure. I’ve noticed he doesn’t back down when the going gets tough, but if he starts making waves with you and me, he’ll soon find himself on the end of something sharp and pointy.”
“You promise?” asked Rose.
“Promise. These people will only be around as long as they are still useful to us. Once we hit the border, they cease to be of any use.”
Rose laughed, and in the silent gloom of the office, Jonas stopped dead in his tracks. He was going back to help bring in more supplies, and he paused before stepping outside. He wondered what Mara could possibly find to laugh about in their predicament. Seeing Gabe and Mara stood at the back of the campervan, he decided to stay in the shadows for a moment and try to hear what they were talking about.
“I just think we can do better than this, you know? Look at us, squirrelling away food and water, playing Mom and Dad, and driving around in a damn campervan. When did we turn into the Brady bunch? I want to be with you, not a bunch of strangers. I’m cold and wet, and…”
“I don’t need to hear another litany of complaints,Mara. Just remember who’s in charge. You don’t need to tell me what needs doing, or what I should be saying or feeling. I’ve got it covered. We’ll get a fire going inside and get warm. Just learn when to keep your God damn mouth shut. Got that?”
Jonas noticed that Gabe’s hands were down by his side as he spoke, but they were curled up into fists and trembling. If he struck Mara, then Jonas was going to have to confront him. It seemed so out of character, though, that he felt he must be reading the situation wrong. He had never seen a man actually hit a woman, forgetting the endless procession of violent Hollywood movies that he’d watched, and he wasn’t sure if he needed to get ready to intervene. Gabe had been nothing but, well, sweetness and light, so to hear their raised voices was concerning. Gabe spoke quite forcefully to Mara in a tone that was not reassuring to Jonas at all.
“What’s up, Hamsikker? You coming inside or what?” Peter brushed past Jonas as he went out to the van. “Freya’s cold, so I thought I’d grab some extra blankets. I’m glad you prepared for an emergency, Gabriel, you’re a lifesaver. If you hadn’t pre-loaded this van, we’d have nothing right now.”
As Peter lifted a box from the back of the van, Javier watched as Jonas stepped out into the rain.
“I was…just coming to help,” said Jonas. He grabbed a random box from the campervan, and followed Peter back inside. Jonas could feel Gabe’s eyes burning into his back as he walked and hoped Gabe didn’t suspect he had been eavesdropping on him. It was the truth, but he didn’t want to upset Gabe now, not when they were just starting to get to know each other.
“You think they heard?” Rose pressed herself up against Javier. “You think…”
“I doubt they heard much. If they did, they would’ve said or done something about it. Still, we can’t be too careful.” Javier wasn’t convinced they were in the clear, but he didn’t want to take any chances and wake to find a knife at his throat in the middle of the night. “I’ll speak to Hamsikker.”
“I wish we could find some private time tonight. It’s been too long,” said Rose. She licked her lips and rubbed Javier’s back.
“What about the boy?” Javier looked at her. “We need to contain this first, make sure the group is still on our side. Why don’t you play a little game with Peter? Get him to take watch with you or something.”
“A game?” Rose ignored the rain dripping down her back and suddenly felt warm again.
“What’s that game you like to play?” asked Javier playfully, knowing full well what it was. He curled Rose’s hair around his fingers. “Stick, or twist? Im sure Peter would love it if you played with him.”
Rose reached up to kiss Javier, and he grabbed her, cupping her face in his hand. “Just bediscreet. Make it look like an accident. If it works, you can do the cop next.”
Rose twisted herself free from Javier’s grip, and grinned. “I can’t wait.”
“So come with me. Come with us to Canada. I should’ve been honest with you from the start, I get that, but Gabe asked me not to say anything until he had spoken to Mara.”
Erik continued stroking Pippa’s hair as she lay beside him.
“I don’t waste time holding grudges, Hamsikker. I always suspected you would try to help Janey at some point. I haven’t been sitting around with my finger up my ass, you know. I’m always thinking about Pippa and my kids; what I can do for them and where I can take them that’s safe. I thought Saint Paul’s was going to be that place, but it didn’t work out. Since then, I’ve been trying to decide what to do. Canada? Maybe. I’ve thought about Terry’s plan, too, heading for the coast, but I’m not sure it’s for me. It just doesn’t feel right.”
“I think he’ll make it. Don’t ask me how, but he’s made it this far. He’s tough.”
After securing the building they had set about creating separate areas to sleep in. The office was cold, but the blankets they had with them helped, and they managed to start a fire in a waste paper basket that gave them a little warmth. It was burning now beneath an open window that sucked the smoke out. The warehouse had a staircase leading to a series of ladders and rails that crisscrossed the floor, suspended high above the machines that lay silent below. The front door was secured behind a large filing cabinet, and the only windows in the place were high up, well away from any prying eyes or curious zombies. They ate and then moved to their own private areas to rest. They decided to leave at first light, so an early night was called for. Terry indicated to Jonas that he still wanted to leave, and Jonas had even gotten as far as filling a backpack for him with a little food and water, but when it came time to say goodbye, Terry hesitated. Jonas was so sure he was going to leave, but they talked, and eventually Terry decided he would wait another day. He told Jonas he wanted to make sure they were safe, on their way north, but Jonas thought it was more likely that Terry was scared. Going it alone wasn’t a prospect to savor, and Terry was going to need a bit more time to summon up the courage he needed to make it on his own.
Jonas asked Erik to help him with a chore after supper, and he told him everything about Terry’s plan to leave. Jonas knew he could trust Erik to be discreet, and it was a relief to share it with someone else. Erik was perfectly suited to being a cop. He just had that natural confidence about him, like he was your best friend and protector rolled into one. Jonas knew it was only because of Erik that he was still alive, and just as when they were growing up, they still relied on each other.
The fire crackled and popped, and the flames splashed across Erik’s face. Jonas looked at Pippa, who was fast asleep, and then across at Dakota. Her eyes were closed, but he wondered if she was pretending to sleep so she could listen in.
“For now, we’ll come with you. It’d be good to see Janey again.”
“Great. I’m so relieved, Erik. I really didn’t want us to split up. I’m telling you, things will be better up there. Once we find Janey we can make a real go of it. We can find somewhere safe, somewhere away from people, just us, and…”
“Hold on, Hamsikker, I said for now.” Erik yawned and lay down beside Pippa, careful not to wake her. “Once we find Janey, and she’s okay, I can’t promise what we’ll do next.”
“Okay, okay. I hope you’re not thinking of going back,” said Jonas. “Kentucky is a dangerous place now. There’s nothing back there for you, nothing but memories and graves. Saint Paul’s is gone. Your home is gone.”
“I know, I know.” Erik yawned again, but Freya began to stir, and she began crying in her sleep. “Hold on,” said Erik as he got up to attend to his daughter who was sleeping nearby.
Jonas listened in the dark as Erik tried to comfort Freya. She didn’t really wake from whatever nightmare she was having, but as Erik soothed her, she stopped crying.
“I know, I know,” whispered Erik repeatedly.
Jonas had never seen Erik cry, but it sounded like the man’s voice was breaking. It must be killing him that he couldn’t help his family.
“Close your eyes, and pretend we’re in Hawaii. Picture that sandy beach, and try to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Remember when we were there last year? Go back there, honey, go back. Just go to sleep, and dream about those pretty Hula girls and how good it was. We’ll go back one day, honey, but just sleep now. I’m here. I’ll always be right here beside you. I love you.”
Freya’s crying had stopped, and Jonas guessed she was probably fast asleep already. Despite her restless sleep, she was exhausted, and nightmares or not, she needed rest.
“I love you, Freya.”
Jonas felt guilty for listening, but it was soothing. The events of the day kept running around his mind, and dark images populated his thoughts. Restless, he turned over, but there was little he could do to force himself to sleep. He’d always been a poor sleeper, whereas Dakota could sleep through an earthquake. In fact, only a couple of years ago she had done just that when a large one had hit the west coast. He looked at her now, sleeping so peacefully. The blanket had slipped down, and as he carefully pulled the blanket up to her chin, he draped an arm over her. She was warm, and though he wanted to snuggle up to her, he didn’t want her to wake. She was tired like everyone else.
Erik returned, and Jonas gave up on the idea of sleeping before he took watch.
“Peter took Freya to the bathroom at the clubhouse yesterday and let her take a shower,” said Erik. “Peter told me it was the first time in weeks he’d seen her smile, likegenuinelysmile. My daughter doesn’t do enough of that anymore. She’s been scarred by all of this. I just hope it’s not permanent.”
