Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thirty-Ninth Entry: A Kiss To Build A Dream On

February 14th

It's been a couple of weeks since Pippa joined us, and I think she is fitting in well. It's hard to believe this is the same girl we held at gunpoint just last month; she looks a lot healthier than she did when she first got here. This is probably from eating regularly and actually being able to sleep.

Pippa reluctantly gave up the last of her magenta hair, and allowed Sharon to cut it. Sharon cut it really short; the only cut she really knows how to do judging by the fact that she gave me the very same cut not too long ago. It looks a lot better on Pippa that it did on me.

Maria has spent the last week laid up with something. I wish one of us had any real medical knowledge. We found some medical references here in the cabin. But most of them seem to be based more on pharmaceuticals than actual diagnosis. It could just be a bad case of the flu, it could be pneumonia. All we know for sure is that Maria is even more of a pain in the ass sick than she is well since she keeps trying to get up do stuff, and we have to keep forcing her back to bed.”

It's not really a matter of us being worried about her, but more that we're worried that she will get something worse if she doesn't stay in bed. We've moved her to the master bedroom, which has its own fireplace, in an attempt to keep her warmer. Despite all of the conflict that has come up between us I don't want to see anything happen to her, and I hope she gets well.

In an attempt to get some medicine for Maria, Beth, Sharon, and Gerry went into town to try and find a drugstore (telling one shop from another is none too easy when everything is covered in snow). That left Pippa and I here alone with Maria, who thankfully spent most of the day asleep.

I haven't really spent a lot of time with Pippa since she got here, but she's a nice girl. She reminds me a lot of Sharon when we were younger, although Sharon never went for the emo (which didn't really even exist then) thing with piercing and dyeing her hair. Sharon has always been proud of her red hair.

Another way that Pippa reminds me of Sharon is her attitude or at least the way her attitude used to be. For all that has happened to her, Pippa has managed to still be happy, cheerful, and energetic. It makes me a little sad, because that part of Sharon has not come back when, for a lack of better words, her wits came back.

According to Pippa, her real name s Phillipa, but hates how some people shorten that to “Phil”, so she shortened it herself to Pippa. She wasn't a great student, and even though she misses her parents, she didn't get along with them very well (which I suppose just makes her a normal teenager). She seems to be taking to all of us well though, so maybe we'll work as some sort of replacement for her.

Pippa has taken to our little chore routines easily. Chopping firewood (we're probably going to have to actually cut down a tree soon for more wood), fishing, boiling snow to make it drinkable, etc. She's also not a bad cook, although I think we are all getting a little tired of fish.

She's a lot more curious than the rest of us, and has practically torn the cabin apart looking for things (in a respectful way, she hasn't actually broken anything). She found that this house has a pretty big attic, and has spent a good portion of her free time up there going through the boxes and boxes of stuff.

The attic has turned out to be a virtual treasure trove of stuff. A couple of days ago Pippa came down dressed in an old pinstriped suit clearly made for a man at least a foot taller than she is. It was very cute up until she showed it to Maria, who pointed out that it was probably filthy even though it didn't look it. That grossed Pippa out, and she couldn't get it off fast enough.

Today, after the others left, I was out back chopping firewood (I pretend it's zombie heads, or sometimes the head of Hashmir Kaur, and that keeps me going) when Pippa came bounding down the back porch at me, not wearing any coat.

“You have to come see what I found!” she called to me excitedly.

I thunked the ax down into the scarred stump that looks like it has been used for years of wood chopping, and followed Pippa as she ran back inside. As I came through the door into the fire-warmed living room I heard music; it was crackly, but it was music, and it was a song I know.

“Mayyyyybeeeeee, you'll think of me, “ came a high pitched, slightly distorted voice, “when you are alllllll alone.”

It was The Ink Spots; the song was “Maybe”. Why do I know a song like this? Because it was the theme song to the game “Fallout”. I loved that game when I was younger, and the opening sequence with that song playing over it has always stuck with me. It's odd that a video game from the nineties got me into a musical group from the forties.

Pippa led me to a black case sitting on the side table next to the couch. The case was open to reveal it as a record player, and a black disk labeled “The Best of The Ink Spots” slowly rotated around and around as the voice of a singer whose name I never bothered to learn flowed from the speaker. I felt strangely emotional hearing that ghostly voice from the past; it was like being reminded of everything that the world has lost.

“Maybe the one who is waiting for you, will prove untrue, then what will you do?” the record player continued.

“Where did you find this?” I asked.

“It came in the mail,” Pippa answered snarkily, and then, “I found it in the attic, duh! It's a wind up, so no electricity,” she smiled proudly.

“Are there more records?”

“A whole box. Look!” Pippa said, pointing to a box over on the dining table, “There's nothing really great in there, it's all stuff my grandparents would have liked, but it's music.”

I looked through the box of records while “Maybe” ended, and transitioned into “Java Jive”. It was an interesting collection; lots of musicians I've never even heard of along with stuff I do know. There was Louis Armstrong, The Mills Brothers, Cole Porter, but also Sinatra, Davis, Martin, and Glenn Miller, which seemed somewhat out of place to me. There were also some classical records, Chopin, Brahms, that sort of thing.

“This is really great, Pippa,” I said.

“I know.” Pippa grinned.

“I think, “ I said, stepping towards her and spreading my arms, “that you deserve a big hug.”

Pippa gave a laughing shriek, “No! Get away from me, you pervert!”

“Oh come on,.”

Pippa laughed, “No! You're old!” she yelled. She then turned and ran back towards the hallway where I knew the ladder to the attic would be set up..

I'm not that old.

I sat on the couch and listened to the rest of the record with my eyes closed. I thought about everything that I've lost; everything that's happened to me. I felt sad, happy, and relaxed all at once, the music draining months of tension out of me that I hadn't realized was even there. I must have dozed off that way.

I was awakened by the front door smacking open. I jumped up from the couch not knowing what to expect, but it was just Beth, Gerry, and Sharon returning from town. They were each carrying brown paper bags.

Their haul was a good one, and there was more stuff in the car. They got some NyteTyme and Acetaminophen for Maria to hopefully help her a little more than the aspirin we found in the cabin has been. They also got batteries for the lamps, candles, some canned food, and some board games.

“The T-Mart in town was almost totally cleared out, “explained Gerry, “I mean if we need some summer clothes or oil for the car, we're in good shape there, but the food was gone, as was all of the gun ammunition, batteries, propane, and most anything else that would be useful to us right now.”

“We did find a Bianco's that hadn't been ransacked though, which is where we got all of these goodies,” said Beth, motioning to the bags.

I got a chance to look through our new supplies shortly before I started writing, and I see a potential issue. Almost all of the medicine they got expires this year, and I'm sure if I go look, I'll find the same thing on the canned foods. I am a bit worried about what that means for our future, which is basically that we need to find somewhere that we can secure from the zeds, that has a fresh water supply, and that we can grow crops on. I think the alternative is going to be playing roulette with food poisoning.

I intend to keep this observation to myself, at least for the time being. I don't want to be the one that pisses on their parade, you know? Plus for all I know this canned food will outlast us. It's odd to consciously acknowledge that.

The others were impressed with Pippa's discovery, if not really with the musical selection. Sharon thought some of the music was interesting, but then she has always had different tastes in music than most people; just another one of the things I've always liked about her.

“We should go check out some of the other houses on the lake, “suggested Beth. “We could send you into their attics, and see if you can at least find us some eighties music.”

“Sounds like fun!” exclaimed Pippa without any hint of sarcasm.

