Hello again, dear friend. I know it has been nearly two months since I last wrote, but as I expected, it’s kind of hard to do a lot of writing with Sharon around unless I want her nosing in over my shoulder. The only reason I am writing now is that she is not in the apartment.
Living with Sharon has been, let’s say, interesting. It was nice at first, we’d spend our evenings watching anime and movies, playing board games, taking turns cooking (if you can call her experiments in the culinary arts cooking), basically the same stuff we used to do now and then, but on a nightly basis. It's almost like being in a relationship, just without any of the romantic stuff. She's here when I wake up, and when I go to bed (on the couch), and we now work together, so she's there too. I do not get much alone time.
Sharon and I have been removed from the scavenging team, along with Gerry and Maria. They were super-pissed about it, and I’m sure Alex was none-too-happy to lose his best lockpicker, but Kaur convinced the council that we’re not reliable enough to be responsible for the food supplies, and so we were reassigned… to clean-up duty.
Yup, we now work under Benny Montoya, the head of Mallville’s sanitation department. We’re not cleaning toilets or anything, no, nothing so pleasant; we now go out once or twice a week, as needed, to collect to dead zombies around the mall and burn them in a big bonfire at the edge of the outdoor parking lot.
The zeds seem to like the cooling fall weather, because there has been an increase in the number of them. Maybe some of the ones we saw at the hospital are making their way to us?
The first time we all went out there, Gerry was really nervous. He was sure that some Kaur loyalist amongst the roof guards would “accidentally” mistake us for zombies despite the blaze orange hunter's vests we all wear over our blue coveralls to prevent such occurrences. So far we have all gone out there four times, and we’ve yet to have any sort of incident, but I can still tell Gerry’s very nervous when we are out there. Is it bad that he’s more afraid of other living people than he is when facing off against the undead?
The internet has been disconnected again. E-mail still works internally, and the mall’s intranet is usable, but no more news from the outside world for me. To be honest there was not a whole lot left out there, but I don't know if that is from there being less people, or if there are just too many breaks along the pathways to access the whole net anymore.
Food rations have been cut down a lot. Supposedly we now have to send scavenging crews farther and farther from the mall to get supplies, which makes sense I suppose. There are something like 5000 people living in Mallville right now, and the place was only meant to house around half that. That’s a lot of food and toilet paper.
Hashmir has started building up his little army. He’s recruiting refugees into the ranks of his security force. You see them all over the place now, in their white polo shirts, black pants, with automatic rifles (Alex confirmed for me that they are in fact M-16s, God only knows how Hashmir got them) acting like they own this place. I have bad feelings about that.
The newly expanded security force is being put to good use though; Alex tells me that Kaur is sending them on special scavenging runs, and that on at least three occasions they have returned with fuel tankers. Of course Alex's version of this is much more detailed and laced with vulgarities.
If it seems like I still have a lot of contact with Alex even though I do not work for him anymore, well I do. You see, that is why Sharon is not here right now. They went for a walk around the park, and they are an item. I don’t get this really, the guy looks like freaking Nosferatu. I know I am on the generous side of pudgy, but really???
I’m not mad at Alex, he’s a good guy. I keep telling myself that if not for him Sharon would be dead. Plus he has been funneling extra supplies to us, which is great with the tightened rations. Despite that I still cannot help being a little terse towards him, I mean I’ve been in love with Sharon forever and he swoops in and snatches her away from me.
Enough of that though. What else has happened in the last couple of months?
There is apparently no more fighting over whether or not to allow more survivors into Mallville, as there do not seem to be any more out there. It was down to one or two a week for awhile there, but then last month it just stopped. I want to believe that it’s because everyone has found safety, but I cannot help but wonder if maybe someone, like say a group of bikers, is stopping them from coming. I’m becoming quite paranoid wherever Hashmir Kaur is concerned now.
A couple of months ago I wrote about that incident in the park where that guy who died (committed suicide probably) attacked that woman? Well, there has been more of that. I think it’s up to about a dozen incidents now. Thankfully no one else has been infected by these zeds (as far as we're being told anyway), which I suppose in largely in part to the increased number of armed security patrolling Mallville, but it’s still fucked up.
For the first time, this has effected me. This new world is full of new experiences, but do they all have to be so awful?
