Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thirty-Second Entry: Shelving the Competition

December 26th

Sharon saved my life, and while I wish I could say that this means that she is all better now, I can't. It doesn't, it may mean that things are worse than I feared.

The noises I heard outside were not Maria and the others, as it turned out. After putting away my journal, I grabbed the Mossberg they left me just in case it was the undead I was hearing, and went to the back of the store.

I looked out the peephole in the back door, but didn't see anyone. I unlocked the door like an idiot, and as I started to push it open it was yanked out of my hands. What greeted me was a pair of Mallville security officers. They were identifiable as having been recruited in the last few months since they were wearing the white polo shirts of Hashmir's recruits instead of the button-up shirts like Beth wears.

One of the officers, a thin blond man with rough leathery skin, was pointing as handgun at my face with his right hand, and he grabbed the collar of my t-shirt with his left.

“Nice van you got here,” he said as he pulled me out of the doorway, and then slammed my back against the painted brick wall next to the metal door frame, “Why don't you give me the keys?”

The shotgun was yanked out of my right hand by the other guard, a short woman with black hair. She held it by the barrel in her left hand while pointing a handgun identical to her partner's at me with her right.

“I don't have the keys.” I said cautiously.

“Well it didn't drive itself here, who has the keys?”

“My friends, they left, but they'll be back soon.”

“And they left you all alone?” asked the woman, “Who's in there with you?”

“No one, I'm by myself. They wanted to make sure that we would still have a place to sleep when they came back; that no one would take it over.”

“Too bad they left that job to an idiot,” commented the guy, now pushing his left arm against my neck, and the barrel of his gun against my forehead.

Yeah, no arguments with that statement really.

“Cass, go inside and make sure he's not lying,” the man ordered.

“'Kay, Vince”

I panicked, she was going to find Sharon. She was going to kill her. I was supposed to protect her and I'd failed utterly. It's times like these when I wish I was a Spike Speigel or a Vash The Stampede who could have easily slipped out of this bastard's grasp, snatch away his gun, and incapacitate him before he even realized that I had moved. It's unfortunate for me that I am, at best, the comic relief.

“You look familiar.” grumbled the man.

“I'm from Mallville, same as you. You've probably seen me there,” I answered as best I could with his arm cutting off my air.

“No, it's something more,” he pushed the barrel of his gun harder into my forehead as he thought, “I know! You're one of the-”

He was interrupted by a muffled crashing noise from inside the store, followed quickly by another. There was a startled cry in a woman's voice. The man loosened his grip on my throat, and looked in the direction of the door.

“Cassie, you okay in there? “ he called, “What's goin' on?”

I was terrified that the woman, Cassie, was doing something to Sharon, so I took the only opening I thought I would get, and pushed against the leathery faced man. I brought my left arm up, knocking his arm off of my throat, and up into his gun hand. The end of the pistol slid roughly up my forehead, just skirting the edge of the scar over my eye.

Vince's finger tightened on the trigger, and he fired a shot just as the end of the gun cleared my head. I felt bits of brick rain down on my head as the bullet harmlessly bounced off of the wall, and ricocheted away from me.

I brought my right hand up, and grabbed his wrist, trying to force the gun to stay pointed above me, and keep him from getting me in front of it again. I wished desperately that I had a machete, or a hatchet, or even a well sharpened pencil, but all I had was my own skills and brute strength; so basically I was pretty fucked.

I feel that I should point out that the sum total of my lifetime fighting experience is a couple of fights in junior high school where I essentially stood there and got pummeled until the bully tired himself out and gave up, and a couple of tussles with the undead. One thing that the living do that the undead don't? The living take cheap shots.

Had I more fighting experience, this move probably would have occurred to me sooner, allowing me to at least try and deflect it, if not pull it off myself. The leathery security officer brought his knee up into my groin, and I went down like a house of cards, that is if houses of cards could curl into the fetal position.

Vince aimed his gun back towards my head as I slid down the wall, to end up sitting on the ground, “You're one of the ones Kaur warned us about!” he yelled, “You helped to kill us all.”

I wanted to say something witty like “Kaur did that for me,” or “Maybe some of us deserve to die,” but I was too busy being in pain and contemplating how the last thing I was ever going to feel was a kick to the balls. This is where Sharon saved me.

There was another noise from inside the store, sort of a metallic impact noise, and Cassie staggered out the door. Her face was a mask of blood, her nose was flattened against her face, and it looked like her left eye was gone. She was gripping her right arm in her left, as if it were broken or otherwise badly injured.

Vince was distracted again, but I was still in too much pain to take advantage of this. This is probably a good thing though, as I would have just gotten in the way.

