Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thirteenth Entry: Wheels

July 24th

We’ve spent a couple of days now in the convenience store of a gas station (it’s called Snacky Mart, in case you were interested). It’s not a bad temporary shelter, it’s secure (Gerry was able to pick the lock so we did not have to break a window) and no one has raided it for supplies, so there is a fair amount of soda, water, and energy drinks here. The food leaves to be desired though. In order to not use up the emergency food we saved from the hotel we have been living on chips, cookies, and candy bars, with only nuts and jerky for protein.

The fire from the hotel must have gone out, as it was no longer visible after the first night. This is a good thing, as I was a little worried that it could spread to take out a sizable chunk of the city with no one around to fight it.

We spent the first day here trying to decide what to do. Sharon was adamant about going back to Mallville (I haven’t told her that she no longer has an apartment, and what remains of her possessions are in a suitcase in my living room, which may not matter, because I may not have an apartment anymore either), but the others were a little more cautious.

Jimmy and Maria were both very concerned about what may happen if we try to go back. Gerry and I were pretty undecided about it. We both definitely want to go home, but we both were also willing to acknowledge Jimmy and Maria’s concerns.

In the end we decided that we will go back, but we’re not going to just go marching down the street where someone loyal to Kaur can pick us off from the roof, and say that we were zeds. Maria still has her walkie talkie on her (Gerry lost his as Bianco’s, and mine was destroyed in the car fire), so when we get within a few blocks on Mallville, she’s going to try and use it to contact Alex.

That decision led to a new dilemma though. How do we get there? Jimmy’s injury makes travel on foot horribly slow. It took us a hour just to get from the Majestic to here, and even though he tried not to show it, I could tell Jimmy was practically dying from the pain by the time we stopped. I have a suspicion that when he finally does see a doctor, it’s going to be too late for his leg to ever fully recover.

If we’re going to walk, we need to find something to move Jimmy in. He protested this idea when it was brought up, but I know that was just an issue of pride. I understand not wanting to have to be pushed around like a baby in a stroller.

The other option is to find a car. It makes me miss the day where gas stations had garages, because there were no cars left at the gas station. Maria, Gerry, and I went searching for a car, and there are actually none in the immediate area (which was pretty much a two square block radius around the gas station). No cars, none, not a single freaking one; unbelievable.

I know where we are now, and yes, we did go the opposite direction of Mallville, and a bit farther than I had originally thought. If I’m right (and I have not checked on a map or anything), we’re about 6 miles from Mallville. That would be about an hours brisk walk under normal conditions, but it feels like a lifetime since conditions were last normal.

We did not return from that initial exploration empty-handed though. We came across a store called “Live Long, Live Well”; it’s one of those places that sells things for seniors like electric scooters, walkers, canes, diapers, and, luckily, wheelchairs. We are now the proud owners of a Karman S-305 Ergonomic Ultralight Wheelchair. This thing sells for $600 according to the sign in the store, but we got the five finger discount, and because we were such great customers, (we offed the fat naked zed that was wandering the street in front of the store) they threw in a backpack that attaches to the back of the chair.

Our mostly fruitless exploration ate up pretty much all of the daylight, and we locked ourselves inside the Snacky Mart just as the last bit of sunlight faded. As good a lockpicker as Gerry is, it is nice to have found a set of keys in the closet-like manager’s office for letting ourselves in and out of the store. Gerry’s fast, but keys are easier.

Jimmy’s reaction to the wheelchair was mixed. While he was clearly glad to have a way to move around without crutches, he did not seem happy with having to use it. Gerry says it’s just Jimmy’s pride kicking his ass, having to come to terms with the possibility of spending the rest of his life in a chair and all, and I’m inclined to agree. I know if tomorrow I couldn’t walk anymore it would drive me nuts. Despite being lazy and useless, I hate feeling helpless.