I went down to Insert Coin a couple of nights ago. Alex had come over for dinner, and they were watching “7th Son” on DVD, and cuddling on the couch, and I just had to get out of there. The lights were off in the store when I got there, but I figured Bud was just in back. I’ve been trying to stop in a visit him a couple of times a week just to keep him company, he’s been real depressed for months now.
“Bud, it’s me! Get decent, I’m coming in!” I hollered through the gate, trying to sound as cheerful as possible.
I fished my gate keys out of my pockets, and bent down to unlock the gate when movement caught my eye. I looked up just in time to see Bud charge me. The gate was down, but he hit it hard enough to push it outwards and into me, knocking me off my feet.
I slid on the smooth tile of the shopping area’s floor, and fell onto my ass. I’m pretty sure I cursed, but I’m not sure what exactly I said. I froze as I looked at what stood before me with only the gate between us.
Bud shoved against the gate again, and it rattled noisily, attracting the attention of other people in the shopping area. His skin was a pale grayish color, and even in the little light shining into the darkened store interior I could see that his eyes had gone all milky.
There was a dark ring of purplish red color around his throar, and a loop of bright orange extension cord dangled around his neck, the end a mess of exposed wires where it had broken. He had hung himself in the stockroom as it turned out.
I was speechless. What do you say when confronted by a zed you once knew? Is this what Ash felt when finding his mother? No, it can’t be; I think Bud liked to think of himself as a father figure to all of us who worked for him, but he was still only an employer and eventually a friend, but not family.
Everything around me seemed almost silent, although I know a group of people were gathering around me, talking in loud panicked voices punctuated with the occasional scream as Bud raged against the gate, but it was as if I had been too close to a loud explosion, it was like my ears were full of cotton and all that noise seemed far away.
After a few moments three white-shirted security officers, obviously members of the new expanded force by their polo shirts came running up. One of them, a man around my age with blonde hair, yelled something at me; a question I think. I didn’t answer him; I just sat there, knowing how that woman in the park felt. She knew the guy that bit her.
If the gate hadn’t been down or if Bud… Not-Bud had charged me 5 seconds later after I had raised the gate, I would be dead now. Even if someone got him off me before he killed me, I would have been taken out and shot, my body destroyed before I could turn. I would have sat there and been devoured, I’m sure of it. This is how it spreads….
The blond man kept yelling at me, and I kept ignoring him, transfixed on the thing that was Bud rattling the store’s gate. His eyes; anger, pain, sorrow all flashed through those milky undead eyes. It was like he recognized me, he was ignoring the other people around me, and focusing on me.
A security officer with dark skin and a shaved head, he looked to be in his late thirties, stuck the barrel of his gun into one of the spaces in the gate as close to the center of Bud’s head as possible. He fired once.
Interesting fact; a newly turned zombie’s brains don’t look the same as one that has been wandering around for a few weeks. What splattered all over the cardboard stand-up advertising for “Seventh City Online”, a new MMO, was maybe a little darker than what erupted from the heads of the bikers, but it was not the foul rot that comes out of most zeds. Bud must not have been dead long… couldn’t have been, I spoke with him only a couple of days before; we played Pokemon together, he commented that his daughter liked to play. I guess I should have paid more attention to that comment.
Security, lead by Alexandre (Bud didn’t warrant a visit by Hasmir Kaur himself, I guess), quickly removed the body, and took it away to be destroyed. They questioned me; how I knew him, how long it had been since we spoke, did I know he was going to do this?
Apparently it is now a crime to not turn someone in if you think they might be suicidal; one of Kaur’s new rules. I’m pretty sure I could turn in most of the people in Mallville if considering suicide during all this was now criminal. Who hasn’t thought about it?
Security decided that I wasn’t guilty of anything at this point, and left me there. For the first time in months, it seemed like the shopping area was empty; everyone, even people who are sleeping in front of the store itself, found somewhere else to be, and I was alone.
I got the bottle of blue cleaner and a roll of paper towels out from under the counter, there was a layer of dust on both, and set to cleaning off the cardboard standup. It came clean easier than you might expect. The gray carpet is another story; I scrubbed at it for a good hour with a rag from the back room, and it would not all come out. I think there are some extra carpet tiles in back, I might try and replace them later.