We had dinner early; fish of course with some canned peas. Pippa doesn't like peas, but she's also no fan of starving either, so she ate them. Personally, I'm looking forward to when we are down to the canned spinach; I don't think anyone likes that crap.

Maria joined us for dinner even though Gerry tried to serve her in bed. “I'm not crippled!” she insisted. I can tell that she hates being sick, and part of does enjoy seeing that, but I do still want her to get better.

After dinner Beth heated some snow over the fire, when it was warm enough, she poured it into the plugged up sink and Sharon and I did the dishes. Is this how people did this before running water? It's a bit of a pain in the ass.

When we went back into the living room, Pippa was again looking through the box of records, as if this time she would find some “My Chemical Romance” or “Lady Gaga' in there. She was starting to flip through again, this time from back to front, when Gerry walked up.

“Pippa, lets you, me, and Beth go in with Maria and play a game, “ suggested Gerry, holding up a shrink wrapped Scrabble box in his right hand and shaking it so the letter tiles rattled against each other.

“That's okay. I'll just stay here, thanks.”

“Come on, it'll be fun, “said Beth.

“What if we wake Maria up?”

Gerry held up a bottle of NyteTyme in his left hand, “Then we'll just have to put her back to sleep.”

“No, thanks,“ Pippa went back to looking through the records.

Beth came over and gently, but firmly, grabbed Pippa by the shoulders, and pulled her away from the records, “It will be fun, come on,” she said stiffly.

“But I don't want to,” Pippa protested, but didn't try to pull away.

“Yes you do,” stated Gerry, and the three of them disappeared down the hallway to the bedrooms.

“What was that about?” I asked to Sharon, who was standing next to me alone in the living room.

“They wanted to give us some time alone, “ Sharon replied, walking over to the box of records.

“What for?” I asked cautiously. Sharon has been dropping really obvious hints lately, even since she's been better, that she wants us to go to the next level.

Sharon's face brightened at one of the records. She pulled out an avocado colored jacket with a picture of Louis Armstrong on it blowing his horn. The title “Hello Dolly” was printed in green letters, but it wasn't the soundtrack to the musical. She looked at the back of the album, smiled, and slid the disk out.

Sharon places the platter on the turntable, and started cranking up the record player, “Because you and I need to talk. Well, I need to talk to you.” She sounded very serious, and I felt a little worried.

When she was done cranking the hadle on the side of the payer, Sharon placed the needle on the record, and after a few seconds of crackling, a soulful horn flowed out of the speaker. Shortly after that Armstrong's voice started singing a song I didn't know.

“What is this?”

“When It's Sleepy Time Down South,” Sharon answered, reading it off the back of the sleeve, “Sit,” she ordered, pointing me to the couch.

I sat down obediently while she went over to where some of the brown paper bags still sat by the front door. She dug around in a couple of them before finding what she wanted. She came back over to be with a small bundle of paper that said “Happy Birthday” on it, and was decorated with balloons and confetti.

“It's not my birthday, you know that,” I said.

“It's what they had,” she answered, and sat next to me, “It's not a birthday present, anyway. I have something I need to ask you.”

Sharon looked me in the eye, the dancing light from the fireplace reflecting off of the lenses of her glasses. The first song ended, and was followed by a really upbeat, almost Dixielandish song. I was not sure what type of mood Sharon was trying to set, but I didn't think this went with it.

“Beth told me what you and her talked about.'

I drew a blank. I only see five people ever, and as a result talk about a lot of things with all of them (well, except for Maria, I try not to talk to her much if I can avoid it), so I really had no idea which specific conversation with Beth Sharon was talking about.

“About how I find chopping firewood to be kind of soothing?” I asked.

“No” Sharon smiled slightly, “Not about that. I guess this was around the time that I tried to kill you with that Lord of the Rings sword you like.”

“I think I remember that,” I said, trying to not sound like a complete dick.

“Yeah, well, I guess you told her that you felt responsible for all of this.”

“I don't think that's quite how I put it,” I protested.

I just looked back through to that entry, and yes, that is basically how I put it.

“Well that's how Beth tells it, “ Sharon came back, “ And I'm sure that you didn't want her to tell me, but she worries about you; so do I.”

“Why? I'm doing fine.”

“You told her that we would not be in this position if you had opened up to me earlier. You believe that your not telling me how you felt about me caused all those people to die.”

“That's a little melodramatic,” I said, but again, it does seem to be pretty much what I said.

Sharon went on, “Well, I knew how you felt about me, but I wanted to make you say it first,” she looked away from me then, finding something interesting to look at in the thick shag carpet, “I wanted to show that I was the stronger of the two of us; that I was in charge. I'm not the stronger one though, you are.”

“That's not true,”

“Sure it is. We've lost so much this last year, and yet while I lost my mind, you just kept going. You took care of me while I tried to get you killed. You fought for me, and all I did was cause problems and make things more uncomfortable for you,” sharon looked up at me, and I could see that her eyes were watery.

“You did not make me uncomfortable,” I protested.

The cheery song ended, and a familiar one came; a trumpet sounded over the crackling of the fire, filling the silence between us.

Sharon smiled as the trumpet played. She knew I recognized this song, but what she didn't know was that I had listened to “Maybe” earlier in the day, and here she had set up the opening song to that game's sequel.

“Give me a kiss to build a dream on,” Armstrong sang, “and my imagination will thrive upon that kiss. Sweetheart, I ask no more than this; a kiss to build a dream on.”

“It doesn't matter,” Sharon said, “I want to try and make up for my past mistakes.”

I started to protest, but she cut me off.

“Our past mistakes, “ Sharon corrected herself. She took a deep breath before hesitantly asking her question, “Will you be my Valentine?”

I hadn't even realized that it was Valentine's Day. I was stunned by her question for a moment.

“I know you still have feelings for Tara, and I still love Alex, but I also know that it always seemed right that you and I would be together. People always said that, you know? They said it to me anyway; even Bud asked me why we weren't already going out once. I really do love you, and I hope that you still love me too. So will you...?” her question trailed off.

Her eyes looked so big and beautiful through her glasses; I had a lump in my throat, and didn't know what to say. This is what I wanted last year when we gave each other gag Valentine's gifts (I gave her a Naruto plush, even though she hates Naruto, and she gave me a volume of Deathnote yaoi), and it felt right now too, but I was scared to say what I really wanted to.

Sharon has been dropping some major hints on me that she wanted us to be more than just friends, and a big part of me wants that, but I've been worried about her mental state; whether or not she really knows what she wants. And what about Tara? I know she's dead, and in my dreams she says she wants me to be happy, but it still felt like I was contemplating betrayal.

Sharon continued to stare at me, her eyes looking hopeful and hurt at the same time. I knew what I wanted to say, but was it the right thing to say?

“Yes,” I whispered.

Sharon lunged at me, throwing her arms around me, and kissed me hard. It was our first kiss; well our first one like this anyway. It felt so right, and I felt guilt, and despair, and utter joy all at the same time. In the back of my head I heard Tara cheering me one, but I also heard her crying.

When Sharon pulled back, I could see that a couple of tears had escaped from her eyes; the firelight reflected off of their trails down her cheeks. She smiled at me, and said, “Open your present then.”

“I don't have one for you,” I said.

“It's nothing to get excited over,” Sharon cautioned, “It's from a drug store after all.”

I tore open the birthday wrap to reveal a small PVC gorilla in a graduation cap and gown. He was holding a heart in his hands that read ,”ConGRADulations, my love”.

“What is this?” I asked.