Sharon had not spent the day just sitting around. She had done some in depth exploring in the storage areas of the gas station, and come up with a small propane gas ring. That combined with one of the tanks from the propane cage out front produced us a hot meal, not a great meal, but a hot meal.

Not wanting to dip into our supplies from the hotel, Sharon only used ingredients from the convenience store, and so we were treated to a very peppery beef jerky stew. While it is not the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth, it was certainly not the best. I don’t know if this is because Sharon is a lousy cook (this is the first time I’ve ever had her cooking), or just because beef jerky stew is an acquired taste.

Today was a bit more exciting, not that that is necessarily a good thing. We got an early start, Gerry, Maria, and I, and decided to expand our search radius. We went two blocks out this time, because even though we now have the wheelchair we would still like to not have to walk back to the mall. Yes I know that in the time we have spent looking for a car, we could have just walked back.

The first hour of walking was uneventful. We didn’t even see any zeds, although I kept getting the feeling we were being watched, and seeing movement out of the corner of my eyes. However, seeing as zeds are not particularly stealthy, I decided that this was my imagination. I was wrong.

About halfway through the second hour, we finally struck the jackpot. The National River Church of the Everlasting had a good dozen cars in its parking lot, including a large van with their logo, a sun rising over what was either meant to be water or bacon, on it. Thinking that there may be keys to some of these vehicles, or even survivors inside, we took a closer look.

sunrise over bacon

The church was nothing special as churches go. It was a freestanding structure in the middle of a block, a moat of parking lot surrounding the beige building and its lawn. The sun shown brightly off the stained glass windows that lurked near the tops of the walls, and the grass was even a bit greener than what I have gotten used to seeing. It really was like a beacon sent from God. The sign out front read:


Feeling we could do with a little blessing, we went to the large brown front doors of the church.

We tried the doors, but found them locked. Gerry set to them with his lockpicks.

“This is a pretty good lock,” Gerry commented as his felt with the picks for the tumblers inside the lock, “You wouldn’t think you’d need such a good lock on a church.”

The lock opened with a click, and as Gerry started to pull the double doors open towards us, I heard footfalls on the street behind us. Someone was running towards us, ”Don’t open that!” a man’s voice yelled.

As if intentionally synchronized, Maria, Gerry, and I turned to face this newcomer, Maria and I raising our rifles, Gerry still holding onto the door. The man was thin, and looked to be middle aged with streaks of gray in his slicked black hair. He was wearing a denim shirt and blue jeans, a leather strap running across his chest to a rifle holster on his back. In his right hand he clutched a lever action rifle, and stapped to his right thigh was, of all things, a chainsaw with some weird metal collar around the handgrip.

We only had a second to look at this newcomer before the smell from inside the church assaulted us. I would say the odor is what I imagine Hell smells like, but there was no sulfur, just rot, decay, and death.

The three of us turned back, and found that there were no survivors in the church, only about 20 of the undead. We stared at the zeds, shocked, and they stared right back. They were scattered around the interior of the church, some in the pews, some by the altar, some in the central aisle.

For a moment no one moved, and then as if someone had fired a starter’s pistol the zombies surged towards us. Many of the ones in the pews tried to walk through the rows of benches, and stumbled over them, but the ones in the aisle and by the altar had a clear shot down the center of the church.

Gerry closed the door as fast as the pneumatics would allow, and backed away, trying to bring up his rifle as we all backpedaled away from the door and onto the lawn, all of us except for the newcomer that is.

I heard the whir of an electric motor, and saw a blur of blue as the stranger passed me. Since I turned my back on him, he had re-holstered his rifle, and pulled his chainsaw from its place on his thigh. The strange metal collar covered his hand up past the wrist leaving no flesh exposed on his right arm.

As the first zombie hit the doors, they pushed outward, and he came though. He was wearing a black shirt with a white priest’s collar. Other than being undead, he looked uninjured. I saw nothing on his that made it clear how he died in the first place. God only knows what actually happened in the church, and He is welcome to keep that knowledge to himself.

