Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fourteenth Entry: Going Home

July 26th

There was a great deal of foot-dragging when it came to our returning to Mallville. We decided to bring back as many supplies as we could fit into the back of the van, along with Jimmy's chair. We took half of what was left of the most nutritious stuff there was, which is to say nuts, trail mixes, jerky, pretty much anything high in protein and energy. We left the rest for Ash, since he helped us and all.

We also loaded up on soda, energy drinks, and water. With all of the stuff loaded in it the van actually riding a bit low. I was a little worried what would happen when the four of us got in as well. I didn’t need to worry about that though, especially not with everything else I was worrying about.

We procrastinated leaving so long that it wasn’t until around two in the afternoon that we actually locked the door to the Snacky Mart. Gerry saw me watch him pocket the keys after locking the door for the last time, “You never know,” he said with a shrug.

I’m not sure if she was just curious, suicidal, or procrastinating, but Maria did not drive us straight back to Mallville, she detoured in the direction of the police station, as if Ash’s words of warning were some sort of challenge to her. No one tried to stop her though, even though I think we all knew where she was heading.

Nothing much happened on our little detour, when we were a good half a mile away from the police, we could see a roadblock up ahead. Someone, the police themselves I assume, had parked cars across the street, and up onto the sidewalks. There’s no way anyone not driving a bulldozer could get through, even someone walking would have to climb over the cars.

There was an orange sign with the words “ROAD CLOSED” printed on it in the center of the street on our side of the roadblock. This was apparently not enough of a challenge to Maria, because she turned at the next intersection, and headed away from the police station.

This modified route back to Mallville took us by the hospital, which was a freaking nightmare. Now I know where all the remaining zeds in Covenant must be hanging out. There must have seriously been around a couple of hundred of them roaming around that area.

I think just for fun more than anything, Maria ran over a zed in a filthy Garth Brooks t-shirt, “I hate country music,” she explained.

Once a couple of block away from the hospital, the undead thinned out dramatically; one or two here or there. The rest of the drive back to Mallville was unremarkable. As we drove, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were more people like Ash hiding out in these buildings, or if perhaps Ash himself was in one of them.

We saw the occasional sign that the living had been around; a dead zed, litter, shell casings lying in the street. I had no way of telling how old any of it was (other than the dead zombies, some of which looked reasonable fresh, others looked like they had been dried in the sun for awhile).

One thing that stuck in my mind was a used bookstore that someone had painted the messaged “EMMA MALLVILLE” on the front window in dark red paint. Other than that, the rest of the trip back was unremarkable.

This is not to say that there was no tension. We were all very tense, and very quiet. Not knowing if you’re going to be executed upon arrival at your destination doesn’t do much for your desire for conversation, you know?

When we were about three blocks from Mallville, Maria pulled the van off into and alleyway running behind a series of stores and apartment buildings that make up much of the area directly surrounding the mall.

Maria turned in her seat to look at each of us as she held the walkie talkie up, “If anyone wants to call this off, now's the time to speak up.”

No one spoke in reply, we all just sat there looking at Maria.

“Okay then,” Maria powered up the walkie talkie; it beeped as she switched away from the normal channel to a different one.
“Is anyone out there?” Maria asked.

Static poured out of the handset.

“Is anyone receiving me?” Maria called into the radio again.

“Identify yourself.” replied a voice that was barely recognizable as that of Alex Sigler through the static.

“It's Maria. What is the situation?”

“Not great, but under control. Who all is with you?”

Maria gave Alex the extremely short list of those of us who had survived the last few days.

“Well that's better than I expected. You'd be surprised to know that somehow Kaur knew that you guys were attacked. He says he heard it over the radio, but that has to be bullshit; the radios don't have a range that great.”

“Unless it was being re-broadcast by someone with a stronger signal,” commented Jimmy.

“Hey Jim; it's good to hear your voice again, man,” replied Alex.

“Is it safe for us to come in?” asked Maria.

“ It will be. Give me about an hour so I can make sure that I can make sure that too many people know you are all alive and well for him to pull any shit. You are all okay, right? No bites?”