“It was either this or a blanket with sleeves, “Sharon said in her defense, “I told you that it was nothing to get excited over,”she leaned in and kissed me again.

I'm not sure if the record ended, or the player just ran down, but we stayed on the couch in each other's arms until long after the music stopped. When that happened Sharon led me to the den where we have been sleeping since Maria took over the master bedroom, and showed me what else she picked up at the drugstore. It wouldn't do to get pregnant now after all.

I'm not going to go into the details of what happened, other than to say that it was everything I ever fantasized it would be (other than the fact that we were in sleeping bags on the floor with a stuffed deer head looking down on us from over the window). Her skin, her lips, her touch....

It all felt so right, but even now I still feel guilty about it. I know, especially given the last choice she made, that Tara would have no right to accuse me of betrayal for this, but that doesn't stop me from feeling this way. She died for Alex while I lived for Sharon.

I can't help but wonder what things would be like now if this had happened last Valentine's Day. Would we be dead now? Would Mallville have been lost? Would Alex and Tara be alive? What would have happened to Pippa if we weren't here for her to find? Are the way things are now the best way they could be? Is the alternative even worse?

It doesn't matter now. Under all of my guilt I feel a strange sense of peace. It's like no matter what happens next I feel complete. I felt this way with Tara too, but this is different somehow. I don't really know if it's better or worse, but it is different.

The best way I can think to describe it would be to say that I had two soul mates. Sharon has always felt like an important part of me, but Tara felt like that too. Is it possible to have two soul mates? If you lose your soul mate, can you have another one?

Tara is still in my heart, and I don't imagine that I will ever stop loving her, but she is gone and she wouldn't want me to be alone for the rest of my life anymore than I would want her to be if things were reversed. I'm not sure how I'll deal with my feelings about all of this now, but at least I know I won't be alone while I deal with it.

I had better get back to bed before Sharon wakes up. We have a lot of lost time to make up for, and I don't want to waste any of it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Non-Story Post: "Zombieland"

This is not a story post, sorry, but I did want to let you all know that I got to go see a sneak preview of the new film "Zombieland".

You can check out my as-spoiler-free-as-I-could-manage review of it here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Thirty-Eighth Entry: The Snowbunny

January 24th

Things have been going well, so well in fact that I really haven't had anything to write about for a couple of weeks. It seems that Daisy Lake does have a natural fish population. Maria says that what we have been catching is rainbow trout; all I know is that it is good to eat something that didn't come out of a can once in awhile.

Our daily routine involves fishing, bringing in firewood for the day, cutting more firewood to keep our supply up, and cooking. It's almost idyllic. We still take shifts keeping a watch on things at night though.

We haven't seen a single zed since we got here, and frankly I think we are getting a little sloppy because of it. Still, I guess as long as the ice has really killed the zeds, I suppose we are safe enough. We haven't even seen any signs of other survivors up here. It almost feels like we are the last people on Earth, or at least it did.

Sharon has been doing really well these last couple of weeks. She hasn't had a space out in days now, nor has she tried to kill anybody. She's clinging to me a lot though, which is part of why I haven't been writing, and I don't really know how I feel about that.

Part of me wants to respond, and go for it. To finally be with her the way I always wanted. Another part of me feels that that would be a shitty thing to do; to be taking advantage of her while I'm unsure how mentally stable she really is. Still another part of me believes that Tara is still out there; still trying to catch up to us, and that part feels like I would be betraying her.

The dreams aren't helping much either. I've been dreaming about Tara again. The setting is always the same, Mallville in flames. Sometimes she's kneeling next to the pool of blood where Alex fell, sometimes she's sitting on the edge of one of the potted trees, sometimes she's just standing there, but she's always as I saw her last, her shirt drenched with Alex's blood.

“Don't mess things up again,” she'll tell me, and, ”I want you to be happy, and if being with Sharon makes you happy, go for it.”

“But what about you?”

“What about me?” she'll ask.

“I love you.”

Tara will approach me, put her hands on my face, and lean in, “I love you too, but I made my choice. I'm just sorry that it's you that has to live with it.”

“It's not fair though.”

“You're right, but maybe it's for the best. You've always loved her, and now you have your chance. Don't mess it up,” Tara will say, and then pull away from me, “I have to go now.”

“Please don't leave me again!” I cry after her as she leaves.

“I'm already gone, but maybe you'll see me again.”

It was from one of those dreams that I woke to hear a familiar, but out of place noise earlier tonight; A car engine. I sprung up from my sleeping bag, quickly put my shoes on, and ran out to the front of the house. Maria, Gerry, Sharon, and Beth were already at the front windows. Beth and Maria were both holding rifles.

“What's that?” I asked.

“An engine, “ replied Maria.

In that moment I knew it, I was sure that it was Tara. Somehow she had found us, she had caught up to us. She really was right behind us, we just needed to stop long enough for her to catch up. I was both excited and scared.

Outside the window, I couldn't even see the car. It was snowing lightly,but that's not why I couldn't see it, it just wasn't close enough yet. It's amazing how much farther sound seems to carry now that there is so much less ambient noise.

When it came into view I could see that it was an SUV; what else does anyone drive nowadays, right? It was a small one though, an Acura MDX as it turned out. It was slowly crawling down the long driveway leading in from the road, bumping roughly over the unseen dips buried beneath the snow.

“You take the right, I'll take the left,” said Maria to Beth, who only nodded.

“Wait, what?” I asked.

“We don't know who it is, what they want,” explained Beth.

“So we're going to shoot her?” I asked.

“If we have to,” answered Maria.

“Only if we have to, “ Gerry corrected her. I finally noticed that he was holding a Glock in his right hand.

The Acura looked realy small as it pulled up next to our snow covered Excursions. As it stopped, Maria threw the front door open and rushed out and to the left. Beth followed her to the right, both of them took what little cover was to be had behind the porch railing. Gerry rushed out, and center where he had no cover, relying on the gun to his right and left to keep whoever all was in the car from being stupid.

“Turn off the engine, and step out of the car, or we start shooting!” Gerry ordered, which would have been a lot more imposing if he had a more serious sounding voice.

“Wait, don't do this!” I cried, knowing for sure that they were going to shoot Tara. She would be so overjoyed to find us that she would just rush out of the car, and they would shoot her by accident before they realized it was her.

The engine cut out, and the only noise I could hear was all of us breathing.

“Step out of the car, and keep your hands where we can see them!” Ordered Beth, sounding much more commanding than Gerry.

The driver's side door swung open, pushing against the piled up snow that the car had driven into. A pair of hands with pink knit gloves appeared over them, and a person stepped out. It was a woman, it had to be, she was wearing a pink puffy ski jacket, a black ski mask with a pink knit hat with what looked like a pair of long pink rabbit ears going down the back, and light blue ski pants tucked into fur lined tan boots. She had her hands raised.

“Is there anyone else in the car?” asked Beth.

The woman shook her head. She was short, shorter than I remember Tara being.

“Step away from the car, and let us see your face!” ordered Beth.

The woman. It had to be Tara, it just had to be, stepped away from the car, and closed the door. She then very slowly and deliberately pulled off her hat, and placed it on the hood of the car. She then pulled off her ski mask.

My heart sank like a hot air balloon that had just been harpooned.. It wasn't Tara, it wasn't even a woman, it was a girl. A mere teenager with long curly hair that was mostly brown, but the last four inches were a deep magenta, like she had died her hair when it was pretty short, and then let it grow out. She was pale, and had a small piercing through her nose, and two rings through her left eyebrow.

“ It's a child,” said Beth in amazement.