“Kids are resilient,” said Jonas, trying to reassure his old friend. “She’s still here isn’t she? She’s tougher than you think. She’ll come round.”
Erik raised his eyebrows. “Resilient?”
“So I hear. Okay, so I don’t know anything about kids,” said Jonas, “but she’s kept it together this long, hasn’t she? Peter is amazing for her. Pippa, too, but Peter’s what, seventeen? He’s taken on so much, and I never hear him complain.”
“True. I’d do anything for my boy. He’s going to be an amazing man one day. I’m proud as hell of both of my kids, and that’s why I’m not ruling anything outorin. I just need to make sure I do what’s best for my family. When we get to Janey in a couple of days, then I’ll decide.We’lldecide.” Erik let out another yawn. “Let’s get some sleep. Gabe’s on watch, right?”
“Yeah, I’ll go switch with him shortly. Get some rest, Erik.”
Jonas made sure Dakota was warm and then took a look around the warehouse that was their home for the night. Using the blankets they had brought and some carpet samples they had found, everyone had a bed of sorts to call their own. Even though they had spent much of the day driving, it was still tiring. Jonas hoped Terry’s impending departure didn’t inspire a similar idea in Erik. In the morning Jonas intended to lay out his plans very clearly. There would be no more hiding or messing around. Gabe would have time to talk to Mara, and when they were all up, Jonas was going to make it clear that their best chance of survival was to head north to Canada.
He trudged to the now open vending machine with its front panel smashed in and pulled out a packet of chips. Jonas figured he may as well go up early and relieve Gabe of his shift on watch, as he didn’t feel like sleeping yet.
“Hamsikker, you got a second?” Quinn was making her bed for the night, laying out a blanket in a dark corner, and he had almost trodden on her in the dark.
“Sure. What’s up?” Jonas always had time for Quinn. He wasn’t in the mood to chat, and Quinn rarely wasted her breath on idle gossip, so he assumed it was important. “You know I never properly thanked you for earlier. Dakota freaked out, but you stepped up. I appreciate that.”
“No problem. That’s what we do, right? Watch each other’s backs?” Quinn looked around the room, but Gabe was off doing his rounds, and it seemed like everyone else was asleep. “I wanted to talk to you. How are you doing?” She struggled to find the right words. “I’m sorry about how things went down. These last couple of days have been hell. With everything that’s happened lately nobody would be surprised if you needed some time to, you know…adjust.”
“Adjust?” He knew Quinn was being polite. “You’re talking about the garage? What happened inside is my issue, not yours. If that’s all you want to talk about, then forget it.”
As he went to leave, Quinn grabbed his arm. “No. Look, I know it affected you, and I just wanted you to know that I understand. Seeing your friends die like that… Sorry, Hamsikker, but I wanted to talk to you about something else too. Please, just sit with me a minute.”
Quinn sat on the makeshift bed and drew her knees up to her chin. The way she was looking at Jonas was unusual, and he couldn’t work out what she wanted.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap,” he said as he sat down beside her. The floor beneath the blanket was hard, but the room was warm and quiet. They were all exhausted, and he doubted she would have much trouble sleeping tonight.
“It’s nothing. For what it’s worth, I’m truly sorry. Anna and Mary were fun to have around. I don’t think Freya’s handling it too well, losing her friend. This whole thing has got her scared. We’ve lost some good people lately. Sometimes I still turn around to talk to Tyler, and I forget he’s gone. I know, I know, you don’t want to get into anything now, and that’s fine. If you ever do want to talk though, then I’m here.”
“Thanks, Quinn.” Jonas wanted to tell her about Terry’s plan to leave, but the less people who knew the better. It would be best to clear the air in the morning, make a fresh start as a group. “It’s not easy. Sometimes I lose sight of what we’re doing, where we’re going. I need to be doing something, though, and bumbling along doesn’t suit me. Before all this I used to plan and organize my life, but now it’s a mess. I wake up in the morning, and I don’t even know where to start.”
“Motivation, is that what you want?” asked Quinn. “How about living. I mean, you don’t need to save up for that condo in Florida anymore. The two-week vacation in Bora Bora is off the menu, and the only thing you’re likely to pick up at Penny’s is a bad case of dead. Look, you’re alive; that’s it. There doesn’t have to be anything else or any more to life. All we do now is get by. That’s how we stay alive. We look out for each other. That’s our life now.”
Jonas knew Quinn meant well, but she was young and didn’t have the responsibilities that he did. “It’s funny. I used to be wired differently.” Jonas offered Quinn some chips, and they munched on them as they talked. “When I was a kid all I wanted to do was leave home, and get as far away from my father as I possibly could. Once I’d achieved that, I tried to make my fortune. My early twenties were a succession of dead-end jobs and bad choices in women. Don’t get me wrong, for a while there I loved it, but after a time you realize you need something more out of life. I finally got a good job, I met Dakota, and my life changed. I had a reason to live, not just a selfish one, but arealreason. Dakota made me happy, and I wanted to give her everything. I worked my butt off, and until a few months ago, I didn’t think life would change. I saw no reason to change anything, but then of course, it was forced on all of us. My father died, then he un-died, then he died again. My world was turned upside down, but you don’t need me to tell you that. You must have lost someone you love?”
“You don’t have a monopoly on guilt, Hamsikker. I saw my parents killed right in front of me,” said Quinn. “I saw my husband kill them, and there was nothing I could do about it. You talk of love. What I had with Roger… What’s past is past, right? Forget it and move on?” Quinn looked at Jonas accusingly with bitterness and anger in her eyes.
“I’m sorry.” Jonas instantly knew he should never have brought it up. Quinn was a private person, and he felt bad for making her open up to him.
“Don’t be. Just accept that life deals you a shitty hand sometimes, and there’s nothing you can do about it but grab what you can, while you can. I used to run with a bad crowd. I’m not proud of it, but that’s who I am. I’ve been hiding it, and I admit I’m not sure how Erik would take it, but the truth is I was part of a gang. At first it was all about hanging with the cool kids, then it progressed into a few muggings, and by the end we were holding up liquor stores at gunpoint. Roger was in on it too. I thought we were invincible. I thought we werebad motherfuckers, but we were just kids playing a role. In the end…”
Quinn trailed off into silence, and Jonas could see why she didn’t talk about herself much. “So you got out?”
Quinn laughed, but there was nothing funny about what she said, and her laughter was tinged with sadness. “Got out? No. On our last job, Roger got bitten. We thought it was some crazy drunk, and we put a bullet in his head. I got Roger home to my parents. We couldn’t exactly go to the cops about it, you know? I drank a bottle of bourbon, fell asleep, and when I woke up in the morning… well, that was when the world changed. Like you said, we’ve all lost someone.”
Quinn trailed off into silence again, and Jonas waited for her to continue, but she didn’t. “Like you said, what’s past is past. We’ve all done things we’re not proud of.” Jonas had no intention of telling anyone else about Cliff, but the man’s battered face would haunt him forever. “Was there anything else, Quinn, as I really should go up and relieve Gabe?”
“What do you think about our two new friends?” Quinn stared at the floor as she spoke. It was as if she was regressing to her childhood. Now she wasn’t out in the battlefield, she could let her guard down and relax. Maybe it was the talk of her old life that had her looking so dejected.
“Gabe and Mara? They seem like nice enough people, don’t you think?” asked Jonas. “And this place is just what we were looking for. Gabe was decent enough to take first watch. It’s warm and secure, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t be safe enough tonight. If it wasn’t for Gabe having the foresight to pack up that van, we would be half starving by now. Look, if we hadn’t found them when we had, then God knows what would have happened to us. Chances are we’d be out there getting our asses kicked. I think Gabe and Mara came along at just the right time.” Jonas was pleased the conversation had taken a more upbeat tone. He didn’t want Quinn dwelling on dark thoughts. He knew from experience that churning up old memories usually led to depression or anger, neither of which were useful in a world full of the walking dead.
“I guess so…” Quinn sighed. “It’s just that Mrs. Danick was talking to me earlier. She isn’t convinced that they’re so sweet. She thinks the innocence and sweetness is all a show. She swears they were arguing earlier. She says they’re hiding something.”