There was a blur of beige and crimson from inside the doorway that impacted with the back of Cassie's head, sending her falling to her knees. Sharon stepped out of the doorway, and I could see what the beige object had been; Sharon was holding a three foot by two foot metal shelf in both hands; the metal tab where it hooks into the gondola, and in fact a good portion of the end of the shelf not in Sharon's hands, was covered in blood.

She hadn't put her shoes on; she had come out to the alley in just her socks armed with only a shelf, and she was there to save my life.

I sat there too stunned to move; Sharon looked terrifying to me. It's not that she looked to be in a rage, or tthat here was any sort of malice on her face, because there wasn't; quite the opposite in fact. Sharon's face was as pale and expressionless as it had been when I was reading to her. Her eyes were glassy and blank, as if she were looking through the world instead of at it, and her cheeks were still wet with tears. She wielded the shelf like some sort of weird warrior, but her face betrayed nothing.

In the time it took Vince to realize what he was seeing, and even begin to move the gun from me to her, Sharon had released the shelf with her left hand, and swung in backwards, and up. She swung the shelf in an arc above her head, and brought it down on the man's arm, the edge of the shelf connecting with his forearm. I could heard the bones in his arm crack as the shelf hit him; the gun was knocked from his hand, and clattered on to the ground.

“My arm!” Vince howled, “You fucking b-”

Sharon cut the man's insult off by gripping the shelf in both hands again, and jabbing it forward into his face. The bloody end of the shelf impacted with his mouth, destroying his teeth, and probably breaking his jaw.

Vince staggered back, but not fast enough, as Sharon jabbed out with the end of the shelf again, this time catching him in the forehead, and opening a wound that started pouring blood down over his face.

“No! Fuhg!” gasped Vince, and blood and pieces of teeth spilled from his mouth as he tried to talk.

Sharon raised the shelf up over her right should like an oddly shaped baseball bat, and swung, the metal tab towards her victim. The impact made me cringe, as the tab embedded itself in the side of Vince's skull. Sharon had to yank on the shelf so hard that the man staggered towards her a couple of steps before the shelf pulled free. Sharon showed no signs of exertion on her face, just that same vacant stare.

By this time Cassie had found her footing again, and I don't know if she was trying to help her friend (or if she could even see out of her one remaining eye), or if she just happened to stagger in the wrong direction, but Sharon seemed to sense her coming up from behind.

Sharon swung the shelf around as if it were an extension of her own body, and caught Cassie in the right side of the head with the edge. Cassie made a nauseating gurgling sound, and fell to the ground. Sharon kept swinging the shelf around in an arc, letting the momentum turn her whole body as the shelf sliced through the air. It was beautiful and graceful, like a ballet dancer, or a gymnast, but utterly terrifying at the same time. I could see fine droplets of blood spray off of the end of the shelf as she swung it.

Blood was practically pouring out of the side of Vince's head where the shelf pierced it; is there an artery in there or something? It wasn't stopping him though as he was struggling to stay upright, and move on Sharon.

Sharon continued her turn with the shelf, and caught my attacker right next to his right eye. That was the last straw; I don't know if it was the amount of blood loss he was suffering, or just one blow to the head too many, but he went down hard.

Sharon kept turning back around towards Cassie, raising the shelf up into the air and bringing it down with all of her strength onto Cassie's skull. The impact was so hard that I heard Cassie's skull crack, blood spatter coated the front of Sharon's t-shirt and jeans. The shelf slipped out of Sharon's hands as it rebounded off of Cassie's head, and it crashed to the ground with a hollow clatter.

Cassie's body twitched spasmodically as the brain misfired its final damaged instructions. Sharon paid her no more attention, and instead stepped over to retrieve the shelf, which now had a large dent in the corner where the shelf had made contact with Cassie's skull and the ground beneath it.

Sharon scooped the shelf up in her hands, and stalked over to Vince, who had less than a minute earlier held a gun to my head. She gripped the shelf in both hands, raised it up in front of her face, and drove it down onto the man's head. The she raised it up and did it again.

Over and over Sharon hit the man with the shelf. After the fifth or sixth blow, blood started to splash up, droplets flying off of the shelf as his head collapsed. I remained sitting on the surface of the alley, watching her do this again and again.

I realized then that her face had changed. Her lips were moving, and her eyes showed pain. I got to my feet and came closer to her, close enough that I could barely hear what she was saying between the impacts of the shelf.

In a voice just above a whisper, she was saying “No!” over and over.







The blood was flying up onto her clothes and face, and onto me as I put a hand on her shoulder.

“Sharon?” I asked





Vince's head was no longer recognizable as human, her repeated blows had caved the skull in, and mangled the flesh.

“Sharon, it's okay, you can stop now.”





I was scared; more scared than when I thought I was going to be shot, more scared than I saw Jimmy with the thermite bomb, even more scared than being trapped in a hallway with a cemetery of zombies. Sharon was broken, and it seemed like she wasn't coming back.