“I'm not a child, I'm sixteen, bitch” shouted the girl.

Maria didn't like that. She stood up suddenly, making it very clear that she was still aiming at the newcomer.

“Maria!” hissed Gerry.

“Just because she's a child and says she's alone doesn't mean that either of those things are true!” Maria said, not taking her eye off her gun sight.

Sharon brushed past me, then past Gerry, and went down the stairs towards the girl.

“What are you doing?” asked Maria.

“I'm making sure that she's telling the truth so we can stop treating her like a murderer.” said Sharon. She went down, past our little snowbunny, and opened the door to the Acura, “It's clear!” Sharon called, “she's by herself.”

“Come towards me slowly, “ ordered Beth, “Keep your hands in the open, and come into the house.

“How do I know you're not going to hurt me?” asked the girl.

“You don't,” answered Maria, “Which is why you should have stayed away. Now get in the house!”

The girl didn't seem scared, in fact she seemed more annoyed than anything else. She walked forward, her hands still in the air, her ski mask still dangling from her right hand. Gerry stepped to the side to allow the girl access to the house.

Maria, Gerry, and then Beth went into the house. Sharon grabbed the girl's hat off of the hood of the car, and came back up onto the porch. As she started to pass me to go into the house, she stopped.

“Are you okay?” Sharon asked.

I realized I had been standing there, staring at the young girl as she walked up as if I were in a trance. I did my best to smile, “Yeah, I'm good.”

“You look, I don't know, almost disappointed.”

“No, just surprised to see another survivor, that's all.”

Sharon looked at me curiously, “Okay, but if any thing's wrong, you can talk to me. I know you've been talking to Beth some, but I think I'm better now, or at least as good as I'm ever going to get.” she laughed a little, smiled at me, and went inside.

I went back into the house, and it was only then that I realized that I had gone outside without my coat on, and the chill I had been feeling hadn't just been from inside my body.

When I joined everyone else in the living room, I found that the girl had shed her coat, revealing a pink sweater with little black skulls on it. Beth was searching through her coat. She pulled a small Smith and Wesson revolver out one of the pockets; this was accompanied my the muted patter of a jumble of loose bullets falling out of the same pocket and onto the rug.

“Do you have any other weapons?” Maria asked, still menacing the extremely thin girl with her rifle.

“There's a crowbar and a hunting rifle in the car, “the girl said, “So what are you going to do, kill me? Eat me? Rape me? What?”

“You came to us, “ Beth answered.

“Yeah, but I didn't pull a gun on you.”

“How did you find us?” asked Gerry.

“Umm, you have a fire,” the girl motioned behind her to the bright flickering fireplace, “It's not like a lot of people have fire going right now, I just followed the smoke.”

“I guess that makes sense, “ I said.

“Are you alone?” asked Beth, putting the girl's coat on the couch.

“Yes. “

“What's your name?” asked Sharon.

“Pippa Webster.”

Once we were reasonably sure that she wasn't armed, we let her sit on the couch in front of the fire to warm up. Sharon and I warmed her up a can of soup that she ate while telling us her story.

It turns out that Pippa is from the bay area peninsula where her and small group had been hiding out in their high school, which Pippa describes as an ancient building that used to be someone's house. Either it's a big house, or a small school, I guess. She told us that everything was going as well as could be expected until late November.

“It was just a normal morning, we were going to go out and try and find some supplies, but when we went to look out the window and see how many of those things we would have to deal with we found that we were surrounded.

“What do you mean by surrounded?” asked Beth, “Like a dozen of them?”

“Like a hundred of them, a whole mob,” Pippa answered.

“A cemetery,” I interjected.


A Cemetery. I've been calling a large group of zeds a cemetery,” I explained, “you know, like a murder of crows, or a school of fish.”

“But zombies don't come from cemeteries.” Pippa replied.

“And fish don't come from schools,” Sharon came to my defense.

“Okay,” Pippa said, still slightly puzzled, “Anyway, as soon as one of those things saw us, it started pounding on the window. Soon they were all pounding on the windows and the doors. Some of them even had clubs and stuff.”

“So what did you do?” asked Gerry.

“We got the hell out of there. We ran for the auto shop where Tim's van was parked. We could hear the windows breaking in the classrooms around us as we ran. Some of them were getting in. There were so many of them.”

Pippa was started to get a little worked up reliving the incident, “Auto shop was actually in a separate building, but it's a short distance. We figured as long as we kept moving we could get through them.”

“Mario had the keys, we had padlocked all of the exits to keep them from getting in, so he got the lock opened, and shoved the door as hard as he could to try and knock some of them back. We shoved through the zombies and ran. I heard Tamara scream, but I didn't stop to help her. She...” Pippa shook her head sadly, “she didn't make it to the shop building. “

“The zombies were coming after us, I had never seen so many in one place at one time except for on TV before the power went out. Mario couldn't find the right key for the shop building; Tim, and Justin and me, we had guns, and we started firing into the crowd, but it wasn't even making a dent.”

“Mario finally got the door open, and went in, then Marissa. Tim shoved me in, and then came himself. Justin came in last, and one of those things got close enough to bite his arm. He was bleeding really bad when he got the door shut behind us.”

“We all got into the van, except for Justin, I think because he knew what happened to people who were bit. Tim started the van, and Justin opened the garage door. He mouthed something to us as Tim pulled out. He was smiling as the zombies rushed in around the van.”

“What did you do then?” Maria asked.

“We decided that we would go inland, and see if we could find somewhere with less zombies, or maybe find other survivors. There had to be better places than where we were. Right before the power went out, we has seen rumors online of groups of survivors forming, like colonies, and we were hoping to find one. We fucked up going through San Francisco though.

I remember, back when all this began, hearing about what had happened in the big cities, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco. The big cities were death traps; I remember seeing a video online of zeds breaking into a Wolf News studio, apparently live on the air. I can't believe Pippa's friends wanted to go into something like that. I guess when you're scared you make stupid choices though, Lord know I've made my share.

“I didn't want to; I told Tim to take a different bridge, not try for the Golden Gate, but he swore that it was the most direct route, and that the zombies couldn't get us if we just kept driving,” Pippa laughed humorlessly, “He would have been right too, if the roads hadn't been clogged with abandoned cars. He tried going around, going up on the sidewalk, but the city is like something out of a fucking horror film, they're everywhere; it made that horde, sorry, cemetery, of zombies at school seem like nothing. They swarmed around us, and the van tipped over. We ran, we got separated; I didn't see any of them again.”

“But you made it,” I said.

“Yeah, I made it....”

Pippa explained to us that we are the first living people she's seen since that day. She headed this way because she saw a note stuck to the doors of an Ambition store that she broke into for supplies. It said that cold kills zombies, and to head for the mountains.

“I didn't know what else to do. I didn't really have any other plan than to find somewhere safe, so I figured why not? At least it gave me a goal. Whoever left the note musta known what they were talking about.”

“And you saw the smoke from our fire, and thought you would check it out?” asked Beth.

“ I figured that if it was just some sort of natural fire, which isn't what it looked like, then oh well, but if there were people, I could maybe join up with them , or they would kill me. Either way I wouldn't be alone anymore.”

“Well we're not going to kill you,” said Gerry.

“Can I stay with you guys then? I can fight good, and I know how to drive.” explained Pippa, her attitude cracking for just a moment to reveal hopefulness.

“We need to discuss this,” said Beth, and headed for the front door.

The rest of us followed her. From the front door we could still see Pippa sitting on the couch in front of the fire, but she wouldn't be able to hear us if we spoke softly.