“Jimmy's leg is too messed up for him to walk easily, but it's old. No one has any bites; nothing but bumps and bruises.”

“Glad to hear it. Find somewhere safe, and I'll call you back in an hour.”

Maria drove us farther down the alley to a Super Lube garage, and after a couple of minutes Gerry had the doors open. The building was empty, as we knew it would be, it had already been the subject of a scavenging run for supplies for the garage. The storeroom was stripped of everything useful, but it still made for a good place to hide the van from anyone passing by.

The air in the Super Lube was stale and warm from being vacant for months, but it beat sitting in the van for an hour. Sharon produced a couple of decks of cards from her backpack, and we passed the remainder of the hour playing Spite and Malice on an old, stained, scuffed up table that had probably had a thousand lunches eaten off of it before the world ended.

At precisely one hour after we had talked to Alex, Maria turned the radio back on. Only static poured out of its speaker, same as before. We continued playing cards, but we were all playing badly, missing obvious moves to block each other, and I'm pretty sure at one point we skipped Sharon's turn. We were all too nervous about what might come through the radio to really be into the game.

Fifteen minutes passed with no word from Alex, and I for one was starting to worry that something might have happened to him to keep him from telling people we were alive and well. I was about to give voice to my fears when Alex's voice came though.

“Maria, guys, you there?”

Maria snatched the radio off the table, “Where the hell have you been?”

“I've been securing you safe entry back into the mall, be a little more fucking ungrateful, why don't you?”

“And have you?” asked Maria.

“Well of course. I just made sure that Kaur was not the first person I told. As I speak, the news of your survival is spreading along the grapevine with special emphasis on the fact that none of you are infected.”

“So Kaur's not going to try and stop us?”

“He was pissed that I didn't go to him first, but his hands are pretty well tied. He's going to quarantine you all for at least twenty-four hours until he is satisfied that no one is infected, but don't worry about that; I've got some of my own people who will be involved in the observation period. You're lucky you came back now. Another day or two and your apartments would likely have issued to his new recruits.”

We all exchanged questioning glances at that, but since Maria had the radio, it was she that voiced the question we all shared, “Recruits?”

“Yeah, Hashmir is trying to build his own little army to keep Mallville safe from external threats. I'll fill you all in on it, stated Alex,”Come on home guys, it's good to have you back.”

And so it was that we returned to Mallville, not to any fanfare, or to happy faces glad to see their lost fellows return, but to a group of angry security officer, all armed with what looked to me like M-16's who surrounded the van as soon as the gate was down.

Maria drove the van slowly through the garage so as to not hit the armed escorts in front of us, and give them a reason to put their rifles to use. When we got to the elevators that lead up to the administrative area, Maria put the van in park. The officers turned so that they were all facing the van. They kept their rifles pointed towards the ground, but it would only take a fraction of a second to bring them up into position.\

The doors to one of the elevators opened, and Hashmir Kaur, Alexandre Rontreal, and Alex Sigler all stepped out. The bright lights set into the ceiling were reflecting off the over polished surfaces of Kaur and Rontreal's badges, and Sigler's pale bald head.

“Step out of the vehicle slowly, and keep your hands where I can see them,” barked Rontreal.

“For fuck's sake, Kaur,” spat Sigler, “”Is this really necessary? They're our own people, not an invading army.”

“The security of Mallville is my responsibility, mind your own business.” stated Kaur as we exited the van.

“They are my people, and are therefore my responsibility too,” Sigler replied, “I'll be glad to take charge of them.”

“I think not,” Kaur said flatly, and then to Maria,” What do you think you're doing?”

Maria had moved around to the back of the van, and was in the process of opening the door,” I'm getting Jimmy's wheelchair out, his leg is hurt, and he cannot walk easily.”

“Was his leg bit?” asked Rontreal.