The stranger brought the chainsaw up to meet Father Ghoul’s head, and the blade bit into the zed’s face. As much as I would like to say it did, the chainsaw did not slice the zombie’s skull in two, it did however rip a huge chunk out of the zed’s face, and knock it off balance, and send it stumbling back into three more zombies who had now reached the door.

The man in blew swung the chainsaw again, this time are the zombie’s neck. The motor’s sound got deeper as it cut through the spine of the undead preacher, and after a couple of seconds, the head fell to the ground with a wet thud, followed a moment later by the body.

The three zombies that had been behind the preacher, two men and a woman dressed in what had likely been their Sunday best, lunged, mouths open, at the chainsaw wielding nutcase. He turned the blade to meet them, and all three got a nice mouthful of chainsaw blade. The combined force of the three ghouls drove the man backwards towards us.

I couldn’t see him do it though that metal wrist guard of course, but I know he pulled the trigger on the saw, because the chain again spun to life. The stranger pushed against the zombies as the chain tore its way through teeth, cheeks, and tongues, and drove it back deeper into their mouths. The zed’s hands clutched at the stranger, but after a couple of seconds, their heads above the jawline popped off in a spray of rotted gore.

The stranger pulled free of the semi-headless zombies’ grasps easily as they jaws dropped to hang limply against their throats before they dropped to the ground to never rise again. The bodies of the zeds blocked the door from swinging back shut.

The stranger turned to us and yelled,” Feel free to jump in here and put those guns to use at anytime!”

That woke us up, and we ran forward to line up alongside this strange man. I was able to get a closer look at him, and realized that my original estimation of his age was way off. He looked like he might be younger than me, eighteen or nineteen maybe. Whatever he had been through in the last few months must have made what I’ve been through seem like a fucking cakewalk, because I know I cannot look that bad… although I’ve not looked in a mirror in the last few days.

Like the priest, none of the zeds I got a clear look at had any visible indication as to how they died the first time. I cannot get over that. It haunts me in a way that little that has happened since the end has. I cannot remember any zeds that I have seen that did not have some sign of death to them; usually a bite mark somewhere. Poisoned maybe?

Five more zeds had managed to jam themselves in the door to the church. The door was a three abreast kind of door at the very max, so unless someone had the manners to step back, the zeds would not have gotten through too fast. They never had the chance.

I fired, taking out a blue-haired old lady; her head popping like an overripe melon. Maria and Gerry also shot, taking down a man in a black golf shirt and khaki pants, and a woman in a white blouse and black slacks. As the three zeds dropped to the ground, the fourth one who had been stuck in the door, a black guy with a shaved head, and a charcoal colored suit, broke free.

The zed tried to come forward, but tripped over the body of the priest, and sprawled face first onto the ground. The zed tried to get back up, but the stranger shoved him back to the ground with a booted foot to the back. Holding the tip of the chainsaw against the back of the zeds head, the stranger spoke again, ”Hail to the king, baby!” The chainsaw again whirred to life, and dug into the zed's skull, spraying bits of bone and rotted brains into the air until the zombie stopped moving.

Another pair of zombies, these two really fast and short darted out the door; the nimbly leapt over the growing pile of corpses in front of the door, and went straight for Gerry, who froze; they were kids, a boy and a girl with blond hair, maybe twins.

I think this may have been the first time seeing undead children for any of us, even Maria seemed unsure how to react. The kids hit Gerry in the midsection, and knocked him off balance. He went down with a surprised, 'Help!”

The stranger was on it. He hit the girl in the face with the flat of the chainsaw blade, knocking her off Gerry and towards Maria, where she landed on her back. He then kicked the boy in the head with a boot as Gerry tried to push it off of himself with his rifle.