“So what do we all think?” asked Beth.

“We can't turn her away,” whispered Sharon, “She'll die on her own.”

“If she's really been on her own for two months, she must know how to take care of herself,” I said.

“How do we know she's telling the truth? She might have killed her friends herself? Maybe she just wants to kill us and take our supplies,” asked Maria.

Beth defended the young woman, “She's a child, Maria. Stop being paranoid. There's no way she could take all of us anyway.”

“She's not a child, she's sixteen... bitch,” Gerry said with a smirk that earned him a glare from Beth.

“She will be a drain on our supplies. We already go through them too fast.” Maria countered.

“We've barely touched the supplies since we got here. We've been getting our water and food from the lake,” said Gerry.

“And if that stops being enough? Can we catch enough fish for another person?”

“Probably, yes, “I said, “and I'm sure she can help.”

“She had better, we don't need anymore people eating our food who don't contribute,” Maria looked right at Sharon when she said that.

Sharon backed up a half step, as if she had been slapped. I opened my mouth to speak, but Beth cut me off.

“Knock that off right now. There is no one in this group who does not contribute.”

“Yeah, right, and what about the entire fucking month when she didn't?”

Sharon stepped half behind me, putting a hand on my shoulder as if using me for a shield, like she was afraid Maria was going to take a swing at her. I couldn't see her, but I could hear her breathing getting heavier. I clenched my teeth, trying to hold my tongue.

“She was sick,” said Gerry evenly, “We would take care of you if you got sick too. We're all friends here, Maria, I wish you would remember that.”

“I don't get sick, and I don't need friends that are going to get me killed.”

I couldn't take anymore, “Then maybe it's you that should leave,” I hissed.

“Stop it!” growled Beth. The glare she was giving me and Maria was completely different than the one she had given Gerry; this one was a real warning.

“Fine, “ said Maria, putting her left hand up in the air in mock surrender; her right was still holding her rifle.

“Lets vote, “suggested Gerry, “I say she joins us if she wants.”

“Agreed, “said Beth.

“We can't turn her away, “ added Sharon.

“We don't need another mouth to feed.” said Maria.

“She stays,” I voted.

“Majority rules, “said Sharon happily, stepping back out from behind me.

“This is not going to end well,” said Maria.

“It's probably not going to end well whether we send her to her death or not,” replied Beth.

We turned to face Pippa as a group, “Okay,” started Gerry, “We have decided to let you join us, provided that you pull your own weight.”

Pippa looked at us, and all of a sudden the mouthy young woman who showed up on our doorstep was gone; in her place sat a teenage girl who was too thin and too pale. She had become a girl whose haunted eyes only hinted at the horrors she had seen and the loss that she has felt; horrors and loss that we can all relate to.

“Are you sure? I mean, I mean thank you for the food, and all, but I can get back on the road,” she looked panicked suddenly.

“Where would you go?”

“ I don't know; keep heading north, I guess. I heard there's a survivor camp up in Washington; a place called Lovelock. Maybe I'll head for there.”

“With the weather like this?” asked Beth, “You'd never make it. The roads are going to be blocked by snow farther up.”

“If she wants to go, we can't make her stay,” added Maria.

“Really, I don't want to be a problem,” Pippa said.

“I'm sure you won't be a problem as long as you put in work like the rest of us,” said Gerry, “but as Maria said, we're not going to force you to stay.”

“Why don't you sleep on it?” asked Sharon.

“Huh?” asked the pale girl.

“Sharon's right, you don't need to make a decision right now,” I said, “Stay here tonight, and you can decide what you want to do in the morning.”

“Umm, okay, if that's alright with everyone,” said Pippa, a nervous smile on her face.

We all kind of glanced at Maria to see if she would say anything, but she only shrugged, turned, and left the room.

“Well then, “started Gerry, “I think this calls for a celebration!” and then he left the room too.

It turns out Gerry's celebratory idea was hot cocoa. He boiled some water on the fire and we each had a cup while we talked. Well, to be totally honest, Pippa did most of the talking. I'm not surprised; two months alone is a long time to not talk to anyone. I'm surprised she didn't end up killing herself or going crazy like Ash.

Pippa told us of her adventures. How she ended up getting out of San Francisco by boat. She stole a motorboat from the marina, and managed to get away without damaging anything too badly (apparently she did forget to untie it from the dock, and ripped a chunk out of the side of the boat). She took the boat up what I guess must be the Sacramento River until she was almost out of gas.

Realizing that she would be washed right back to San Francisco if she let herself run out of fuel, she “docked” (her term, as it frankly sounded more like she crashed) at what she said is “Sherman Island”. I've never heard of this place, but Pippa says it's some sort of recreational area for camping and stuff. I've never liked camping, which is probably why I've never heard of it.

“Sherman Island was, like, totally deserted. There were no zombies or nothing.”

“Sounds ideal, why didn't you just stay there?” asked Maria.

“I did for awhile, but there's only like ten houses on the place, and no place to get anymore food or water. I packed up what I could, and hit the road. That was probably in, like, the middle of December. “

Pippa ended up talking until after midnight. She stopped for what we thought was dramatic pause, or maybe to gather her thoughts, but after a minute of silence we realized that she had fallen asleep. It's probably the first real sleep she has gotten in months. I cannot imagine being able to sleep if I were out there on my own without someone to keep an eye on me.

Everyone else has gone to bed now; I'm staying up on guard tonight. Being on guard here is a lot easier than it was in the city. The snow and twigs and stuff out there should give away anything moving. Of course that would include deer, wouldn't it? Do deer hibernate? I haven't seen any up here.

I think Pippa will stay. Maria aside, why wouldn't she? It'll be good to have someone new with us; I wish we would find more people because I don't like even the illusion that we are the last ones alive. I know we can't be, but seeing other people would be a nice reminder of it.

I am still sad that it wasn't Tara in that car. I was so certain that it was her, but I realize now that it was just because of that dream. She could still be out there though. She could just be a few miles down the road... maybe she'll see the smoke too.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thirty-Seventh Entry: Home Sweet Home

January 6th

After a week's journey, we have a place to call home, at least for awhile.

We rolled into town on the third, and ended up staying in a ski shop called “Down the Mountain” that had been closed up for the season last spring. It's actually a pretty secure place; the windows were already boarded up when we got there.

It looks like that store probably shuttered for their off season. The coverings were cut to match the shape of the windows, painted to match the store's brown exterior, and had the words “SEE YOU IN OCTOBER!” stenciled on them.

Of course this meant that the inside of the store was pitch black except for the rectangle of outside light that shown through the glass of the front door, but after some careful searching we found the store to be empty of everything except fixtures. No zeds, no humans, no merchandise. The last part is kind of a shame since we could have used a supply of good winter clothes, but oh well.

We stayed there for two nights while Beth, Gerry, and Maria looked around for someplace better. “Down the Mountain is great as a secure building, but it's cold as hell, and there is no place to light a fire in it. Other reasons to leave the store were that it was not near enough to the actual lake, and since part of the reason for coming here was to have access to sources of food and water this store was just not going to work.

Something about being in the store bothered Sharon. I don't know if it was really just that it was the darkest place we've hidden in, or if it was because it was bigger than our other hideouts, or even if it was just that all of the completely empty fixtures and mannequins made the place that much creepier. Maybe it's just a product of her recovering her wits that she's getting scared again?

It was on the second night in the store; I had actually been given a couple hours of watch duty (which amounted to sitting by the front door and staring out at the moonlit snow, I think we may be the only living, or unliving, things up here), and had gone to sleep in my bag on the floor by an empty circular rack. I woke up to something pulling open my sleeping bag.