Jonas snorted. “Sorry, but come again? What is she basing this on? Did she elaborate on anything ‘cause it seems to me that they’re just about the nicest damn people we’ve met in a long time. They let us in and asked for nothing in return.Nothing. You know how rare that is in this world. What doyouthink?”
“They were perfectly pleasant, I have to admit, but…”
“But what? Other than a senile old lady’s theories, I don’t see the problem. Mrs. Danick might be a sharp shooter, but sometimes she’s not on the same planet as us. Two weeks ago she thought she saw Elvis. Remember? Did you believe her then?”
“That was different,” said Quinn. “She gets confused sometimes, you know that. Mara hasn’t said much, but Gabe can be a little blunt, if I’m honest. Mrs. Danick said he wasn’t in any of the photos back at Saint Paul’s, and I think…”
“I think,” said Jonas, “that you need to remember the only reason you’re alive right now is because Gabe and Mara let us in. I think you need to show a little more gratitude, and stop listening to Mrs. Danick’s crazy stories.” Jonas stood up and left Quinn staring up at him. She looked like a lost young girl as her brown eyes looked at his. “Get some rest, Quinn, you’re on watch in a couple of hours.”
Jonas hated leaving Quinn on bad terms, but she had dealt with far worse than a telling off from him. Tomorrow was going to be a fresh start for everyone. They had navigated their way out of Kentucky and managed to avoid coming into contact with many dead since leaving Saint Paul’s. Jonas slowly climbed the metal steps to the upper gantry to find Gabe. He vowed that he wouldn’t run away anymore. He wasn’t going to keep hiding, but he would confront things head on. Dakota was slowly coming around, and Erik would too. As long as Gabe played ball, there was no need for any more issues. If Mrs. Danick kept her head, then who knows, they could even make Canada by nightfall the next day. If they stayed clear of trouble, perhaps he could get Freya to open up too. His promise to Dakota was solid, but there was one thing he had to promise himself.
“I’m going to get us out of here, and then I’m going to find Janey.” He had to say it out loud to make it real. He couldn’t bottle it up anymore. Jonas stepped up onto the catwalk, and he saw Gabe at the far end of the warehouse. Now that Erik knew about Canada, Jonas’s resolve had been strengthened, and the last part of the jigsaw was Gabe. Mrs. Danick didn’t suffer fools gladly, and if she had convinced Quinn, then something might be up. There was no reason they couldn’t all get along. It was time to find out what Gabe wanted and who he really was.
They wanted to go into the office to look outside, so together they dragged the filing cabinet to one side, pushed back the flimsy wooden door, and entered the office. Satisfied there were no zombies around and that their vehicles were still parked up close by, Peter checked the other door that led outside. The key hung in it loosely, and he kicked a sheaf of papers underneath the reception desk.
“It’s locked, but it wouldn’t take much to get it open if a few of them came across us. We should get back inside before we’re spotted,” he whispered. The rain still fell and almost drowned out his soft voice.
Rose took Peter’s hand. Saying nothing, she pulled him to her and brushed her lips gently over his. She knew that she smelt good, clean and fresh, with a hint of perfume. In the clubhouse lockers she had found a discarded gym bag with a half-empty bottle of fragrance inside, and she was putting it to good use. It was eerily quiet in the warehouse, and she had offered to take watch with Peter before dawn. With Peter being so young, it had sounded like a good idea to Erik, and he had practically encouraged the two of them to do the night watch together. The others were asleep, and now that they had reached the office, Rose pulled him close to her and let her lips rest on Peter’s. She pulled him closer, sensing what he wanted.
“Mara, stop, what are you doing?” Peter let go of her, confused. “We’re supposed to be on watch, what are you doing? Jesus.”
Rose smiled and maintained eye contact with Peter. He was making the right noises, but she knew how men worked, and she knew when their body was disagreeing with what they were saying. Most men wanted her, or at least used to, and she could deal with that. She used it to her advantage, and usually got what she wanted. Now that she was with Javier, she had decided to stop playing around and had taken up a different sort of game.
“Peter, don’t worry so much. I know what you want.” Rose slipped off her polo shirt and let the cold night air wrap around her body. The boy was scared, but excited. She was half-tempted to let him have her, but then the thought of anyone else inside her apart from Javier brought her senses sharply to the fore. She shivered at the thought of Peter laying a finger on her, let alone anything else. She would rather disembowel herself with a rusty nail than let a pig’s offspring touch her.
“Are you cold?” Rose asked. She could see Peter admiring her breasts through her bra, and knowing how desperately he wanted to touch her made her want to laugh. He wanted her so much, yet he was so afraid. It occurred to her then that he might be a virgin.
“We don’t have to do this,” said Peter timidly. “Weshouldn’tdo this. You’re married, and…”
“And I saw how you looked at me in the shower yesterday,” said Rose as she approached Peter. “I want it too. I need it Peter. I was Gabe’s sweetheart at school, and I’ve never been with anyone else. I need a man. I needyou.” Rose stifled a giggle as Peter’s mouth fell open. With reactions like that, hehadto be a virgin. Any other man would have long since given up resisting her, and dropped his pants in seconds.
“Mara, I think you’re beautiful, but I…I’m…”
Rose pressed her finger to his lips. “Shush,” she whispered. “Just relax. We’re completely alone. We can doanythingwe want.”
Rose kneeled down before Peter, and unbuckled his belt. She waited a moment, wondering if he would grab her head and thrust himself into her like most men. Instead, he placed his hands on her shoulders, and she thought she heard him whisper something about wanting to make love to her.
“Sit down,” she instructed Peter forcefully, and she pushed him back into a swivel chair. “Now close your eyes.”
Peter closed his eyes instantly. Rose shook her head at how easy it was. She reached into her pocket and pulled out some industrial cable ties that she had found earlier, maneuvered herself around the back of the chair discreetly, and then tied Peter’s hand together, binding his wrists tightly.
“Hey, I’m not sure about this. Do you…”
“Be quiet,” Rose whispered in his ear, “or I won’t let you fuck me.”
Rose made sure Peter couldn’t escape his ties, and then unlocked the front door, letting the moon light up the room. Warm rain dripped inside from the roof, and Rose had to admit that she was turning herself on. If only Javier were sat in that chair instead of Peter. He was such a typical, obnoxious American college boy. Rose imagined that Peter was the sort of person who probably helped his Mom bake apple pie before offering to cut the grass and prepare for his exams by taking on extra homework. Undoubtedly, the closest he’d ever gotten to a woman was taking the girl next door to the cinema to see some God-awful romantic movie before buying her an ice cream, giving her a peck on the cheek, and getting her home to her parents by ten p.m. Where were the real men? Rose knew Javier hated much of America, and she thought that sometimes she did too. It wasn’t so much the place as the people that she despised. Then again, she wasn’t fussy who she killed. Most people, whether they were American, Korean, or from the North Pole, were scum. They all bled the same in the end.
Rose was tempted to put a blindfold on Peter, but she was beginning to tire of the game she was playing, and was eager to get back inside to Javier.
“You think you’re the first man I’ve met since this whole thing started who wanted to fuck me?” Rose laughed as she straddled Peter. “You’re not even a man. I don’t think you’d even know what to do with it.” She didn’t try to hide the contempt in her voice, and waited for Peter to open his eyes. In the moonlight, they shone brightly, and she could see his father in those piercing blue eyes.
Confusion and embarrassment spread over Peter’s face. “What is this? I thought…”
Rose laughed again, and her shrill laugh scared him more than anything. Suddenly Peter wanted out; he wanted to be back inside, back at Saint Paul’s, back at home, even back in the campervan - anywhere but here. He pulled at the ties around his wrists, but she had secured them well, and as much as he struggled, he could not free himself. “Let me go. This is bullshit. You’re insane.”
Rose got off Peter and stood over him. She picked up her polo shirt, and put it back on. Yawning, she took a large knife out of her boot and watched as Peter’s face turned to fear. She yawned and let the reality of what was happening to him gradually sink in. The bulge in his jeans had gone, and he was probably about to piss himself. Rose laughed again, imagining Peter pissing himself in the chair where he thought he was finally about to lose his virginity.
“What are you? Whoareyou, Mara?” he asked quietly. He wanted to cry, but how would he explain this to his parents? “Look, just let me go, and I won’t say anything. I won’t tell Gabe what happened, okay? I know you’re just messing with me.”