“No, I broke it in a car crash after some bastard sent a biker gang after us,” shot Jimmy, leaning awkwardly against the passenger side of the van,

Rontreal's hand hovered over his pistol, “I'd watch myself if I were you. Bad things can happen to people who spread rumors. Sara found out about that.

“What are you talking about? What did you do to her?” Jimmy's fire went out of his eyes, and was replaced by fear and panic.

“Nothing, it's just that sometimes karma has a way of coming back on people who spread lies. Sometimes that can be fatal,” explained Hashmir.

Jimmy looked from Sigler, to me, to Gerry, and back to Kaur and Rontreal. Gerry and I bot looked away when he looked at us. I looked at Sharon, and got a questioning look in return.

“Just what are you admitting to?” asked Sigler angrily.

“I have nothing to admit to, although by the look on his face, I'm guessing that you may not have been quite as open with Mr. Chen as friends should be,” said Kaur to Sigler. He then turned to face Jimmy, “I'm sorry that it has to be me that tells you that Miss Seder passed away due to complications to her injuries from that unfortunate attack.”

“You told me she made it back! Her, Wally, and Mitch! Why didn't you tell me?” pleaded Jimmy as he tried to hold the tears back.

I couldn't meet his eyes, “I'm sorry, man. I didn't know how to say it. I was going to tell you, but then everything else happened.”

“And since you got your girl back, what did it matter?” he spat angrily.

I could feel myself blush. I could feel everyone's eyes upon me. I decided to focus my attention on a very interesting patch of parking garage floor.

I guess that Rontreal and Kaur felt they had sown the seeds of distrust into us enough at that point, and allowed Maria to get Jimmy's chair out of the back of the van. When she rolled it around to Jimmy, she did not look him in the face either.

Jimmy half lunged for the wheelchair, yanking it out of Maria's hands, and almost pulling himself and the chair over onto the ground. He would not allow any of us to help push him into the elevator, and none of the security guards offered.

We were taken up to the administration area on the sixth floor, and to the security office that serves as Mallville's police department. We were each locked in separate holding cells; Sharon was to my left, Gerry on my right. I couldn't see them, but we could still talk, not that Sharon was talking to me.

I know that, if I am going to be honest, the only reason I've done any of the things I've done in the last few weeks was to get Sharon back, but I don't know that that should really cheapen what I've done. Does it matter why I did it more than that I did it? Sharon thinks so.

It was a long night in there. Gerry tried to cheer me up by telling jokes, but I told him to shut up, why not alienate one more friend, right?

This morning Marcus Dyson, one of the doctors from the medical clinic, came through, and gave us each a once over under the supervision of a member of the security force that I did not recognize as well as Tara Lafferty, Alex Sigler’s assistant.

Tara’s an interesting person; where Alex tends to be all fire and fury when someone or something pisses him off, Tara is cold as ice. I’m not saying that she’s mean or uncaring, just that the angrier she gets, the less emotion she actually shows. I’ve only met her a couple of times before, and she was perfectly pleasant (as well as really cute, with her curly brown hair and cute little nose) then, but today she had her chill on, I think the temperature in the holding area dropped a good five degrees when she came in with Doctor Dyson and the security officer.

The three of them worked their way down the row cell by cell. At each cell the security officer would open the door, and both Doctor Dyson and Tara would enter. Tara asked each of us (I assume she did anyway, I know she asked Gerry, Sharon, and myself) if we were being treated okay, and then Dyson gave us each a once over.

Even though Doctor Dyson’s examination of each of us was fully clothed and quick, he gave us each a clean bill of health as far as being infected goes, but said that each of us should report to the medical center for a proper examination. He also said that Jimmy should report immediately so that his leg could be examined, but he guessed that there would not be much they could do since the break occurred so long ago.

I heard Tara ask Sharon what she was going to do about the fact that her apartment had been reassigned. She replied by stating that she was going to be staying with me, so maybe she’s not so pissed off after all. I suspect there may be a long talk in my future, but at least I’m home and Sharon’s alive.

Of course with Sharon around, it may be hard for me to keep this, and I have grown quite attached to putting my thoughts down in here, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

Until then.

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