I lashed out in a panic, and back of my arm collided with a person, knocking them back and away from me. The person gasped as she fell; I recognized that gasp, “Sharon? Is that you?” I asked in a whisper.

“Yes,” I heard her voice on my left.

“What are you doing?” I asked, fully awake.

“I was scared,” she whispered, “I was hoping I could sleep with you.”

“What, in my bag?”


“Umm, I don't think you'll fit in here with me.”

“Yes I will.”

“But, you'd be-”

“Please!” she pleaded.

“Is everything okay?” I heard Beth ask from her station by the door. She didn't turn on her flashlight, thankfully.

“Yeah, “ I answered in a stage whisper, “We're fine.”

“Then let her sleep with you, and be quiet before you wake the others,” Beth replied quietly, her voice carrying easily across the otherwise silent store.

“Please,” Sharon whispered again.

“Okay, fine, but if you can't breath, don't blame me.”

Sharon unzipped my sleeping bag and climbed in the only way one can enter an already occupied sleeping bag, gracelessly. It's a good thing I've lost weight, because she was barely able to zip the bag back up as it was. The bag was suddenly a lot warmer with her body heat added to it.

Before you get any ideas, I would like to point out that it was somewhere near freezing inside the store, and we were both fully dressed (and we could both have used showers too). It's not the first time I've slept in a bed with Sharon, and nothing, nothing that I remember anyway, has ever happened between us before.

Still, it felt weird to have her next to me; her back to mine. It both made me think of how much I miss Tara, but also what might have been had I just opened up to Sharon before everything went to hell. It was also comforting, and at some point while I was wrestling with the emotions in my head, I fell asleep.

I woke up to Beth standing over us sniggering.

“What?” I said sleepily.

“You two.” she whispered.

“Nothing happened,” I replied as quietly as possible to avoid waking Sharon, not that she was easy to wake when she was in a deep sleep.

“I know,” Beth smiled, and then rubbed at one of her eyes, “ I just wish that I had someone who cared about me as much as you care about her. Tara was lucky to have you, and Sharon is lucky to have you as a friend.”

“Have you been drinking?” I asked.

“No, but I haven't slept either,” Beth sniffed, “I want you to know that I really respect you. No one would ever go through what you've gone through for her for me.”

So if we were going to vent our stored up emotions, I figured I should do it at least sitting up. As gently as possible, I wriggled up and out of the sleeping bag. Beth helped me to my feet, and I put on my coat and shoes, which didn't do nearly enough to cut the cold in the store after the warmth of the sleeping bag. We went across the store to sit on a little pedestal that had held a cloth covered naked mannequin with his hand stuck out like he was holding something until the day before.

We had taken the dust cloth off of the dummy because it was creepy; we then had to just take the naked dummy down because it was even more creepy. He was currently lying on the floor, his hand sticking up in the air like he had been frozen while trying to reach for something.

“So why do you think we wouldn't take care of you if something happened to you?” I asked.

“You guys are like a little clique, and I'm this outsider who you got stuck with.”

“I consider you a friend, and one of us. I'm sure the others do too. We would take care of you the same way we are taking care of Sharon.”

“I don't know, maybe you and Gerry would, but not Maria; that woman has some serious damage. She'd probably shoot me, and kick all of your asses if you tried to stop her. I know you say you're my friend, but you never would have taken her on like you did for Sharon.”

I wanted to tell her she was wrong, but I don't know that she was. I like to think that I would fight as hard for her or Gerry as I did for Sharon, but....

“What do you think her problem is?” I asked

“Haven't we had this discussion?” Beth asked.

“Yes, you said she was scared, and that I shouldn't act like a macho asshole.”

“And I still say that. I wouldn't want you to get yourself killed over me either.”

We sat there in silence for a minute.

“You know, “ I began, “I could have prevented all of this.”

Beth looked at me funny, “ What, the end of the world? You're a great guy and all, but I don't see how you could have kept the dead from getting up.”

“No, not that, this. Us being here.”

“Were you going to assassinate Kaur, and just never got around to it?”

“No. I was going to tell Sharon how I felt about her, but never got the courage to until it was too late. If I had done that, everything would be different.”

“Okay, explain.”

“Well, if I had told Sharon how I felt, she might never have joined the scavengers, meaning she wouldn't have been in that attack, so she wouldn't have gotten trapped in the Hotel Majestic. I wouldn't have had to go rescue her and Jimmy, so maybe the people who went on that run would not have been attacked by the bikers.”

“Maybe they would have,” suggested Beth, but I kept going.

“Sharon never would have gotten together with Alex.”

“And you would have never gotten together with Tara. Are you saying you would trade that? You'd give up the time you and Tara had together?” Beth looked a little appalled as she said this.

“If it meant she was still alive, sure. I would rather have never been with her than have her be dead now. I think one of the biggest things that set Alex and Kaur against each other was rescuing Sharon and Jimmy. Maybe things would have gone differently if that had never happened.”

“Hashmir Kaur would not have been a better person regardless of what you did. A fight would have broken out eventually.”

“But Alex wouldn't have diverted to save me or Sharon. Maybe he would have survived, and taken Tara with him. Or at least if Jimmy had died after being attacked by the bikers, he never would have blown up Mallville.”

“Or maybe without us coming to rescue you, you and Sharon would both be dead. Does your little scenario include that?”

I didn't have an answer to that.

After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, Beth spoke again, “What I mean is that it's no good to dwell over what-ifs. If I let myself become consumed by what could have been, I'd probably be dead by now. I'm sorry about Tara, really I am, but you need to worry about those who are still alive. You can't do anything for those we've already lost.”

“But, what if Tara is alive? What if she wasn't killed by the explosion?' I asked. My eyes started stinging, but no tears came.

Beth looked distressed, “Do you really believe she is?”

I thought about it, “I want to,” I said weakly.

“You really do like to torture yourself, don't you?” she put an arm around my shoulders, “ I used to be like you, like before all this shit started, I was like you. I would tear myself up inside over stuff I couldn't do anything about.”

“So how did you stop?”

“I don't know. I grew up and became more jaded, I guess. I finally understood that there was nothing I could do about losing people, or having those I love turn on me. Maybe if I had someone who was willing to get themselves killed for me like you are for Sharon there, “Beth pointed in the general direction of my sleeping bag, “ just maybe I would be different, but then I wouldn't be me.”

“What if I don't know who I am anymore?”

“You're you. Maybe you're not the you of the days before the zed virus, I didn't know you then, but you're you now, and I like the you of now. “

“And who is that?”

Beth laughed softly, “Well, you're a bit needy and whiny. You don't have as much confidence in yourself as you probably should. You're loving, and caring, and patient; you have put up with Sharon's bizarre, and frankly disturbing behavior, and you have never once complained about it. You're fiercely loyal, and will kill to protect those you love.”

“And that's a good thing?”

“You shot a man in the face to save Tara. You faced off against four zombies with a bat and a hatchet to protect Sharon; in fact you risked being killed by zombies, bikers, and Hashmirkaur himself to save her.”

“Okay, so I'm stupid and a murderer.”

“Did I mention that you're whiny? If you're stupid, it's only because you try to be. I don't believe it, from the little time I spent around Tara, I could tell that she was not one to suffer fools gladly, and whatever feelings she may have had for Alex, she loved you.”

“She chose him over me though, in the end she chose him,” that stinging again, but still no tears.