I was surprised at how dusty the store was as a whole. I guess since I had generally just been going through the storefront to the stockroom to hang out with Bud, I just never really paid any attention to it. Spending time with Bud was the kind of thing that took my full attention because he was just so down, but I guess I should have been spending more time with him. I'm not sure what good that would have done though, how do you cheer up someone that has lost everything that matters to them?
In the office I found an envelope on the desk, which is to say the large piece of laminate shelving that the company called a desk, amongst the mound of Pokemon cards, empty food packaging, and a few pictures of Bud’s family. One of the pictures was a group shot that I had seen a thousand times before, but never really paid attention to.
The picture showed a tubby Bud with his arm around a pretty blonde woman, very slim. In front of them was a blonde girl who looked to be just about to hit her teens, the girl clearly had gotten mom’s looks, and there was a boy of maybe six or seven, he had his brown hair in a buzzcut, and had clearly gotten Bud’s looks and physique. They were all smiling at the camera, standing in front of palm trees on a beach; Hawaii maybe.
I turned the envelope over, and it was addressed to me and Sharon. I opened it:
I just can't do it now. I cannot go on without Chrissie or the kids. I know they would be back by now if they could be. Even if things get better, it'll never be the same without them.
I want you both to know that you are the best employees I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Reliable, honest, punctual for the most part; I could not have asked for better employees, or better friends when things got bad.
I hope for the best for you two, and I hope you will finally acknowledge how good you would be together. If you do finally find each other, hold on and don't ever let go.
I'm leaving you both in charge of the store. Make sure to keep it up just in case you need to open again. I have not been doing a good job of that lately. My keys are in the safe.
Don't let Security give you too much shit, and be safe.
I sat there for a long time, I'm not really sure how long, surrounded by meaningless binders full of meaningless procedures, product information, drop-ship notices well overdue by now, and a fair amount of trash.
The office smelled a bit, but then it always did; lack of proper ventilation. I sat there and looked at the pictures of Bud and his family, the sales award plaque from last Christmas, the last shrink results from Loss Prevention, a note from Melly, one of the part times, asking for a weekend in May off so she could go to Reno with her boyfriend. I eventually started flipping through the Pokemon cards, organizing them into a neat stack. I wasn't really looking at them, just keeping my hands busy.
I sat there and thought. I thought about Bud, and about the fact that this is the first zed I knew. Bud is the first person I knew as a living person that I’ve seen become zombified. That could happen to me. It could have happened to Sharon. It could happen to Maria, or Gerry, or Alex, or any of us. Somehow I had been walking around with this idea that I was immune, immortal, safe. I mean, I still don’t feel like it could happen to me, but…. I don’t know, it’s complicated.
I don't know how long I sat in that cramped little room under the fluorescent lights before I heard Sharon's voice calling my name. I don't suppose it could have been too long.
She knocked on the office door, “Are you in there? I don't have my keys.”
Of course she didn't have her keys; they were in her apartment when Hashmir reassigned it to Parasite, but Bud had given her the spare set. This meant that I did not lock the gate before going back to the office; sloppy.
I opened the door to let her in. The office is a little small for two people to be in it together, but it's hardly the first time we'd both been crowded in together.
“What happened? Tara just told us that Bud's dead?,” Sharon asked.
'Us'. Her and Alex. Her and her boyfriend. Her and my former boss. My best friend and my former boss. The girl I love and my former boss. The girl I love and Nosferatu.
I didn't say anything, I just handed her the note. She started crying about halfway through. Tears streamed down from under her glasses in a silent river flow. When she finished she threw her arms around me, and hugged me as she started to sob loudly.
I held her, and tears came to me as well. We stood like that for awhile, and even though there was nothing romantic in our embrace, I remembered how much I love her. I wish that she felt that for me.
Maybe if I just wait, maybe if I just stay with her she'll come around. Even if she doesn't though, I'm not going to give up on life. I've fought too hard to stay alive this year to throw it away on my own stupid emotional weakness. I am not immune to what is happening around me, and being weak will not make my chances any better.
You know what I just realized? It’s 9-11, and no one has mentioned the World Trade Center once. It’s the first time since 2001 that I can remember going through 9-11 without anyone mentioning the World Trade Center. There were no tributes, moments of silence, readings of names today. I guess we all have bigger problems now.