“Sharon, stop!” I yelled.





I grabbed her shoulders and shook her. Part of me was afraid that she would turn on me with that shelf, but I needed her to stop or I was going to break too. Better than she kill me than for me to stand there and keep watching her.

“Dammit, stop!”

My shaking her did nothing but cause a couple of her strikes to hit the ground instead of the pile of hamburger that lay at the top of Vince's neck.





I heard a noise then, and engine approaching. I tried to pull Sharon towards the door, but it was as if she had been riveted to the ground, she wouldn't budge. I couldn't muster up enough strength to move her even an inch. I prayed that it was Gerry and the others coming, although part of me did not want them to see this.

The sound of the engine seemed to snap Sharon out of it. She released the shelf, and it fell over with a clang. She then dropped to her knees into the pool of blood around her victim's head, and started sobbing.

The van rounded the corner, and pulled up about ten feet away from us. Without turning off the engine, Gerry opened the driver's side door, and climbed down as I turned to look at him. I realized that I had gone down to my knees as well, and I had my arms around Sharon, holding her to me as she bawled.

I can only imagine how this must have looked to Gerry. There I was cradling a sobbing Sharon, both of us covered in blood, whilst kneeling in a pool of blood next to a body whose head had been reduced to a literal pulp. A few yards away from us lay a woman who looked like she may have been in a boxing match with Jason Voorhees. Just thinking about it makes me feel quesy.

Gerry took a couple of cautious steps towards us, even in the fading light I could see his eyes moving back and forth between Me and Sharon, and the two dead bodies, “What the fuck, man?” was all he managed to say.

“Help me get her inside,” I said, my voice shaking, “Please!”. I realized that I wasn't just shaking in time with Sharon's sobs, but I was shaking myself. Madness danced at the edge of my thoughts, and for a couple of seconds I think I fully understood what happened to Ash to make him into who he is.

Ash climbed out of the back of the van, shotgun in hand, “Did we miss a party?” he asked, not afraid, but without the usual humor his voice tends to carry.

“Please help me.” I said. I know that I sounded weak when I said it, but I didn't know what else to say. I wanted to get Sharon away from what she had done.

Eventually they did help me get her inside, and Beth and Maria took Sharon into the women's restroom to clean her up, Maria handling her very cautiously. She had a couple of changes of clothes in her backpack, which is good since pretty much everything she was wearing needed to be thrown out.

Unfortunately for me I did not have any clothes in my satchel, which in hindsight was pretty stupid of me. Luckily I didn't get too much crap on me, so I guess I'll just deal with it until I can find somewhere with clothes in my size.

What I really would like right now is a hot shower, but at least I was able to wash up in the sink. I don't know why it is, but the water still works, and I thank God for it. Of course the electric water heater doesn't work, so I had to wash up by candlelight in a cold room with cold water, but it's better than having dried blood and bits of corpse stuck to my face.

When I came out of the restroom, the women were still I theirs. Someone had lit some more candles and placed them on the cash-wrap counter. I found that Gerry had gotten out the butane stove (you know, the kind you see at omelet bars sometimes), and was heating some water on it. He made some of the instant coffee that was in our supplies, and that helped to warm me back up a bit.

I had wrapped myself in a blanket, and was sipping my coffee when the women brought Sharon out of the restroom, now wearing a light blue pair of jeans and a black t-shirt. She was still crying, but silently, and she was back to just staring off into space. Gerry tried to force a cup off coffee into her hand, and she accepted it, drinking it without ever really looking at it or Gerry, but still looking off into whatever it is she sees in the distance.

Just the fact that Sharon was willing to take and drink from the cup is a massive improvement over a couple of days ago. She's started walking around a bit, going to the bathroom and stuff, but she still isn't talking or even acknowledging that any of us are here for the most part.

After her coffee cup was empty, I led Sharon back over to her sleeping bag, tucked her into it, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. She didn't give any response but to close her eyes. I think she went right to sleep, but I can't really be sure.

Once Sharon was settled, I rejoined the group and they wanted me to tell them what had gone on here. I gave them a much less detailed version of what I have written here; trying to emphasize more of the Sharon saving my life and less of the Sharon going dangerously off the rails and beating a man to a bloody pulp.

They also filled me in on what Ash had wanted them to see, which was the police station.

“Remember how I warned you to stay away from the police station last time we met?” Ash asked me.

“Yeah, you said that they were crazier than you.” I replied.

“Well not anymore they aren't,” spoke Gerry.

“They're gone,” said Ash

“Gone like they packed up and left?” I asked.

“No, gone like they're dead,” answered Maria.

“ I first realized it a couple of months ago, “explained Ash, “I was patrolling, looking for deadites, when I realized that one of their roadblocks had been moved. You know how they had blocked all of the roads around them, right?”