Beth sighed, “She couldn't let him die alone. I know what that is like too. If she's still out there, I'm sure she'll find you somehow, but don't spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder to see if she's running to catch up. If you do that you'll eventually run into something large and nasty that you should have seen coming from the front.”

Beth stood, and then pulled me to my feet. Somehow I had never realized that I'm a good six inches taller than she is; she's shorter than Sharon actually.

“Okay, that's enough feeling sorry for yourself,” Beth said and gave me a brief hug, “You be proud of being you, and I'll be proud to call you a friend.”

“Very touching,” called a slightly goofy voice from by the door.

“Kiss my ass, Gerry.” Beth answered.

I felt like kind of a jerk; when I got up I thought that Beth was going to open up to me, or that it would at least be an equal exchange. Instead it's all me, as she quite rightly said, whining. If she ever tries to talk to me like that again, I'll try to remember to just keep my mouth shut.

As had become the norm, Beth, Gerry, and Maria left me and Sharon behind at the store while they check the town out, and tried to find us a new home. Thank goodness for Sharon's comic shop goodies.

Sharon did really well that day, we actually talked, although I didn't get anywhere when I tried to get her to tell me what had scared her the night before. The only real incident of note on that day was in the early afternoon.

Going into one of her less and less frequent spacey spells, Sharon started wandering around the store. I was sitting up by the front door to make sure that she didn't try to leave, but was not really paying much attention to her.

Sharon suddenly screamed. The sudden noise in the quiet store made me jump, and I almost fell out of the chair I was sitting in. I saw her running across the store to where my sleeping bag and satchel were.

Not knowing what had frightened her, I got to my feet in time to see her grab my sword from where it lay next to my satchel, and go running back across the store. She clutched the cleaver in both hands.

“Sharon, what's wrong?” I asked.

Sharon ignored, instead she stopped over at the left side of the store, raised the sword, and brought it down on something with a loud hollow crunch. She raised the sword again two more times, bringing it down with more crunching before I got to her.

“Nooooo!” Sharon wailed as I saw what she was attacking. It was that naked dummy. She had smashed its upraised hand, and was now turning its head into a mess of plastic, foam, and fiberglass.

I wanted to stop her before she hurt herself, but I was scared, If she had somehow mistaken a dummy for a zed, then what would happen if I got too close? “Sharon,” I said in as calm a voice as I could manage, “It's okay, just calm down.”

Sharon stopped attacking the mannequin, and turned to look at me. Her face was a mask of terror. “No! Stay back!” she cautioned, tears running down her scared face. She held the sword out in front of her.

I came forward slowly, “You're okay,” I said, “You're safe. Just put down the sword.”

“Nooo!” she yelled, and swung the sword at me I felt the blade skim the very tip of my nose as I fell backwards out of it's path. I hit the ugly brown industrial carpet on the floor hard, and started trying to scramble away from her on my back.

Sharon raised the sword again, intending t bring it down on me before I got away from her. I was next to a circular metal rack that probably once held hangers loaded down with ski pants, or jackets or something. I reached up and grabbed the edge of the rack with my left hand, and yanked hard on it.

The clothing rack tipped, and came down on top of me with a hollow metallic gong. Sharon's blow hit the rack with a loud clang, but was deflected off harmlessly. I turned onto my front and crawled out from under it as fast as I could.

I scrambled across the floor trying to put distance between us, but when I spared a glance back, she was around the toppled rack and after me again, “Sharon, stop!” I yelled as I crawled.

I didn't know what to do. I might be able to make it to the guns (and I am so glad that she went for a sword instead of the guns) and shoot her, but I don't think I could ever shoot her; better that she kill me than that. In my mind I saw her coming up behind me, sword raised, ready to bring it down on my spine of the back of my skull.

I turned again, and Sharon was right there, sword raised above her head. Next to me was a simple display rack to my right; just a shiny metal support pole with a single arm to hang things on at the top, and a heavy flat base. I grabbed it with my right hand, and pulled it over towards me. I caught the upright pole in my left hand just as Sharon swung down.

The impact of the blade against the metal rack traveled up my arms and into my body, which was much better than having my skull split, which is what Sharon seemed to have been aiming for.. There was a metallic hiss as the blade slide down towards the base of the clothes rack. I had to yank my right hand away to avoid losing fingers.

I pushed the rack up and away from me, and at Sharon. I don't know if it hit her or not, as I was already on my hands and knees crawling before it hit the floor again.

I heard Sharon gasp and say my name suddenly, but I didn't stop. I kept crawling over to a thick brown wood column with a framed print of a man skiing a slalom on it. Once there I tried to hide behind it before turning to peek around it at her. She was standing there holding the sword in her left hand, it rested against her leg; on the floor in front of her was the clothes rack that had been my makeshift shield.

“Did I just...?” Sharon trailed off.

“A little, yeah.” I said. I was shaking, and couldn't make my voice be even.

“Oh God,” Sharon said, and dropped the cleaver to the floor with a dull thud, “Did I... did I hurt you?”

I put my hand up to my nose, and it came away with a little bit of blood on it from where she had almost taken my face off, “No, I'm okay.”

Sharon sagged to her knees and started sobbing, “I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.”

I came out from behind the pillar, and found it very difficult to walk; someone had replaced the bones and muscles in my legs with Silly Putty. I went over to Sharon, trying to push the sword away from her with my foot without being too obvious, “It's okay, I'm not hurt,” I said.

“It's not okay, don't you see? Maria is right. I am dangerous. I could have killed you. I thought you were one of them,” Sharon was full on sobbing now, “Oh God! Did I hurt anyone?”

“Well, there's a mannequin who's never going to ski again, but other than that, no.”

Sharon looked up at me, tears streaming down her face. She grabbed my arms and pulled herself up to her feet so she could look me in the eyes, “Don't joke about it. What if I had hurt you? What if I had killed you?”

“You'd have one less mouth to feed, and the supplies would last longer,” I suggested, trying to sound more together than I felt.

The side of my face suddenly felt like it was on fire as Sharon slapped me hard enough to make me take a step back. I brought my hand up to my face, “What the fuck?” I said, “I think you knocked a tooth loose.”

“Don't you ever say shit like that!” Sharon snarled at me, “You're the only reason I'm still alive. Do you understand what the others would do to me if I killed you? If I even hurt you badly?”

“They might be cross with you, but they would still help you.”

“They would leave me behind at best,” Sharon sobbed, “Or Maria would shoot me in the head, because she's right; I put you all at risk.”

“That's not true.”

“It is,” Sharon wrapped her arms around me, and put her face to my shoulder, letting her tears run down my coat, “Please promise me that you won't let me hurt you. Please promise you'll stop me, kill me if you have to, before you'll let me kill you.”

“I wasn't exactly letting you-”


“I can't promise to kill you.”

“Promise me then that you will do whatever you need to to stop me. That you won't let me hurt you, or the others. “

I'm not one to give promises lightly. I hate to be a liar, and make it a general rule not to make promises that I'm not sure I can keep. How can I promise to kill my friend? How can I promise to kill the last connection the me I am now has to the me I used to be? I may never be able to be that me again, but some of that me is alive inside Sharon.

I can make that promise, potentially tell that lie, because it's what Sharon needs me to do. Just making me think about potentially having to hurt her makes it one of the hardest things I've ever done for her, and that includes disposing of a body, but I did it. I promised her, but I don't know that I can keep that promise, and I pray to God that I am never put to the test.

We stood there for a long time after that, Sharon crying against my shoulder. I didn't cry, though part of me wanted to. I got that stinging in my eyes again, but no tears. Maybe I'm dehydrated or something? I've been drinking water.