The little girl was on her feet in a flash, and facing Maria, who reacted, I think, more out of revulsion than her usual ruthlessness when it comes to zeds. She swung the butt of her rifle into the side of the girl's skull. There was a sickening crunch as the rifle caved in the child's fragile skull, knocking her down for the last time.

The boy was a little slower to recover from the boot to the head, giving the stranger time to pull his rifle from the sling on his back with his left hand. I assumed from the way he wielded the chainsaw that he was right-handed, so this left handed pull should have been awkward, but it wasn't. He balanced the barrel of the rifle on the blade of the chainsaw, and fired into the rising boy's face, spraying the boy's rotting brains all over the sidewalk.

I'm not sure how he pulled it off, but somehow he worked the rifle's lever, and chambered another round, and then turned to point the barrel of the rifle at the biggest zombie I've ever seen that was lumbering towards the door of the church. This thing must have weighed four or five hundred pounds, he made me look like freaking Jared from Subway by comparison.

The stranger extended his left arm out, turning his body in profile towards the zed, “Come get some!” he called, and fired.

This left-handed shot was off, and it hit the obese zed in its left shoulder instead of its head. Due, I guess, to the sheer bulk of the thing, the zed did not even stagger from the shot. Far from being injured, being shot seemed to actually piss the thing off, because it charged.

The undead fat man barreled forward, somehow managing to stagger its way over the corpses blocking the door way. Rage and pain filled its cloudy eyes as it went right for our new friend, who was trying to work the lever on his rifle again.

Rather than try and shoot at this rampaging bull of a zed, I instead threw myself at the stranger, doing my best to not kill myself on his chainsaw. The stranger and I staggered right out of the way of the zombie like a matador dodging a bull, but without the flair. I felt the wind of the zombie passing right behind me, his weight carrying him forward now whether he wanted to stop or not.

The fat zombie staggered to a stop on the lawn, and turned to face us, which is to say that he turned to face four people aiming rifles at his head (which was stupid when you think about the fact that we turned our back on the remaining zombies in the church). The zed snarled, and I was again struck by the emotion that seemed to show on this thing’s face. The emotion was hatred, but it still makes me wonder if there is anything left of the original people in these creatures. What if somewhere in each of these things the rational consciousness of these people is still trapped?

“Say goodnight,” quipped the stranger.

The zombie took a step towards us, and we opened fire. His head disintegrated in a spray of rotten blood and brains as our shots tore into its face and neck. I’m not sure how many times it was shot, but I know I contributed four rounds to it myself. When we stopped moments later, there was a ragged bloody mess between its shoulders. The thing continued towards us, but now it was just inertia carrying it forward, and after a couple of steps the zed fell hard enough that I swear the ground shook.

We turned back to the church, and no more zeds were coming out. We could hear the ones still inside though as they knocked around between the rows of benches, unable to think clearly enough to come to the center aisle and pursue us.

“Lets finish off the rest,” said Maria.

“Clear the doorway first. Make sure those monsters are really dead, and not just playing possum,” said the chainsaw wielding stranger.

This was clearly a good idea, and not one that any of us would have thought of. Not only could one of the zeds be waiting for us to get in biting distance, but if we had to make a retreat, having the doorway clear would be to our advantage.

We dragged the dead zombies out of the way as fast as possible, and with the exception of the head of the priest, they were all indeed dead. The priest’s head was dispatched with the butt of Gerry’s rifle.

We formed into a sort of V formation, and entered the church, the stranger and Maria in the front, and the somewhat less fit Gerry and myself in the rear. As we moved up to the front of the church we dispatched the remaining zombies as they tried to extricate themselves from the rows of seating. Within a couple of minutes the church was clear of the living dead, and we got a chance to really look around.

There was nothing spectacular or unusual about the church. The central aisle was flanked on both sides by rows of benches, and led to a raised section of the floor on which sat the altar. To either side of the altar the church closed in, almost making the alter look like a stage behind a proscenium arch. There were doors to either side which turned out to be a storage room, and a small office.