“You still think you’re getting out of this, don’t you?” Rose shook her head. She enjoyed the teasing most of all. Javier was always in charge, and rarely did she get the chance to take the lead. Now she had the power, and she wasn’t going to waste it by killing him quickly. “You know how many men I’ve fucked?” she asked.
“What? I don’t know. I don’t care.” Peter pulled at his ties, but they only seemed to get tighter as he pulled. It was nearly impossible to get up out of the chair with his hands tied behind his back, and with Mara holding a knife over him, he wasn’t sure he wanted to try.
Rose could see Peter straining to free himself, and tiny beads of sweat were beginning to show on the boy’s forehead. She leant over him and placed the tip of the sharp knife over his crotch.
“I would appreciate it,” she said calmly, “if you could sit still for a minute.”
Peter nodded. A bead of sweat ran down his nose and dripped off the end. He swallowed nervously. His throat was so dry that it felt like he was trying to swallow a brick. If only someone would come check on them. If only Freya would have one of her nightmares and wake up his father. Erik would know what to do in this situation. He always knew what to do.
Rose looked at Peter expectantly. “Well?”
“Well…what?” Peter asked. All he could think of was the knife perched above his crotch.
“Answer the fucking question!” screamed Rose. She instantly regretted losing her temper. The shouting might wake the others. She couldn’t afford to get caught, Javier had made her quite aware of that, so she was going to have to finish this quicker now. She leant in closer to Peter, so her lips were only an inch from his. “Answer the fucking question, Peter.” Her cheeks were flushed with rage, and her hands holding the knife trembled.
Peter froze, and looked down in terror. Mara was pressing the knife down on him, and he could feel the pressure above his groin. Any further, and she would break through his pants. He didn’t want to think what would happen after that.
“Okay, okay, I apologize. Um, look, I’m not really…three? Four?”
Rose drew the blade slowly up over Peter’s belly, up his chest until it rested against his neck. The coldness of the blade made him shiver. She thought that his eyes, so full of fear, were beautiful. Such a waste.
Rose smiled, and her voice returned to a normal level. “My father was the first one to fuck me. He was hard and quick at first, and I felt raw afterwards for days. But then he began to take his time. Enjoy it. Enjoy me. I wouldn’t sayIenjoyed it, but…”
“I’m sorry,” whispered Peter.
“Don’t be.” Mara pushed the blade against Peter’s neck until the tip of the knife nicked his skin, and tiny droplets of bright red blood appeared.
Peter tried to pull away, but there was nowhere to go. She had him pinned against the chair, and his hands were wrapped up tightly. Christ, why wasn’t someone coming? He had taken on the night watch with Mara and knew it would be some time before anyone else came along. This was like a bad dream, except he couldn’t wake up. Mara had gone insane. He pulled at the ties more, but there was no way out.
Rose leaned in against Peter’s bleeding neck and whispered into his ear. “You could still have me, you know? All you have to do is kill Gabriel. Take my knife and kill him. He’s sleeping now. Slit his throat before he gets the chance to wake.”
“You’re crazy,” said Peter. “Mara, just stop this. Just stop this and… and…”
“And what?” Rose laughed, and a high-pitched giggle burst from her mouth. “So, is that a no? I didn’t think you would.”
She sighed and looked so disappointed that Peter wanted to tell her that he would do it. He wanted to tell her to smile, because she looked so beautiful when she smiled, but he kept his mouth closed. There was nothing he could say to convince her of anything, he was quite sure of that. He certainly wasn’t about to kill Gabe. Mara had lost the plot. He didn’t know what had made her flip out, but he had to keep talking to her. He realized the best way out of this was to keep her talking. His father had taught him to always try to avoid confrontation, and most situations could be resolved without the need for it to descend into physically fighting. Perhaps someone would come looking for them if he kept Mara talking long enough.
“Mara,” he said quietly as she stared at him. “Mara, tell me what you want. I can help. You can stay with us. Leave Gabe, if that’s what you want. My parents will look after you. It doesn’t have to be like this. I don’t know what you’ve gone through, but…”
Her face turned upward, and Rose sighed. Peter hoped someone would come soon, as he was struggling to hold onto hope. Was there any point in still hoping? Yes, he had to. Freya at least needed him. There was nothing more important in the world to him than Freya. Perhaps Mara needed a dose of reality. Had she gone so far that she couldn’t come back? Was this some twisted sex game that he just didn’t understand? Those eyes of hers that were once so real, so pretty, suddenly seemed hard and black and cold. This was no game. There was no way this woman was the cozy housewife she’d made herself out to be.
“Mara, who are you really?”
“Me? I’m Mara. Mrs. Gabriel.” Rose brought the blade back to his throat.
“What’s your name, yourrealname?” asked Peter. He felt the blade press against his neck drawing more blood. He found himself thinking of Freya, praying that she was safe, wishing he could get through this to see her one more time.
“My name?” Rose leered at Peter. The moon glinted in her eyes as she spoke. “I couldn’t tell you. I lost it around the same time as I lost my virginity. My father fucked them both out of me when I was thirteen. I always liked flowers, though, so I picked myself a name. You can call me Rose.”
Rose drew the blade swiftly through Peter’s neck, and his warm blood gushed out. He spluttered and coughed, but was powerless to stop it. Rose stepped back, making sure none of the blood got on her clothes. That would be hard to explain in the morning. Peter kicked out, but his feet found nothing but the corner of the desk, and the chair spun back towards the door. Rose could see him trying to speak, trying to breathe, but he was already turning pale. The gaping hole in his neck gushed blood. His eyes were glassing over, and the spasms that coursed through his body slowly dissipated as the life drained out of him.
“Stick,” said Rose. She looked at Peter’s lifeless body with curiosity. Would Erik go as easily? She felt more like her old self again. Killing Cindy hadn’t really sated her, and Peter had been much more fun. She wiped the knife on Peter’s shirt, and tucked it out of sight into her boots. Then she wheeled Peter’s body outside, pushing the chair out of sight across the road, and left it behind a dumpster. She severed the ties that held his hands, and checked again to make sure there was no blood on her.
“Enjoy being dead, Peter,” she said as she re-entered the warehouse, and locked the door behind her. She made sure the office was the same as earlier, and pushed the filing cabinet back into place. “So fucking easy,” she said to herself as she made her way back to her bed with Javier. She was supposed to be on watch for another hour, until Pippa and Dakota replaced her and Peter, but she saw no reason to stay up any longer. There were clearly no zombies outside, and who was going to come looking for them in the middle of nowhere?
* * *
Barely fifteen minutes later, and Erik woke up. He looked at Pippa next to him, still asleep, and couldn’t make out what had woken him. He saw Freya’s bare feet sticking out and pulled down her blanket. Peter’s bed was empty, so he must still be on watch. The noises almost sounded like screams, and he sat up, concerned. As he listened, he realized he was listening to the furious sounds of fucking from above. Cries and groans accompanied the clattering of some metal railings, and it sounded more like fighting than lovemaking. Erik turned over and put his hands over his ears. It was clearly Gabe and Mara. They didn’t sound like a married couple at all. Even honeymooners wouldn’t make such a racket. He was surprised they had the energy or desire at a time like this. He looked across at Dakota and Hamsikker who were sound asleep. How had they found time to get pregnant in all of this? Erik closed his eyes and shut out the noise from above, forcing himself to sleep. It would be sunrise soon, and then there would be no rest for any of them.
* * *
Javier traced his fingers down Rose’s back as he admired the tattoo she had between her shoulder blades. It was a red rose, surrounded by small stars. Anyone else like her would have got a skull or a snake, but Rose had to be different. She had come back from watch and practically jumped him. Not that he minded. It had been a while since they had been together, and it was always good with Rose. No one else he had been with could summon up as much energy as her, and rarely had he found a woman who would willingly submit to all his demands. Faint moonlight came in from a window, highlighting Rose’s nakedness, and he imagined that they might even do it again while they had the chance. Killing Peter had got Rose worked up, and he had to admit he was turned on too. Knowing she had taken someone’s life only minutes earlier excited him, and it hadn’t taken either of them long to get into it.
They decided to make their bed away from the others on the upper floor in the corner of the catwalk. They all decided it would be safer in case of attack, and nobody suspected Javier chose it because he wanted to be able to keep an eye on them.
After they’d fucked, Rose fetched a bottle of water, and when she came back she told him that she’d bumped into Pippa. The woman suspected nothing and believed Rose when she’d said Peter had gone back to bed. Javier looked at Rose as she stared down at the sleeping form of Freya.