“Yeah, I've seen one of them,” I replied

“Well they have those set up all around the station to dissuade people from coming in. It certainly kept the Postmen away, not that they're an issue anymore, eh?” Ash chuckled.

“Anyway, “ Ash continued, “I noticed that one of the roadblocks had been pushed aside enough that someone could drive through it, so I decided to go check it out. Imagine my surprise when I found a couple of dead cops lying on the steps of the police station instead of finding someone trying to shoot me?”

“The attackers had been thorough. Everyone in the station was dead, and all had been head shot to keep them from rising, “Ash explained, “ I looked around a bit, and found that the place had been stripped of weapons and armor. Every handgun, shotgun, rifle, box of ammo, and all of the SWAT and riot gear were gone.”

“So who did that?” I asked, already suspecting the answer.

“We did, “answered Beth, “A couple of months back Kaur sent out a big group of his most loyal officers and a bunch of the newbies, as I do not fall into either category, I was not on that run. Anyway, they came back with a truckload of weapons and supplies.”

“At the time when I asked about where they had found all of this, I was told that they went to the National Guard armory. I accepted that, never really wondering why the National Guard would have police riot armor.” Beth explained.

“You couldn't have just told us that?” I asked.

“It was more fun to show you, well them,” Ash answered with a grin.

“Yeah, he wanted to make sure we saw what Kaur did,” explained Beth a little bitterly, “There were some civilians in there too, probably the families of some of the officers.... There were children in there.”

“Yeah, that was pleasant to see,” added Gerry.

“Hey, if you guys are going to make it now that you're outside of your ivory castle, you need to know what to expect to see out here, “explained Ash, “ Plus you need to know what you are indirectly guilty of before you start making judgments of anyone else.” he looked at Beth as he spoke these final words.

“I stand by my my initial judgment of you. You are insane, insensitive, and an asshole,” stated Beth in an even tone.

“You say those like they are bad things,” Ash laughed.

“You're also arrogant well beyond your years, little boy, and that's going to cost you eventually.”

“There's nothing anyone can take from me except for my life, and we're all going to lose that eventually. Besides, I gave you guys some stuff that might come in handy.”

“Oh?” I asked.

“Yeah, he gave us a couple of the solar chargers that he uses for his chainsaw batteries, and a backup power supply that can be charged up using one of them,” said Maria.

“It can jump start a car, has an air compressor, and you can plug shit into it; it's pretty cool.” added Gerry.

“Too bad it'll probably take a week to fully charge with that little solar mat,” contributed Beth, “Even if we get a sunny enough day for it to do any good.”

“You're welcome!” Ash almost shouted, still smiling, “I didn't want you to go present-less on the first Christmas since the end of the world.”

“Oh yeah, “said Gerry, thinking, “That's today, huh? Thanks, Santa.”

Ash laughed, then yawned, “Well, it's getting late, and I had better be going; don't want to miss the Charlie Brown Christmas special.”

“Do you want something to eat before you go?” offered Gerry, earning him a dirty look from Beth.

“Oh no, “Ash answered quickly, “I don't want to take from whatever supplies you may have. Unless you're planing on leaving town, you're going to find that there's not too much left in the stores. You guys were like a fucking plague, devouring everything in your path.”

“We had a lot of people to feed,” answered Beth.

“It's not a criticism, honey, you guys did what you had to do. If you are planning to stick around Covenant, I would suggest trying some of the more residential areas. Neither you, the Postmen, no the cops ever seemed to really go through there. Just be careful about occupied homes; anyone living there might not take kindly to your stealing, and anyplace that you can get into easily, so can the deadites.”

Ash walked to the door, and Gerry followed, unlocking it for him.

“We're probably not going to see each other again if you guys are planning to leave town,” Ash said as he stood in the open doorway, slightly colder air flowing in around him.

“I think we are, “answered Gerry, “but we haven't talked about it too much yet.”

Ash looked almost a little sad, “Well, good luck to you. Keep your guard up, and never hesitate to act in your own best interests. It may be hard to live with a mistake, but it's a lot harder to live with being killed.”

Ash looked at me, “Or losing more people that you love. I hope your girl gets better. You two make a cute couple.”

“We're not a couple, “ I said, thinking about Tara. Ash's words stung hard. Could I have forced Tara to come?

“Well you should be,” Ash turned and walked out into the dark parking lot. At the edge of the lot, he turned and waved to us before continuing.

I heard him exclaim as he walked out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” He laughed loudly, and disappeared into the gloom.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Thirty-First Entry: A Visit From St. Ash

December 25th

Merry Christmas.