We did not bother dragging the zeds outside to join the others on the grass since we were not planning on staying for any length of time. What we did do was close the doors; it’s not like someone intending to harm us wouldn’t notice the bunch of zombies rotting in front of the building, but at least it would make the chances of any random roamers coming to join us in the church that much lower.

Set into the wall behind the altar was a stained glass window depicting Jesus with a halo of light surrounding his head. His arms were outstretched in a welcoming gesture, like he was willing to give you a hug if you needed one. The sunlight outside illuminated the window beautifully behind the seemingly undisturbed altar. If one were to take a picture cropping out everything around the altar, it would look perfectly normal.

On the altar an ornate bible sat open and untouched. While we were there, I went up to look at it. It was open to Isaiah, and a passage had been highlighted :
But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.
Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.
Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.
Is that what they were doing in here? Waiting for His wrath to pass? I guess it found them anyway. I hope they are free now, I pray that, if they were trapped in those shells, they are free now.

The rest of the church was a mess. Aside from the mess we made blowing holes in the former parishioners, there was an overturned cart to the left of the alter, a large coffee urn lay in the middle of a long dry brown stain in the floor’s industrial red carpet, and Styrofoam cups, many crushed under foot, were scattered all around it.

In the corners next to the door to the office stood a large yellow work light, the kind with a tripod base and two big halogen lights on it. In the corner next to the storage closet the twin to that work light lay on its side on the floor. The cage around the lights had protected one in the fall, but the other was bent in, and there was a small amount of broken glass on the floor under it.

From the bases of the two spotlights snaked thick black cords, the one by the storage closet had been run along the wall behind the altar; it was connected to a bright orange extension cord at the halfway point. Following the cords led us into the small church office.

The office was plain. A desk with a computer and a black telephone on it was situated so that the user’s back would be to the small window set high up in the wall. In front of the desk sat two visitor’s chairs, and up against the wall behind them was an ugly brown couch that looked like the priest had liberated it from some college kid’s first apartment.

In the corner of the office was a small refrigerator with a microwave on top of it. On top of the microwave sat a white coffee maker. Next to the fridge was a bookshelf, the kind you get at Ikea, and it was crammed with books. On the floor in front of the bookshelf was where the two cords from the work lights ended plugged into a gas powered generator that had long since run out of fuel.

Going through the priest’s desk, Gerry found a keychain with a couple of car keys on it. There was a plain plastic key chain on the ring that someone had written “bus” on in black sharpie. Jackpot.

“So you guys are from Mallville, right?” asked the stranger, his chainsaw once again in its holster on his thigh.

“Yes, how did you know?” asked Gerry.

“I’ve been seeing your little caravans going back an forth. You’re also clearly not with those fucking bikers, which puts you guys one up in my book, so long as you leave some supplies out here for me. You can call me Ash, by the way.”

“Ash?” I asked, ”Like in the movie?”

“Yup.” He grinned, and insanity shown brightly in his eyes.

Well all introduced ourselves to him, and explained our current situation and plan.

”Why don’t you come back with us?” I asked.

“Yeah, Kaur’d love that!” commented Maria.

“No way, that place is a deathtrap. I’m quite happy where I am.”

“Where are you?” asked Gerry.

“Someplace safe. I’ve got everything I need; supplies, weapons, and an escape route if needed. As long as I do not need to abandon it, I could live there for another year just with what I have now.”

“Someplace with power?” asked Maria.

“No, the power has been permanently shut off, no one’s around to pay the bill anymore, and I lost my job a few months ago.”

“How are you keeping that saw charged up?” Maria’s intent with her first question became apparent.

“You know those little roll up solar panels they sell for charging mp3 players and stuff? They can charge bigger things too, it just takes awhile. I’ve got a whole mess of battery packs sitting on the roof charging in the beautiful summer sun. I’m not sure yet what to do about the winter.”