Rose smiled. “You think we’ll find your brother soon? If he’s got a safe place, we could stay there. No more running. No more scavenging and looking for a bed for the night. It’d be good for Freya too. She needs a home. Look at her. Her brother is dead, her mother is weak, and her father is a cop. What chance does she have?”
Javier knew that Rose had hardly spoken to Pippa, certainly not enough to make a judgment on her. She just wanted Freya to herself, and that was probably why she wanted the girl’s family gone first. “Hamsikker tried talking to me earlier. He said some of the others were a little uncomfortable with us, what with not really knowing who we were. They’ve been together a long time, so it’s natural to be wary of strangers.”
“What did you tell him?” asked Rose.
“Nothing. I told him we were just looking to find a way through this nightmare like everyone else, and that we would do whatever it took to protect the group. I said you were upset at losing the clubhouse, and I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to protect you. Then I started to choke up.”
“You didn’t? Really?” Rose looked at Javier with amazement. Had he really been that worried about her?
“No, not really. I faked it. Made him feel guilty, and he let me be. I was through being buddies with him. I didn’t want him asking too many questions. Besides, he thinks we’re on his side. It’s the others we have to watch out for. That old woman and the cop are the ones who we need to win over.”
“I hate that pig,” said Rose. She looked down longingly at Freya.
“You know, we could do with checking the ammo situation. Before they realize that Peter’s missing, why don’t you ask Erik to help you take a checklist of everything we’ve got in the van?” asked Javier. “I’m sure he’d understand that I wouldn’t send Mara out there alone to do such an important job. It’s not safe out there.”
“Why do I have to go?” asked Rose. “With him?” She lay back down beside Javier and kissed his sweaty chest.
“Rose,listento me.” Javier sometimes wondered if he was speaking in a foreign language. Was she not getting it on purpose or trying to wind him up? “It’s not safe out there. Anything could happen. The dead are everywhere. If, say, one of those dead, nasty motherfuckers sneaked up on you and Erik whilst you were out there, well…”
Rose looked deep into Javier’s eyes, reached up and kissed him. “So if only one of us were to come back…”
“It’s just an idea. You be careful, Rose. He’s not as dumb as his boy.” Javier kissed Rose and cupped her ass. It wouldn’t be difficult getting Pippa on her own, and he would kill her while Rose took care of Erik. Javier wanted to slim down the little traveling party he had got together, and Erik was expendable. He was just too dangerous to keep around, especially now his son was gone. With Peter gone, and Erik and Pippa on the way out, the next one on Javier’s list would be Mrs. Danick. Terry was annoying, but he could be useful up to a point. The old woman was a serious pain in the ass. She never quit haranguing him, and it was as if she knew he wasn’t who he said he was. All those questions at the clubhouse about the photographs, and all the insinuations and snide comments she made had to stop. She needed to be made to stay silent, forever. Old people could suffer from any number of things. Heart attacks, for one. They died in their sleep. Perhaps it was time for Mrs. Danick to meet her maker after all.
Javier had originally planned to only have Erik and Hamsikker go with him to Canada, and now it was time to tweak that plan. If it kept Rose happy, Freya could tag along too. He knew Rose too well though. She would get fixated on something and want it so much that she would do anything to get it. Ultimately, she would tire of her new toy, and when she was bored, it usually ended up with him having to get rid of it. So he’d let her have the girl for a while, until she decided she’d had enough, and then he had no doubt who would have to finish her. He had no compunction in killing children; it was just another part of life that he had forced himself to get used to long ago.
“How long have we got?” asked Rose. “Maybe I can take Erik out later. Literally,” she giggled.
“He can wait. We’ve got long enough,” said Javier smiling. Apart from Hamsikker’s axe and the gun under his pillow, Javier knew all the weapons were in the campervan. Erik and Mrs. Danick held onto their guns, but Javier was sure they were empty. Hamsikker and his idiot friends could wait. “Long enough,” Javier said again as he caressed Rose’s neck, and their bodies began to intertwine.
* * *
Hamsikker was woken an hour later by Dakota.
“Honey, you awake?” she asked him as she rubbed his back.
“Sure,” he said groggily. “What is it?”
“I’m supposed to go on watch with Pippa now, but…”
Jonas sat up. Pippa was stood waiting, and he felt shattered. The blankets kept them warm, but the ground was rock hard, and it felt like someone had been walking up and down his spine all night.
“Could you go with her? I feel so sick, I don’t think I can do it,” said Dakota rubbing her belly. “Every time I get up I get a head-rush, and then I get all dizzy, and…”
“It’s okay,” said Jonas as he got up. “I’ll go. Get some rest.” He kissed Dakota as she lay back down and walked over to Pippa. “You seen Peter and Mara? Anything going on out there?”
“I think Peter’s in bed, but I haven’t seen him. I saw Mara earlier. She said everything was quiet, and she was just getting some water. Said she was exhausted, and all the walking around had made her thirsty.”
“Right, well, let’s go then, the sun will be up soon so we may as well check things over and get ready. It’s going to be a long day.”
Jonas and Pippa began walking around the warehouse, listening to the others slowly wake. Jonas doubted anyone had gotten much sleep, but some was better than none. He chatted amiably to Pippa, but all he could think about was how they were going to fare as they journeyed north. He remembered when they left Erik’s place and how that day had turned out. They had spent hours running around Jeffersontown, not knowing where to turn. Some of them had died in the process, and he could sense it happening again. He was going to lay everything out on the table once they were all up. They needed a plan, something to hold onto; something to help drive them forward. Running around like headless chickens was a sure fire way to get killed. Everyone needed a clear plan, and if everyone was pulling in the same direction, it would be so much easier. They wouldn’t make the same mistakes as before. They would have a clear and defined path. It was time to get to Janey and to get everyone to safety.
“I understand,” said Pippa as they approached the office at the entrance of the warehouse. “Erik mentioned to me about heading for Canada. About Janey? We’ll come with you.”
Jonas rested his arms on top of the cold filing cabinet and looked at Pippa. “I should’ve known the big guy couldn’t keep his mouth shut.”
Pippa smiled. “Don’t worry. I think it’s a good idea. We can’t keep hanging around here. Sounds like a good idea to me. You think Janey’s got a place for us to stay?”
Jonas began tugging on the filing cabinet as Pippa pushed, and they slowly moved it out of the doorway. “I hope so. She lives in a small town surrounded by forest and a lake to the east. There wouldn’t be as many of the dead up there. Who knows, we might be able to settle down, and…”
As Jonas pushed open the door, he heard a knocking sound. It was coming from outside but was unmistakable. “Pippa, stay behind me. There may be someone out there.” Jonas gripped his axe firmly and stepped into the small office. Through the small window in the door, he saw the head of someone.
“You think they need help?” asked Pippa. She crossed the room behind Jonas full of fear. “You think we should let them in?”
Before Jonas could answer there was a bang as the body threw itself against the door. “I think it’s one of them. I just hope it’s alone, or…”
Another crash against the side of the office indicated the zombie was not alone. Jonas rushed to the side and looked out of the dirty window. He swept back the beige blinds, and he shivered with fear. Across the yard, in the street, were at least dozen zombies, all heading for the office. What had brought them here? He looked down at the body that was throwing itself against the office. It had fallen to the ground and was slowly standing. As it got to its feet, Jonas stared at the thin figure of a young man. The man still had his backpack on, strapped over a scrawny frame, with bite marks all down his arms. His face had been ravaged, and there was a large black, bloody hole in his neck.
Jonas let the blinds close and stepped back into the office, unable to believe what he was seeing. How had they gotten so close? There hadn’t been any zombies around earlier, yet now their number was growing. If they didn’t leave soon they were going to be trapped here. They were going to need every weapon they had just to get out as it was, and…
“Shit,” said Jonas again, and he raced to the door. What few weapons they had were in the campervan. He looked out through the tiny square window in the door. The van was still there. With his axe and Gabe’s gun they might just be able to reach it, but he wasn’t sure if anyone else had brought their weapons in with them. The dead body outside threw itself against the door, and Jonas flinched. He looked out of the window at the zombie by the door, and then he realized he knew who it was. Fear was replaced by confusion. He hoped he was wrong, but something inside of him told him he wasn’t. What had the boy done? Erik and Pippa would be crushed. Jonas needed to make sure Pippa didn’t look outside.
