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?”

“Yes.”

“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-”

“Promise!”

“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)?

1 comment:

VoltRabbit said...

A new begining... but now what? I hope they don't get bored in their little wonderland.