“Ash isn’t really your name is it?” I asked.

The crazy in his eyes flickered briefly,”I am now. Any other person I might have been died with the rest of the world, and no one wants to hear about that.”

“Why do you say that Mallville is a deathtrap?” asked Gerry.

“So many people locked in one place? Not only are you a target for groups like the Hell’s Postmen, but it’s only a matter of time before you’re overrun with deadites from the inside?” I caught Ash’s movie reference there, but Maria looked at him quizzically even though she said nothing.

“But we have an organized resistance against the zeds there. We have supplies, electricity, running water; it’s got to be better than whatever you have now.” Gerry tried to convince him.

“We can get you in. We could use someone with your ability,” said Maria.

“I’m a loner, baby. I can’t be responsible for anyone but me; not anymore, not ever again. I do a great job looking after me, and keeping my little part of the city clear of deadites, and clean. I’m sure you noticed the lack of rotting deadite corpses, eh?”

We all kind of had to admit that we hadn’t. This resulted in Ash making us help him drag the zed corpses around back of the church where they would not be visible from the street, not that there were likely to be a lot of traffic in the foreseeable future.

When that job was done, we tested out the van, and found that it started right up. We invited Ash to come back to the mini mart with us, even if he would not come to Mallville with us.

“Well, you are on the edge of my territory here, so I wouldn’t be leaving it totally undefended,” said Ash thoughtfully, “and I should introduce myself to the other two in your group, so why not?”

Gerry had found a set of keys for the church’s front door in the office during his search, and we re-locked the doors when we left the church. I said a silent prayer for the people who had died in the church as we headed for the van in the parking lot. Something about a church full of the undead just seemed really fucked up to me; blasphemy in a blasphemous world, I guess.

We got back to the Snacky Mart in a couple of minutes. The van ran beautifully for having been sitting unused for four months or so. Ash suggested we park behind the building so the van would not be seen by anyone passing, presumably the Hell’s Postmen.

Sharon had tried to be creative with snack food again, and we were “treated” to jerky casserole with a Frito crust. I have to say, it was better than the jerky stew, but can you imagine how much sodium must have been in it?

Ash stayed with us until after it got dark, and I got a chance to talk to hi while the others did their own things. Maria started cleaning the rifles with a gun cleaning kit that had ended up in one of the backpacks, Gerry and Jimmy started playing cards, and Sharon went up to the roof to do a shift as lookout.

“Are you sure you won’t come back with us?” I asked him.

“Out of my territory, man. You should seriously consider convincing your friends not to go back. It’s only a matter of time before that place goes down hard.”

I decided to change the subject, Mallville has its problems, but I don’t see any risk of true disaster yet.

“So do you have any tips that I could use? I’ve only started going on the scavenging runs a couple of weeks ago.”

“I can tell. It looks like all of you are a little unexperienced,” Ash said with a laugh. I looked around to see if Maria had heard that, but she hadn’t, she was sitting at the cashier’s counter cleaning a rifle.

“So what tips do you have.”

“Kids. You guys haven’t dealt with kids before, have you?”

“I haven’t. I don’t know about the others. I’m the noob here.”

“Those two, Maria and Gerry, right?” I nodded in answer, “They haven’t. they panicked just like you did. I haven’t seen a lot of child deadites either, but enough to be wary of them.”

“They seemed fast,” I commented.

“They are fast little monkeys compared to the adults, but they go down easier. Kids’ skulls are more fragile than adults; takes a lot less to brain’em.”

“What about that fat one?”

“Now that was a new one to me too,” Ash laughed, “ I think staying the hell out of its way is probably the best thing there.”

“You seem a lot more upbeat about all this than most people.”

“Another reason to stay out of Mallville; probably full of a bunch of oh-woe-is-me whiners, right? Besides, it's a laugh-or-cry world out there. Lord knows I've got plenty to cry about; Laughter is what has kept me alive these last few months while everyone I know has died. There is humor in all things, you just need to find it.”