“Are you okay?” was how I was awakened this morning by Beth. I had fallen asleep leaning against the magazine rack in the front window. I hadn't even realized I had fallen asleep. I just closed my eyes, and suddenly Gerry had been replaced by Beth (who is much easier on the eyes, truth be told), and it was daylight. I felt like I was frozen, having been uncovered all night. I hope I don't get sick now.

“Yeah, I guess,” I answered, climbing unsteadily to my feet. My back and knees did a passable impression of a bowl of Rice Krispies as I stood.

“I know we don't know each other very well, but I wanted to say that I'm sorry about Tara.”

That should have made me hurt inside, but I just felt cold. I still feel cold inside, even though I've since warmed up a bit physically. I guess that losing almost everything in your life in one afternoon will do that to you though.

“Thanks, “ I replied, “I'm sorry about Officer Perry.”

Beth smiled a little, “Yeah, Rupert was a good guy. At least it was quick; poor Alex though. I wonder if he was still alive when the... you know.”

Yeah, I did know, before the explosion. I was kind of wondering that too. Would the explosion have actually reached up there? Would it have been big enough to blow up through the floors? Was it quick for Tara when it happened?

When I was very young I wanted to be an architect. Like everything else in my life I did not pursue that though. Maybe if I had at least learned something about architecture I would know how an explosion would effect a building like that. I did not pursue it though, like everything else in my life, I just let it go.

Changing the subject, I asked, “How's Sharon?”

“Practically a vegetable,” Beth thought for a second, “Sorry, that's insensitive. I did check on her before I switched with Gerry a few minutes ago, and she was just lying there with her eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Sorry.”

“S'ok,” I said, “She'll come out of it.”

“You should try and get some real rest. Gerry told me that you sat there all night.”

“When's it my turn to keep watch?” I asked.

“Umm, we were discussing that, “said Beth, clearly trying to choose her words carefully, “and we decided that you wouldn't.”

“What?” I asked.

“Maria thinks you should just keep an eye on Sharon, to put it nicely.”

“You guys don't trust me?”

“No, I'm sure Gerry and Maria trust you plenty, but with everything that's happened they're worried you might not be all there, you know?”

This pissed me off a little bit. I'm not saying that they are wrong, as I don't feel like I am all here; I feel like a lot of me is missing, but that doesn't make me a liability.

“I'm perfectly fine!” I lied.

“If you say so; considering the last twenty four hours, you seem to be doing as well as any of us. I don't see any problem with giving you a shift except that someone does need to watch Sharon.”

“Why? You told me yourself that she's just sitting there staring at the ceiling.”

“But what happens when she stops? She might try and hurt herself, and you and her are good friends, right?”

“We certainly used to be.”

Beth smiled a little, “You almost got yourself killed to help her get coffee and comic books. You obviously care about her a lot.”

“Mangas, not comic books.”

“Whatever. The point is that she is going to need someone, and that someone has to be you. None of the rest of us are as close to her as you are. You need to make sure that she doesn't do anything to put us or herself at risk.”

I was still mad at that, but I really couldn't argue. I've never seen Sharon like this, and I don't know what she might do. I don't want to see anything happen to her; she's the only thing I have left now, so I guess it should be me that protects her.

I was still pissed off at the time though, so I just responded with, “Yeah, whatever.”

I stormed away to the area where people used to fill up gallon sized sodas and get foil wrapped hot dogs that had been under heat lamps for hours. This is where Sharon's sleeping bag was. She was awake, but, as Beth had said, she was just lying there staring off into space with tears running out of her eyes.

I sat down on my sleeping bag next to her, “Sharon?” I asked.

Sharon didn't respond, her eyes didn't so much as move to the sound of my voice.

“It's going to be okay, you know?” I asked, not believing it myself.

Sharon did nothing. I leaned over and kissed her on her cheek, it was wet and salty, “If you want to talk, let me know.”

I climbed into my sleeping bag, and closed my eyes. I lay there for a long time with the events of yesterday running through my mind. I'm not sure when I fell asleep, but the images of yesterday gradually became more vivid, felt more real. I kept seeing Tara sitting there cradling Alex in her arms, telling me to leave, telling me she loved me, telling me she would be right behind me.

I kept seeing her being hit with a wall of flame. Sometimes it's as she runs down the stairs, sometimes she's still with Alex and the blast rips up through the floor. In the worst version she comes into the garage just in time to see us drive away, and then the tanker explodes; in that version had she been maybe five seconds faster she would still be alive.

The dream repeated the same twenty minutes or so of events over and over, each with those slightly different endings. It seemd like I was dreaming for hours and hours. After what was probably the thirteenth cycle, the dream changed. Tara and I were in the same part of the shopping area, and everything was the same as it had been (African Swallow in flames, etc), but everyone else was gone. Alex, the bodies of Rontreal, Milton, and Rupert, even the other bodies that I had seen were all gone.