“Pippa, we need to get the others up, quickly. There are more of them out there. Don’t ask me how they got here, but we need to move fast.” Jonas went to the doorway and stepped into the warehouse. He would help Pippa get the others and make sure they armed themselves with whatever they could lay their hands on.
“Hamsikker, what is it?” Pippa looked terrified, and she approached the tiny square window. “You’re not telling me something. I can see it in your eyes.”
It was too late. She stretched herself up onto her toes and peered outside. Jonas knew she had recognized Peter the second she opened her mouth. His heart sank, and Pippa’s scream reverberated around the building. Jonas looked at his feet. “Pippa, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened, but we’ll find out. I’m…”
Jonas heard the jangling of keys and looked up. He was expecting to find Pippa crying, perhaps slumped to the floor, perhaps running to him, running to Erik, running away from her dead son, but instead, she was fumbling with the keys in the door, frantically tugging on the handle.
“Pippa, what are you doing? Stop!” Jonas charged across the floor to grab her, to bring her back inside and away from the door, but she was too quick for him. The door flung open, and Pippa opened her arms.
“Peter, honey, come here,” she said.
Her voice wavered as she spoke, and Jonas watched as Peter did just as his mother asked. He fell into his crying mother’s open arms, his pale skin damp and glistening. Peter’s mouth opened revealing bloodstained teeth, and Jonas shouted for help as he raised his axe.
There was a moment when Jonas thought he was too late. Peter and Pippa were wrestling in the office, and he could practically hear Pippa’s flesh being torn from her body. He could sense every one of Peter’s teeth sinking into Pippa’s neck, slicing through the pale skin before clenching onto the soft succulent meat that protected her windpipe. Jonas could see Pippa’s bright red blood begin pumping out of her, spurting out over her dead son’s face like a torrential swollen river bursting its banks. Pippa’s eyes were glazed, confused, the irises too large, the white of her eyes snaked with broken red capillaries.
With a nauseating crunch, the axe smashed into the back of Peter’s head, and Pippa was instantly free.
“Hamsikker, what have you done? My God, Peter… What have you done to my Peter, my…”
Jonas didn’t wait to see if Peter was getting back up or to see who was following him through the open doorway. Jonas grabbed Pippa by the scruff of her neck and threw her toward the warehouse. She had somehow escaped being bitten by Peter, but Jonas knew he wouldn’t be able to protect them both in the close confines of the office.
“Get Erik,” he barked at her. “Get inside, and tell everyone we’re under attack.Go!”
Pippa looked at the prostrate body of her son at Jonas’s feet, Peter’s brains oozing slowly from the massive crack in the back of his skull. Thick, dark blood seeped out and curdled around Peter’s shoulders. Pippa raised a hand to her mouth.
“Go now, Pippa.” Jonas couldn’t afford for her to freak out now. She had to warn the others, and prepare them to fight or flee. He heard a scuffle behind him and knew the others were outside, at his back, and would follow Peter inside the building any moment. “Fucking move!”
Turning his back on Pippa as she disappeared into the warehouse, he felt a bead of sweat trickle down his back. It was happening again. It seemed as if the dead followed them everywhere. There was so much killing still to be done. Peter was dead, but there were still dozens more zombies out there standing between him and Janey.
Before he could reach the door to lock it, a woman appeared in the doorway and charged at him. All he saw was a flash of blue and white as the woman’s summer dress flew around her like a superhero’s cape. The woman’s face was hideously disfigured, as if she had been tortured before her death. Her ears had been gnawed away to nothing but stumps, and her hair was cut short, revealing a tattoo of a scorpion on her left temple. There was nothing behind her eyes, just death, and Jonas brought his axe up to meet the rushing woman. The axe head buried itself into the woman’s chest, smashing through her ribcage, sending splinters of bone into the air which rained down on Jonas like brittle confetti. Jonas pushed her back, keeping both hands on the axe, and fought to push her down to the ground. Wedged in the doorway, Jonas put his boot on the woman’s neck and dislodged the axe from her chest. He swung it down, smashing it into her head, and the woman went limp.
Another figure appeared in the doorway, and Jonas looked straight up into the eyes of the backpacker. There had been times in the past, when faced with other demons, Jonas had wanted to give up. It had left him feeling defeated, deflated, and unable to convince himself that he could carry on. But looking into the dead man’s eyes, Jonas didn’t feel like that now. He felt angry. He was pissed off that his friends were dying around him, and he couldn’t do anything about it. Why Peter? Was this the zombie that had killed him?
Fuck You, thought Jonas as he ran at the dead man, fuck You for doing this to us, and for making me do this. Dakota’s wrong. You’re not on our side. You’ve made a pact with the devil. You might have abandoned us, but we’re not going easy.
Jonas whirled the axe above his head and lopped off the backpacker’s head with one blow. The body crumpled, and Jonas jumped over it to the outside. He slammed the door behind him and wondered how long it would be before Pippa brought reinforcements. The yard was full of them, and he wasn’t sure how long he would be able to hold them off. The early morning air was dry, and the sky was a deep blue. There were still a few stars twinkling in the clear sky, and the rising sun was dressing the dead in costumes of grey shadows.
With his back to the door, Jonas let them come to him. He didn’t need to go looking for them. They were heading right for him anyway. If things turned bad, he had the door behind him to retreat through. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that though. If he was forced back inside, they would be trapped. As the dead neared, his heart beat faster, and he made sure he kept the anger inside him burning. The desire to kill each and every last one of the dead burned so strongly that he couldn’t wait to get started. It didn’t matter that the odds were against him. He had the edge on them, and he knew it. He had his family behind him to protect, and he had plenty of motivation to take down every last one of them. Jonas was determined that none of them would get past him into the building.
Two zombies reached him at the same time, their four arms twisting and groping through the air to get to him first. Jonas sliced off their hands, severing them all at the wrist, and he was rewarded with four bloody stumps flying at his face. He managed to deflect the first zombie by kicking its feet out from under it, and he ducked as the other tried to take a bite out of his shoulder. The axe did the rest of the work, and he took off both their heads. Another zombie came up to him, an overweight man with a bald head and two heavily tattooed arms. Jonas aimed for the man’s head, but his thick arms knocked Jonas off course, and the axe lodged itself in the man’s shoulder. Wrenching it free, Jonas brought the axe around again and carved out a hole in the man’s side. A stinking, slithering pile of intestines spilled out, still pink and rubbery, and Jonas felt a wave of nausea grip him. There was no time to feel sorry for himself, though, and he heaved the axe one last time. This time the zombie caught the full force of the axe, and the man’s bald head split open with an audible crack. Jonas pushed the body away and made a break for the van. He remembered they had left it unlocked in case of a problem just like this, and he needed more than his axe to defeat them all. There were close to twenty or thirty now, and Jonas could only guess they were coming from the town. They had been drawn here, summoned, and nothing was going to stop them. They kept coming, drawn by the noise, or their hunger, or whatever it was that made the dead walk.
He slid back the van door and reached under the seat for the weapon stash. The first thing his hands found was Erik’s Glock. He spun around and took aim, firing off round after round at the advancing dead. They fell where they stood, and Jonas managed to kill half a dozen before the chamber clicked empty. He looked at the warehouse, at the entrance, but nobody was coming. Surely Pippa had raised the alarm? Surely someone had heard the gunshots?
Frustrated, he threw the gun back into the van and reached inside for something else. Pulling back a blanket, he uncovered their small arsenal. A hammer, a couple of knives, and a heavy looking wrench were amongst other hand tools that Gabe must’ve thrown in the van back at Saint Paul’s. Jonas noticed a row of metal teeth attached to a shiny black handle protruding out from underneath the seat. He grabbed it and stood as he admired the handheld chainsaw. Finally, something he could use. It must’ve been used to trim the hedges and bushes around the course. Jonas intended to use it to trim more than just leaves, and he pressed on a small red button, checking the status of the rechargeable battery. It was half charged, but that was all the power he needed. He quietly thanked Gabe for throwing it in the van and then turned back to the yard. He saw that the zombies had converged on his position and were pushed together. They were barely fifteen feet from him, and he dropped his axe in the van.
The chainsaw roared into life, and Jonas stepped forward. There was no going back from what he was about to do. He accepted there was a good chance this was going to end badly for him, but he simply couldn’t see any other way.
Suddenly Quinn raced out of the office with Erik and Gabe behind her, and they sprinted for the van. Knowing that he wasn’t on his own gave him the boost he needed, and he faced the dead with confidence.