Ash turned to look me in the eyes, all the humor had left them, in their place was sorrow and pain. When he spoke, it was in a low voice so only I could hear it, ”When it all started, I was just some normal guy, working a normal job at T-Mart. Three of those foul things came in on that first afternoon, but we stayed open. We tried to keep everything going as normal as possible for those first four days; directive from home office; I imagine its the only time a company memo ever included the phrase 'removing the head or destroying the brain'. It's very surreal to go to work everyday knowing you may have to decapitate a former customer.”

“On the third day we lost contact with the home office, and we could not reach our DM on the fourth. With Mister Seras, the manager, having been on vacation in Hawaii when this all started, Tom, the Assistant manager decided to close up the store.”

“Some of my co-workers... my friends, decided they were going to try and wait it out there until the government showed up to save us. I couldn't do that, I had to go home to my mom, and my sisters. My mom worked at the hospital as a nurse, and of course the hospital was damned epicenter of it all, wasn't it? She had been bit on the first day, just on the hand, they cleaned and bandaged it because no one knew that it was infectious at that point. She must have been one of the first ones to turn....”

“She called in sick on the sixth day because she was feeling sick. My sisters and I took care of her, but we thought it was the flu or something. Eight days after it all started I woke up, opened my bedroom door, and found that the last part of my old life was gone.”

“The house was a mess, it was kind of like someone had ransacked it. I went to my mom's room, and found her bed empty. I went to my sisters' room, and found...” he stopped for moment here, taking a few deep breaths, ”and found that mom had got their first. They never closed their door at night; the only reason I'm alive now is that I did.”

“I found mom in the kitchen, just standing there. Blood all over her face and nightgown, she must have died during the night. I killed her with a frying pan.”

“I found my sisters trying to walk through the front door. Mom had tried to eat them. Becky's throat had been torn out. Mel looked like her neck was broken, and her pajamas were torn around her arms, like she had been trying to defend herself. They charged me when they saw me. I couldn't believe how fast they moved. They knocked me off my feet, and part of me wanted to let them take me; make me like them. I ended up throwing them off though. I killed Becky with a table lamp, Mel with the fireplace poker. Do you understand now why I cannot be responsible for anyone else? Why I choose to be alone?“

“Yes,” it was all I could say.

Ash's eyes flickered again, and the crazy came back, covering almost all of the pain. He laughed softly, ”You know, you're the first person I've told that to? You're practically the first person I've talked to in months, first person who was actually there anyway. It feels good.”

He turned towards the others, and spoke more loudly, “Well, it's getting kind of late, so I should probably get going. Thank you for the meal, it was certainly the most unique meal I've had in months.”

Gerry walked towards us, “It's dark, don't you want to stay here tonight?”

Ash made a disbelieving sort of sputtering noise, “No, I've got a bed waiting for me, and I want to get a fresh battery in ol' Excalibur here,” he said, patting his chainsaw.

“Thank you for your help today. You're out here more than we are. Is there anything else you could warn us about?” asked Maria.

“Well, you guys obviously know about the Hell's Postmen gang, other than that, the best advice I can give you is to get the hell out of Mallville. That set up cannot last. Other than that, stay away from the police station and hospital. The hospital is absolutely crawling with deadites.”

“Why the police?” asked Sharon.

“Last time I was that way, which was probably like a month ago, the cops were still in there, and they shoot at anything that moves, they even took a shot at me. I don't know if they're still there, but those bastards are crazy.”

Gerry locked the Snacky Mart's front door after Ash was outside. When he was at the edge of the street he turned back and gave us a cheery wave, and then disappeared into the night.

I have kind of kept to myself since then, sitting alone in the stockroom. Ash gave me a lot to think about. How much is he right about?

I feel exhausted, Time to try and sleep.

Tomorrow we go home.

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