Tara came over and hugged me. Alex's blood still stained her shirt.

“What is this?” I asked, “What's happening.”

“You're coping.”

“You left me,” I said to her.

“No, honey, you left me,” she replied, smiling, “I told you to, and you listened, and I am glad.”

“Is this real?”

“Real enough for now.”

“Can you give me a straight answer?”

“You're asking the wrong questions,” she replied, looking saddened, “I can tell you straight that I love you.”

“You promised that you would come with us.”

“And I did. I'll always be with you.”

“You're dead though,” I said, confused.

“Am I? Are you sure? Did you see me die?”


“So you don't know that I'm dead,” Tara started smiling again, “Still, even if I am, I'll always be with you. If I'm not, well, you had better hang onto my Christmas present, I”m going to want it when I get there.”

Tara turned and started to walk away from me then, heading in the direction of Insert Coin, “Where are you going?” I yelled after her.


“You just said you would always be with me!”

“I will, but that doesn't mean you'll see me there,” she called back, “You need to go back now. Take care of Sharon, and tell her that I'm sorry for how I behaved.”

“Don't go!” I yelled, my voice echoing through the otherwise silent mall, even the flames were burning noiselessly.

“Keep her safe, hon,” Tara called again, “You two could be good together given a chance. She needs you, and you need her right now. Keep her safe.”

I tried to run after her, but my feet were rooted to the shiny floor.

Tara's voice echoed back through the area, “Wake up, sleepyhead, you don't want to sleep all the way through Christmas!”

My eyes shot open then, and I was once again lying on the floor in a sleeping bag looking up at a soda cup dispenser. The store was pretty bright, it was around midday.

I climbed out of my sleeping bag, and checked on Sharon; she had gone back to sleep. I made a mental note to make sure she at least drank some water later, she had been crying for nearly a solid day now it seemed.

I went and found the others, which only really took standing up, as it is a small store, and Maria was standing at the cashier's counter looking at a road map. She saw me, and gave me a quick tense smile.

“Where's Gerry?” I asked.

“Sleeping in back. He stayed up longer than any of us taking the overnight shift,” Maria said, “How are you doing?”

“I'm okay.”

“Really?” she asked with an almost predatory tone to her voice, “I mean if you're upset, that's understandable.”

“I'm fine. I want to take a watch shift.”

“No,” Maria stated flatly.

“Why not?” I asked, trying not to whine.

“Because you're in charge of Sharon until she recovers, if she ever recovers.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that as long as she's going to be a drooling coma patient that she is a danger to all of us. Someone needs to take responsibility for her and make sure that she doesn't hold us back; that she doesn't get us all killed.”

“What the fuck, Maria?”

“I'm serious! If my attention is half on making sure that we don't become zombie food and half on making sure she stays with us, then I won't be working efficiently. If we are all doing it we will end up dead. Either someone needs to be in charge of her, or we leave her behind.“

“We're not leaving her behind, “I said, “How can you even-”

Maria cut me off, “Then I guess you;re in charge of her.”

“So I'm her babysitter?”

“You're her friend, and if you want her to stay with us, then you need to be responsible for her,” stated Maria, obviously getting pissed at me.


“No buts! She's your friend.”

“I thought you were her friend too.”

“I like her, she was a sweet girl, but this is about survival not friendship. Do you have a problem with that?”

“A little bit yes,” I said firmly.

“Tough. Look at it on the bright side though, at least you have a shoulder to cry on, “Maria paused for a moment before continuing, “We don't all get a shoulder to cry on.”

“We've got a visitor out here!” called Beth from the front window.

Maria and I left the counter and went to where Beth was standing, gripping her rifle tensely. At the edge of the parking lot was a lone figure dressed in a blue shirt and jeans. A brown leather strap crossed the front of his chest, and a chainsaw was holstered on his hip. In his hands was a double barreled shotgun, and on his face a grin that bordered on madness. It was Ash.

“Holy crap! He's still alive!” stated Maria in astonishment.

“You know that guy?”asked Beth

I nodded, “We met him months ago, when we brought Sharon home after that first attack by the Postmen. He calls himself Ash, like in those movies.”

“Okay,” replied Beth, uncertain.

Ash walked up to the window and tapped on the glass with the barrel of his shotgun, “You guys gonna let me in? It's kind of cold out here,” his eyes twinkled with the same insanity he had when we last saw him.

“Is he safe?” asked Beth.

“He was last time.” I said.

We let Ash in, and the first thing he said was, “Well, it's not much warmer in here either, is it?”

“We didn't pay the bill, so they shut the power off,” answered Maria.

“So who all made it?” asked Ash bluntly.

“Me, Maria, Gerry, Sharon, and this is Beth O'Hara.”

“What about Jimmy?”

“He didn't make it,” answered Maria, not going into detail yet.