When she was done crying, I walked Sharon back to my sleeping bag and convinced her to lay down for awhile while I cleaned up the mess. I didn't really want to explain why we hacked up a dummy for fun, although the sword did a damn fine job on it, not that a fiberglass dummy is the same as a zed.

The dummy was mostly in one piece, although it's right arm, the one that was sticking out, had been torn off halfway up the forearm, and its head and upper chest were a mess of flesh colored chunks. I gathered up all of th small pieces into a trash bag, and took the torso and legs bag to the back door. This was made more difficult by the fact that the legs and arms fell off as I tried to carry it, and I almost tripped over them.

I set the two display racks back up, trying to match each of them with the shallow indents in the carpet as best I could. Both racks were sporting nasty little dents and scratches where Sharon had assaulted them, so we would just have to hope that no one noticed. Looking at Sharon, especially as thin as she is now, it's sometimes easy to forget that she's pretty strong. She could probably kick my ass in a fight.

Not wanting anyone to see the dummy, I took it out back. I was trying to find a dumpster, but everything was buried in snow. I was wading my way towards a large snow covered mound that almost certainly had to be the dumpster, when I tripped over something, and fell on my face.

I dug around in the snow to see what it was that had tripped me up, and found a body. I don't know if it was a zed or a normal person that just froze to death. It was a man, his skin was pale (as I expect most frozen bodies are), but I didn't take the time to uncover him fully enough to try and determine if he was dead, or re-dead; either way it certainly went a ways towards proving our hypothesis that the cold is bad for zeds.

After finding the body in the snow, I decided that it wasn't worth slogging around in the cold and wet to find a dumpster. I dug a rough hole in the snow, threw the trash bag, the torso, legs, and arms (well, arm and a half) into it, and covered them. I just hope we don't come back here after the snow melts.

The others came back that night, and told us that they had found the perfect place. It was right by the lake, surrounded by trees and not visible from the main road. It's pretty big, its got a big fireplace with a dutch over arm built into it for cooking, and plenty of room for the five of us. We could go there in the morning, and by that time the next day we would all be warming in front of the fire. Even Maria was in good spirits.

Shortly before we turned in for bed, Beth came up and took my by the shoulder, “Can we talk?” she asked.

“Um, sure,” I replied, not sure what I had done. Beth was smiling, but it was a sort of snake about to eat a rodent smile.

Beth led me over to where we had talked that morning, “So what happened today?” the hungry snake look was gone, and replaced by one of concern.

“Nothing much,” I said.

“Seriously, what happened?”

“What makes you think anything happened?”

“Well, lets see. There's the missing dummy, and, although you did a good job even without vacuum, there are little bits of it in the carpet. Then there's the fact that that rack has been moved, “Beth pointed to the round clothing rack that had stopped Sharon's second blow, “and there's the big dent in the side of it.”

“It might have fallen over while we were playing around,” I said unconvincingly.

“Wait, I'm not done. There's the face that the carpet by the door was wet when we got back even though it was dry when we left, and then there's this,” Beth gently tapped the small cut on my nose,” So I'm going to ask you one more time before I get upset, what happened? And don't tell me you were just playing around.”

“Sharon might have hallucinated a little,” I tried to downplay it.

“What constitutes a little? Did she try to shoot you? I didn't see any bullet holes.”

“She may have just momentarily mistake me and the dummy for zombies. It's really no big deal.”

“Did she try to hurt you?”

“Not as such. She thought I was a zed.”

“And what did she try to kill the zed with?”

“A sword.”

Beth sighed, “This is serious. Has she done this before?”

“She hasn't attacked me before, no.”

Beth looked uncertain for a moment, and then sighed again, “Okay, the others don't seem to have noticed anything, so if you don't think this is an issue, I'll keep it to myself, but if it, or anything like it, happens again you need to tell me. I respect that you want to keep her safe, but if she really is going to endanger us like that we need to do something about it. I don't think for a second that Maria would hesitate to shoot her in that situation.”

“I'm sure it's just a one-time thing.”

“You had better tell me if it isn't. We can work something out if it's an ongoing thing, but you have to tell me. I can't help you if I'm the last one to know.”

That gave me a lot to think about as we went to bed. I don't want to put the others at risk, but I can't let anything happen to Sharon.

Sharon slept in her own sleeping bag that night, although she did move it right next to mine. After the lanterns were put out, and Maria took first watch shift, the rest of us climbed into out sleeping bags.

As I was trying to fall asleep in spite of the thoughts bouncing around inside my skull, I heard Sharon rustling in her sleeping bag next to me. I then felt her put an arm around me, and give me a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered.

I rolled over to face her, “For what?” I whispered back.

“For covering for me. For not telling them what happened.”

“If anyone asks I'll just say we were playing with the dummy, and it broke, so I threw it out. They can't prove otherwise,” I said, not wanting to let her know that Beth had already figured it out.

“Thank you,” she said again, and went to sleep.

The next morning we packed up, and headed to our new home. It really was nice, but we did not appear to be the first ones there. There was a snow covered black SUV already in the driveway, and the kitchen was fully stocked with canned food and bottled water, not that that's a bad thing.

The cabin is pretty big; I don't have any great experience about these things, but I've always pictured cabins as being rather small, but this is like a normal three bedroom, two bathroom house. The outside is a light gray, and it looks strangely beautiful in the snow. There are a lot of windows, which would probably be a weakness in an attack, especially the big sliding glass door that opens onto the deck and looks like it was added sometime after the cabin was built.

Inside the cabin it's obvious that whoever owned this place (given the car in the driveway I assume they are dead) did not live here all the time. The furniture is old, like 1970s and 1980s old. I guess retro would be the right term, the stuff isn't old enough to be antique, and it's too ugly anyway. Someone of it goes great with the burnt orange shag carpeting in the living room though.

I've been trying to figure out who these people were. One of the three bedrooms looks like a child's room, a boy judging from the action figures and Legos . The master bedroom looks ransacked; like a fight took place in there. There is a full length mirror on the closet door; it's broken and there are some smears of blood on it, and the wall around it.

There aren't a lot of pictures around. There is one picture by the front door of a dark skinned man, a lighter skinned woman, and what is presumably their son; it's just your average family portrait sort of thing. The only other picture, excluding art, is an old black and white picture in the living room of a black man dressed in pharmacist's clothes standing in front of a storefront with a sign in the window that says “Bartel Pharmacy” .

We had a reasonably long discussion about who should sleep where. The first idea was that all of the women would sleep in the master bedroom, which has its own fireplace, but Sharon wants to stay with me, and Maria doesn't want to share a room with any of us. We ended up with Sharon and me in the master bedroom (once we clean it up anyway), Gerry in the kid's room, Maria in the den (there's enough room to sleep on the floor between the desk and the bookshelves), and Beth sleeping in the other bedroom, which was meant to be a guest room, I guess.

The view out the back window is stunning. The snow covered ground leading out to the lake. On first viewing, the lake was a little choppy due to wind, but I have since seen it when it is still, and it makes me wish I had a camera to take a picture of it with. One funny thing though, there's a boat out there towards the center; it must be anchored out there, because it doesn't seem to drift at all.

It looks like we're set for the winter, assuming that there are actually fish in the lake, I don't know if this is an artificially stocked lake, or one with a natural population. We've got canned food though, a supply of firewood already stacked at the aide of the house (and plenty of trees to cut more from). There's water to drink (once we boil it, anyway), and seemingly no zeds. What more could we ask for (well, other than electricity , running water, and Internet access)?