“Kill the dead!” Jonas screamed. Gripping the chainsaw with both hands, he ran into the crowd of zombies. The first to fall was a child, and Jonas swept the chainsaw’s blade through the top of its head. He had little time to aim, as the next zombie fell upon him instantly. Hands tried to grab him, but he spun the saw around and around, cutting a way through anything that tried to get near him. Gallons of blood spewed into the air, thick droplets splattering Jonas’s face as the whirling blade slashed off body parts, severing arms and hands and heads.
“Hamsikker, watch your back!”
Jonas thought he heard Quinn’s voice, but over the thrumming din of the chainsaw, he wasn’t sure. He had no time to turn and look either, as the zombies kept coming for him. He wasn’t finished yet. Jonas pushed his way into the dense crowd wielding his chainsaw like a crusader’s sword. The weight of the closely packed zombies made progress hard as he stumbled over dismembered limbs, and the bodies pressed in on him like a thick blanket. Decapitated arms tried to trip him up, but he could not stop,wouldnot stop. He scythed his way through the undead men, women and children, faces twisted by hate, bodies rotting and reanimated by God knows what. More and more hands and arms dropped at his feet as he whirled the chainsaw in front of him. The dead tried to surround him, to attack from all angles, and Jonas swung the weapon to the front and back, and from side to side, not caring who or what he hit. The chainsaw’s teeth were beginning to slow, chunks of flesh clogging up the machinery, and the sheer number of dead it had carved through was beginning to draw on its fading power. The stench was disgusting, and blood sprayed over him, drenching him in death.
Kicking away a head, its jaws still snapping at his ankles, Jonas heard a faint scream above the clamor and moan of the zombies. He pushed on, refusing to buckle, knowing he had to continue. Time meant nothing anymore, and it took as long as it took. He heard gunshots, but couldn’t be sure who was firing, and until the dead were gone, they weren’t safe. Dakota was relying on him. The chainsaw was heavy, and his arms ached. Muscles that hadn’t been used in months were pulled taut. His brain was screaming at him to stop, but he refused to listen, only obeying his heart which told him to go on. His head swam, sweat poured down his back, and then suddenly she was there. A slight gap in the zombies opened up, and he saw Quinn standing before him. A mixture of blood and sweat had formed over him, forcing him to look at everything through a red mist, as if viewing the world through a tinted camera lens. He had made it. Through a wave of undead, he had come through it. Quinn held his axe in her hands. It only took a second, but he took it all in.
She was swaying unsteadily, her eyes closed, blood pouring from her head. Jonas was elated. Quinn must have took his axe from the van, circled around the other side of the crowd, and fought them off. He went to hug her, but then Quinn opened her eyes, and Jonas felt the familiar storm clouds gather once again. The clouds that he had long dispelled grew quickly. Quinn’s eyes had clouded over, and her arms hung loose at her sides. The axe clattered to the floor as her hand dropped it. As she slowly raised her arms, he saw the chunks missing from her shoulders, the skin that had been flayed from her hands and arms, and the blood that continued to pour from her head. She took a step toward him and almost fell. One foot had been bent backward a full 180 degrees, and it was then that he noticed the blood covering her body too. Her jeans were torn, and blood poured from the ripped holes. Tornados of doubt surged through him, and darkness engulfed his core. His heart skipped a beat, and then the darkness fell. It was pointless fighting it. The darkness was so overwhelming that he could hardly breathe. His body told him to stop – stop fighting, stop running, just stop and wait for the inevitable. He couldn’t protect them. The gunshots had stopped. Would the others fare any better than him? What was the point in trying to close the gates to Hell when there was no lock?
A furious wind abruptly swept through the yard, cool air carrying dying leaves with it, and they slapped against Jonas’ face as he stood there staring at Quinn. A hand gripped his shoulder, and he looked up at the sky. It was lighter blue now, suggesting it was going to be a beautiful sunny day. As Jonas looked up into the sweet sky another hand wrapped itself around his leg. He could feel cold fingers grasp his knee, but he couldn’t bring himself to do anything about it. There were so many. Quinn was with them now, Dakota probably too. Quinn, Peter, Tyler – all of them. Was he the last one?
He felt the hand on his shoulder grip him fiercely, the fingernails starting to pinch his skin and pull at his shirt. The red mist parted slightly, and he looked at Quinn again. She was shouting at him to move, to come to her. The blood pouring from her head was real, but she was moving freely, and her face was full of energy. Her skin was smooth, like a dark pebble, and she was using his axe to beat in the head of a zombie. The silence of the dead was replaced with a rushing blood in his ears, and the tumultuous storm that had appeared in his head vanished. Like a light switch clicking off, he realized he wasn’t the last one alive, and he was never going to give in. Through the red mist he had let himself be tricked, letting the weak part of his mind fool him into thinking Quinn was dead. He shut that part of his brain down, forcing himself to look at Quinn. She was real, and the dead were inches away from him, ready to bite.
He shook off the hand on his shoulder, kicked out at the hands grabbing his legs, and bolted toward Quinn. The chainsaw was useless now, its power drained, its blades dulled and the saw too sluggish to be of any use.
“Here, take this,” said Quinn, thrusting the axe into Jonas’s hands.
She pulled a gun from her back and began shooting as Jonas laid into the zombie that had been crawling over the ground to them. He obliterated its face with a mixture of revulsion and pleasure. He felt more in control with the axe and wasn’t sorry to see the back of the chainsaw. A dead man dressed in a postal uniform came running toward them, and Jonas slugged it with the back of the axe head. Quinn stood at Jonas’s back, firing, and Jonas finished off a runner with a quick blow to the side of the head. The zombie dropped down dead at his feet, and Jonas heard Quinn gasp. He turned to face her.
“I’m out,” she said.
Five zombies were circling them, crawling over the mountain of dead, stumbling over rotten bodies and filth and gore. Beyond them were more. From the street they were coming, dozens and dozens more of them, incessant, like an army forever marching to their goal. Jonas saw movement around the van, and it looked like the others were getting ready to leave. He had to buy them more time and keep the zombies’ attention away from the campervan, so he called out.
“Come and get it, dinner’s ready you dead fuckers,” he shouted. “Quinn, get out of here. Get the others in the van. I’ll hold them off.”
Quinn pushed her way through the circling zombies, and Jonas wished he had something more than willpower and a small handheld axe to battle with. He scoured the ground, looking for a gun, a knife, anything that could help defend them. Something hard and long stuck out from underneath a body, and he recognized it as the shaft of some kind of tool. Pulling on it, he expected it to come out easily, thinking it was probably a piece of metal. Instead it had weight to it, and he had to yank it out of the body. It wasn’t just pinned underneath, but stuck in it, and whatever was on the other end of the handle was dug into the body well. He pulled again, and with a sucking sound, the weapon revealed itself. He freed it and wiped away the blood, admiring the Pulaski. It was slightly larger than the axe he carried, with a steel blade, a tough fiberglass handle, and an adze on the axe head perpendicular to the handle. Jonas knew the tool was intended for chopping wood, but it was still as sharp as the day it was made. A smile crept across his face, and he let his arms drop. In each hand he now held an axe, each one sharp and lethal, each able to sever, maim, and kill. The dead were going down. He looked up slowly, drawing in a deep breath as he gripped the axes in each hand tighter.
Jonas yelled and launched himself back into the melee. The circle around him had grown, and the road ahead was full of zombies. Jonas swung with both arms, not aiming for the head, not aiming for anything in particular, just wanting to inflict as much damage to the zombies as he could, and knowing that every blow counted. It slowed them down, and though the dead threatened to engulf him, he didn’t care. A variety of zombies attacked him, and he caught sight of office workers, baristas, schoolgirls and schoolboys, soccer moms, farmers, and even tourists with huge cameras swinging around their broken necks. It felt like the whole world was against him, yet he didn’t care. The faces of the dead began to blur into one, and he kept going until he finally heard the yelling.
Gradually Jonas was forced back by the sheer number of the dead, and he caught sight of Erik near the van. Erik beckoned him over, and he heard Quinn shouting, calling his name. He knew he hadn’t finished them all off, but they were incapacitated, and that was enough. There were so many bodies lying on the road that they slowed down the other zombies who were still trying to get to the fight. Instead of picking a careful path around, they tried to walk through the mass of corpses that Jonas and Quinn had left, and invariably ended up tripping over them. Jonas charged through the last of the zombies, wiping the blood from his eyes as he ran.