“Sorry to hear it,” answered Ash, still smiling, ”If it's any consolation, that whole Mallville thing lasted a lot longer than I thought it would. I Didn't think you guys would even make it into winter there.”

“You're a real positive guy, aren't you?” asked Beth

“Reality ain't exactly positive right now, is it sweetheart?” Ash replied, “So was the big boom an accident or on purpose?”

“That was Jimmy,” Maria answered somberly.

“Wow, well it sure got my attention,” Ash chuckled, “It sent a lot people running from that place too. I have no idea how many of them even made it through the night though. Did you know that the deadites have been taking shelter in buildings? It's like they don't like the cold.”

Beth ignored the question, “So how did you find us in particular?”

“I had a feeling that if you guys, “ Ash pointed at me and Maria as he spoke, “ made I out alive that you would come back here since you had already stayed here before. I saw the vans out back, and saw Gerry at the window last night. I decided that it would be best for my continued survival to come back in the daytime so that you could more easily tell me from one of them.”

“I see you cleaned the rest of the supplies out of here, “ commented Maria.

“I had to stockpile everything I could; you guys were like fucking locusts the way you were clearing things out,” Ash thought for a moment, “You know, it's a shame to think how many things that I could use were in Mallville when it went up.”

I asked my next question with apprehension, “So it was all destroyed then?”

A building that big? No. I'm not sure what the damage is like inside, but the building itself is still standing, well, mostly. One section partially collapsed. Still, I am guessing that whatever led up to the fire created a large body count, so that is not a place I'm going to be going until I am good and desperate for supplies; it must be crawling with deadites by now.”

I looked down at the floor.

“So is someone going to tell me what happened?”

We told Ash about the events of yesterday afternoon, and the events that led up to our departure. He already knew about some events from seeing them from outside, the attack on Halloween and our assault on the Postmen in particular, but we filled him in on the details of those too.

We told him about Kaur's making it seem that the council was killed on Halloween, and about how Alex was trying to challenge Kaur's position as leader. Beth told him (and me, as I had not heard some of the things I had suspected be confirmed before) about Kaur's plans to use his increased security force to ensure loyalty to him, and how some people had in fact been executed for openly defying him.

Beth and I let Maria do most of the talking when describing yesterday. Ash seemed genuinely sorry to hear about Tara, Rupert, and Alex even though he had never met any of them. He gave me a look that said “So you truly understand now” when Maria told about who Tara was to me, and how she didn't make it out with us.

Ash was surprised to hear about Sharon's current condition, “I thought she was stronger than that.”

Beth got angry then, “What the hell is wrong with you? She lost almost everything in her life! She lost the person she loved, saw him shot right in front of her, you insensitive little prick!”

Ash fired back, “Been there and done that, sweetheart. I've got the t-shirt to prove it; it's a limited edition for the ever shrinking number of people still alive.”

“If you call me sweetheart one more time, I am going to shove that chainsaw up your ass!” Beth growled.

“Oooh, feisty. I like that in a chick!” Ash chuckled as Beth's eyes widened in anger, “But what I'm saying is that we have all lost people we love,” he pointed at me, “Sounds like he's in the exact same boat, but you don't see him in a corner drooling on himself waiting some undead monster to come munch on heis brains.”

“What the fuck do you know about it?” asked Beth.

“What do I know about it, honey? How about the fact I had to kill my own mother and sisters? Is that knowing about it enough for you? Oh, but you didn't know that did you? Maybe you should try to learn a little more about me before you start to judge.”

Beth was taken aback, ”I-I'm sorry.”

“Yeah, me too,” Ash replied, his voice edging towards hysteria, “Then there's the fact that while you have all been hiding out in Fort Commerce waiting to kill each other, I've been out here on my own learning what I needed to learn to survive. People who can't cope with losing everything die. I'm not wishing that on Sharon, cuz she seems pretty cool, but if she doesn't have what it takes then she may as well put a bullet in her head now!”

Beth's anger came back in a split second, and before any of us realized what was happening, she had struck out and punched ash in the jaw. The kid stumbled backwards, and went down on his ass, banging the back of his head against the glass door of the store. Luckily he was still holding his shotgun, if it had been in his holster, it probably would have shattered the glass.

Ash shook his head, trying to clear it, and then brought his left hand up to rub the side of his face. He worked his jaw a few times to make sure it still worked properly, and then laughed, “Well, I guess I was right. You are a feisty one.'

Beth just stared at him with her lip curled into a slight snarl.

Ash extended his left arm towards me, and I stepped forward to pull him to his feet, “Thank you much,” he said, “Well, maybe I deserved that, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe if you are willing to fight like that you may survive, if you don't turn on each other that is. “

“What would you know about that?” asked Beth, “You don't care about anything but yourself.”