“Dakota?” he asked as he approached Erik.
“I’m here.” Dakota leant forward from the rear seat in the van and Jonas leant in, grasping her hand. “Everyone okay?”
Even as the words came out of his mouth, he knew it was a redundant question. He looked around the interior of the van, and could see they were terrified. Dakota and Pippa were in back with a comatose Freya beside them. The young girl was clutching the keychain he had given her, squeezing it in her hands like a stress squeezer, as if it were a comforter. Mrs. Danick was clutching her bag to her chest, and he had never seen her look so scared. Terry sat silently next to her as Quinn and Erik clambered into the van.
“We’ve used up all the ammo we had. I borrowed Gabe’s gun, but short of making our own bullets, it’s useless.”
“Unfortunately true,” said Javier, lying. “It’s empty.”
Erik held a hammer in his hands, covered in blood. He had knocked back a few zombies as he had helped the others get to the van. “Let’s roll, Hamsikker,” said Erik gruffly. He sat down beside Quinn and cleared a space for Jonas to sit down next to him.
Jonas got in and swung the van door closed just as a runner reached them. It started battering on the door, and Dakota screamed.
“Gabe, punch it,” said Jonas. He noticed Gabe was looking surprisingly calm as he caught his eye in the rear-view mirror. Mara was sat in the passenger seat, looking a little more concerned, but Jonas paid no attention to them. The van was reversing quickly out of the yard, and several bumps on the side of the van told him they were not in the clear yet.
“I think most of them are coming from town,” said Jonas. “Martinsville is fucked. Try and take us around it if you can, Gabe.”
“Doing my best here,” grunted Javier as he swerved the van from left to right, trying to avoid the dead that had filled the road. He didn’t need advice and didn’t ask for any. Javier concentrated on what lay ahead.
“I feel sick already,” said Dakota.
The van lurched from side to side, and Jonas had no doubt that Gabe was doing his best. He also didn’t doubt that they were still hitting a lot of zombies, and the van wasn’t built to take the damage that it was suffering. He wished they still had the SUV, but he found himself wishing for a lot of things these days. One day He might listen, but Jonas doubted that anyone upstairs was listening to anyone anymore.
“I think we’re through the worst of it,” said Javier.
Jonas looked at the receding town, and the zombies that continued to follow them down the road, stumbling over body parts as the van left them behind. What had drawn them in? All it took was a noise, a smell, and they closed in like a school of hungry piranha. Aside from a crying coming from Freya at the back of the van, nobody spoke, and Jonas slowly became aware of a tapping noise. It was consistently there, regular like clockwork, and he looked down for the source of the noise. He still held the axes in both hands, and they were clattering together as his hands shook. He dropped the axes at his feet and held his hands up. Whilst the noise had stopped, the shaking in his hands hadn’t, and he looked at them bemused, as if watching a television show. His hands were covered in blood, and not an inch of his own pale skin was visible beneath the crimson veil that covered them. He told himself to get a grip, to stop shaking, but his body wasn’t listening. Both hands shook, no matter how much he tried to stop, so he sat on them, pressing them beneath his thighs into the seat, hoping nobody would notice.
They rode on in silence for a while, and Jonas lost track of time. He kept replaying over in his mind what had just happened. Peter was gone. How he had ended up outside, he couldn’t guess. Had he made a stupid mistake, perhaps gone outside for some air? Perhaps he was going to retrieve something from the van for Freya. Either way he had paid the ultimate price. Jonas knew that if he found out anyone had been involved in Peter’s death, he would kill them. Peter was so kind and generous, and it was hard to believe he was gone. The thought of killing made Jonas remember his promise to Dakota. No more killing. He couldn’t afford to let himself get caught up in things like that anymore. Besides, he trusted everyone in the van, and whatever had killed Peter was probably just a stupid accident, and he pushed the dark thoughts from his head.
As they drove, Jonas watched the sky as the stars fizzled out to be replaced by the sunlit sky. They passed numerous small towns with no living souls anywhere. He wondered if they might find other survivors, but there were none. The roads were by and large clear, and they kept to the smaller roads, knowing the Interstates were likely to be clogged. Traffic had snarled up causing huge traffic congestion at the start of the outbreak, and there was no one around to clear the roads.
Jonas saw a church coming up ahead, set back behind a small white fence. A lemon tree stooped low before the main gates, its branches bending under the weight of its fruit. Outside the church gates, a billboard with black lettering on a white background proclaimed ‘Repent, seek His forgiveness.’ There were three bodies lying beneath the billboard, their skin and flesh torn from their bones, and their faces blank, their eyes dead. The bodies tried to get up when the truck drove past, but before they were on their feet the van had passed the church and the town was behind them. Jonas looked in the rear view mirror at the sign that once said ‘Romney – Thank you for visiting.’ Somebody had taken a can of black paint and changed it.
“Romney - What would Jesus do?” said Jonas quietly as he read the new sign aloud.
“What’s that, Hamsikker?” asked Terry.
“Nothing. Just a stupid sign.”
“Hamsikker, take this and wipe yourself down,” said Mrs. Danick quietly. She handed a cloth over to him, and he took it. His face was caked in gore, and he wiped as much off as he could. He stank of death, but there was nothing he could do about that. He discarded the cloth and looked across at Quinn and Erik. They were silent, their heads bowed, their grief all too obvious. He glanced back at the others, but nobody returned his look. His heart ached when he saw Freya holding onto her mother. Pippa looked as though someone had ripped her heart out. It was difficult when a loved one died, but seeing them turn, seeing them as a zombie, made it all the more harder. Jonas still remembered his father’s funeral as fresh in his mind as if it had been only yesterday. Getting through the moments after one of their own had died was even harder than killing or taking out the dead up close and personal.
Jonas thought of asking Mara for a map from the glove box, but he didn’t need a map for what he needed to do next.
“I’m going to make this quick. We’re heading north, up to Canada. The further we get away from the cities the better chance we have of making it.” He could see Quinn frowning and wanted to cut her off before she started. “I know Kentucky is our home,wasour home, but we have to accept that it’s gone. We can’t go back. So we keep going. My sister, Janey, lives near Fort William. She has a small, red wooden house by the lake. The city she lives in is relatively tiny compared to what we’re used to, and I think the area should be clear of the dead. That’s what we need. That’s where we’re going. That’s where we’ll besafe.”
“Then let’s get going,” said Erik. “We have more of a chance there than here. Honey?” He looked back at Pippa, but she wasn’t there. In body she was sat right behind him, but her mind was elsewhere. The loss of Peter had hit her hard, and she had succumbed to a silent grief, lost in her own thoughts. Erik hadn’t really expected an answer. He just wanted to look at her and Freya, to be reassured that he still had part of his family with him.
“Let’s do it,” said Javier. “I like a good road trip.”
“It’s a long way to go,” said Quinn. “You think we can make it in this rust bucket?”
“I do,” said Jonas. “We avoid the major cities, stay clear of trouble, and we could be there within a couple of days. I vote we keep away from any built up areas from now on. We can sleep in shifts, and spend the nights in woods or on high ground, anywhere away from people. I’m not saying this is going to be easy, but itisour best option. What are the alternatives?”
“As long as we do this right – I’m in,” Mrs. Danick said, and then she sighed. “I don’t exactly know what went wrong back there this morning, but I know we lost some good people. Peter didn’t deserve that. We have to be more careful. Watch our backs. There’s good people and bad people in this world; always was, always will be.”
“So we’re going to do this?” asked Jonas. He looked around, and even Terry was nodding in agreement. He probably didn’t want to stir up the others with talk of his leaving, and Jonas appreciated that.
“I’ve just one question,” said Mrs. Danick. “Why was Peter outside? Who was on watch when they attacked? I thought we had the place covered.” Mrs. Danick looked at Mara, her eyes questioning, her face full of disdain. “Mara, weren’t you and Peter supposed to be on watch? What did you see? What happened to…?”
“Look, you old bag, what’s your problem? You’re alive aren’t you?” Rose was drumming her fingers on the dashboard impatiently. “It happened when we switched shifts. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, so don’t start with your shit again.”
Mrs. Danick laughed. “If you think I’m scared of you Mara, you can think again. That attitude won’t win you any friends. All I’m saying is if you were on watch, then what happened?Ifyou were on watch, that is.”