“It's not that I don't care, honey, I just don't care to be responsible for anyone else. Keeping my own ass alive is a full time job as it is, I can't be keeping an eye on people who may not be keeping a proper eye out for me.”

“I think you should leave,” stated Beth calmly.

“Not yet, I did not just come here to piss you off, or to be neighborly, “explained Ash, “I came by because I wanted to take you to show you something. We can use one of your vans, and you should hide those by the way; not everyone leaving Mallville is going to be willing to just let you keep them.”

“I don't think our going anywhere with you is a good idea,” replied Beth

“Aw come on, you outnumber me. If I tried anything at least one of you would shoot me. Besides, you don't have anything I want. I've got enough food and water to last for a year, and I'm gonna plant myself a little veggie garden on the roof come spring, “explained Ash, “Why would I want to hurt you?”

“So how do you know you can trust us?” Beth asked.

“Well, I don't know about you, babe, but these others I've already met. If they had meant me any harm, they could have tried it then,” Ash replied, and then laughed, “and even if you wanted to, you could never get into my building. You don't know where it is, how it's secured, and there is nothing you could threaten me with to make me tell you.”

“We could kill you.” Beth said softly.

Ash smiled wide, and leaned closer to her, “I'm going to die eventually anyway, we all are. There's no getting out of this; no magic words to restore the world to what it once was. Go ahead, kill me, you still won't get my stuff.”

Beth stepped back from Ash, looking a little afraid. Ash laughed loudly.

“You know, I didn't make noise when you guys were sleeping,” called Gerry as he walked out of the stockroom, his hair sticking up in multiple directions as he rubbed his eyes, “Oh, hey Ash, how's it going?” he asked upon seeing our visitor.

“Still alive, still uninfected, can't ask for much more than that.” Ash replied.

After a bit more discussion, it was decided that they would go with Ash to see what he wanted to show them. I say they as I was to stay behind and keep an eye on Sharon and our stuff, which is pretty much as fun as you would expect keeping watch over a vegetable to be.

I found a copy of “Fantasy & Science Fiction” on the magazine rack, the cover said “Display until April 3rd”. I imagine that if they had known that it would be their last issue they would have made it a bit thicker. I read a couple of the stories out loud to Sharon, and she sat there and cried. It killed a couple of hours at least.

I kind of envy her. I want to cry over Tara, maybe not totally veg out like Sharon has, but cry, and I can't. My eyes start to water, and then the tears just dry up. I think I may be broken inside.

After I got tired of reading I decided to look through my satchel, sort of take stock of what is actually in there. Aside from the small arsenal of handguns and ammo I collected yesterday, this is what I found:

Half a box of unsharpened pencils

A pencil sharpener with the little chamber that catches the wood shavings missing

Two black ballpoint pens with no caps, and a blue retractable with the Apollo Coffee logo on it.

Two packs of Zing Cola gum, one spearmint, one wintermint

A small notebook with something that has long since faded into illegibility on the front page, the rest of it is blank.

Two travel packets of Kleenex

A tube of Chaptex

A “Pokemon Ruby” GBA cartridge

Four of those little swirled peppermints you used to get at restaurants.

A printout of hints for the game Xenosaga

A small first aid kit with no band-aids left in it (so basically just tweezers and a tube of ointment).

Two AA batteries

A wind-up flashlight

A beat up photo of Sharon and I at graduation

A pin that says “Jar Jar Sucks”

A small pair of binoculars in a nylon case fastened with velcro

An unmarked bottle containing ancient Advil that probably expired when Clinton was president

An equally ancient box of DayTyme cold medicine

A blue camping towel with brown stains of my own blood on it

Tara's Christmas present

This journal (obviously)

A Swiss Army knife with the toothpick missing

A coupon for two free ounces of tea at Teatropolis

and a beat up paperback copy of “The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues”

As you can clearly see I am most definitely prepared for the outside world here.

I did a bit of scrounging around the store here, between what we took last time we were here, and what Ash took since then, there is little of any use left, but I got a few things:

Some roadmaps, I don't know where we are going to go, but it's never bad to have maps.

A couple of eyeglass repair kits. I took these mostly for Sharon, but who knows when tiny screwdrivers might be handy?

A package of cable ties I found in the store's office.

Three bungee cords

And a hobo tool (that's what the package called it). It's kind of neat really, it's like a Swiss Army knife, but it has a fork, knife, spoon, bottle opener, and a can opener on it. Plus it splits at the center so the knife and fork can be separated. This is even more useful than a spork.

Of course now my satchel is pretty full, but I hope that we will do any traveling we have to do in the vans, so I shouldn't have to carry it too often.

Finally! I hear noise out back; they must be back finally. I was starting to worry since it is getting dark out now. I'd better go let them in. I wonder what Ash wanted to show them.