Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Forty-Eighth Entry: Welcome to Lovelock

June 12th

A week ago we finally covered that last stretch of road. We could have gone faster if we had wanted; it turns out that the rest of the roadway was almost completely cleared of debris. We even passed the remains of a tree that looked like it had fallen across the road, and been cut away.

At the end of the road was a checkpoint. Stretched across the road was a large rolling metal gate topped with barbed wire; we could see this from a good half a mile away. The road in front of the gate was blocked by an armored car flanked by cement road construction walls. With the armored car moved the road would be open enough to maybe let two cars in side by side instead of the four lanes of traffic that the road had been designed to allow.

There were a pair of small watchtowers that stuck up from behind the fence with large spotlights in them; inside these sat a pair of people with rifles and binoculars while another four people stood outside the gate leaning against the construction walls which were probably there to hide behind in a gun fight as much as they were to block traffic

When they saw us three of the guards on the ground took positions behind the construction walls while the fourth one, a thick man with short blond hair and glasses who I would later learn is named Zackariah Hutchins, took a position out in front of the armored car. In one hand he held a bullhorn, while he held the other out in front of him to signal us to stop.

“I have to say I was hoping for a less armed welcome,” said Gerry, referring to the guns being aimed at us.

“I believe we met Pippa roughly the same way,” I replied.

“True, true,” Gerry said, “it just would be nice if we could find someone who is happy to see us.”

Gerry was doing a lot better that day. I'm not saying that he was over losing Maria anymore than I am losing Sharon, but we needed to keep going. Maybe if he's lucky he's got that same sort of burnt out feeling inside that I do; it really does help.

Zack put the bullhorn to his mouth, and after a squeal of feedback said, “Step out of the vehicle, and keep your hands visible. We do not want to harm you, please do not give us any reason to!”

Pippa looked at me nervously, “It'll be okay,” I said, hopefully sounding more sure of that than I felt, “Reverend Thomas said these people are okay, remember?”

Pippa nodded her reply, and opened her door.

The rest of us followed suit. I started to grab my satchel, but then thought better of it. Not knowing the mindset of the guards even being seen reaching back into the car could get me shot, not to mention trying to approach them with a large bag which does have a gun in it.

“Step away from the vehicle, and approach me slowly,” Zack ordered us.

Keeping my hands out in front of me half raised, I followed behind Gerry as we approached the bespectacled guard. I didn't really feel any fear; if they wanted to shoot me they would do it whether I complied or fought. If they did shoot me at least maybe I could be with Sharon and Tara then.

Do you think they have catfights in the afterlife? Maybe Tara's with Alex there though....

Once we were close enough, Zack held up his hand again, and lowered the bullhorn since we were close enough to speak with normally, “Please identify yourselves,” he said.

Gerry took charge, and introduced us all. Upon hearing our names, Zack's expression changed from one of serious concern to shocked and surprised.

“You're the ones that Alisdair sent us, right?” he asked, and we nodded, “I thought there were six of you?”

Feeling a stabbing pain in my chest, I looked down at my shoes, and noticed that the laces on my right shoe were coming untied. Out of the corners of my eyes I could see Gerry and Pippa on either side of my studying the ground in a similar fashion.

It was Beth that spoke to the puzzled Zack, “We lost two of our members recently,” she said softly.

The look of confusion on Zack's face was replaced by one of genuine regret, “Oh, I-I'm sorry, “he stammered, “I know it doesn't make things any better, but we've all lost people here.”

I looked up and into Zack's eyes, and saw that same look of emptiness I saw in my own eyes in the mirror this morning. I wonder who he lost.

Zack looked at the dull grey metal watch on his wrist, “Our orders were to send you directly to Doctor Byron when you arrived; she should be in her office now, let me check.

Pulling a walkie talkie free from where it was clipped to his belt, Zack spoke into it; letting whoever was on the other side know that he had four survivors at the west gate and that we were the ones the preacher had said were coming.

Crackling out of the walkie's speaker came a woman's voice, “Doctor Byron will be notified. Take them to the hospital per standard procedure.”

“Roger that,” Zack said, and clipped the walkie talkie back to his belt, “Okay folks, if you will just pass through the gate, someone will drive you to the hospital where you will be examined; it's just to make sure none of you are infected and to assess your general health, “ he was trying to cut off any protests before we gave voice to them, “and you will meet Doctor Byron. The doc's a little odd, but she is the glue that has kept this place together for the last year.”

“What about our stuff?” Beth asked, motioning back to the Excursion, it's doors sitting open and the door alarm chiming merrily in the quiet afternoon air.

“That will be brought in for you. We will have to go through it to look for any forbidden weapons-”

“Our swords-,” I said before I realized I was even going to speak.

“Swords?” Zack said thoughtfully, “That's right, you guys were part of Reverend Thomas' gang, huh? Well don't worry, swords are allowed; so are rifles, handguns, and shotguns. Pretty much if it was legal before, it's legal now. Is there anything we should know about?”

“We have two modified AR-15s and an AK-47. I don't think there are any in this car, but there may be some hand grenades,” Beth said. I could see Gerry wince at the mention of Maria's grenades.

Zack nodded, “Yup, grenades would definitely be on the no-no list.”

“The roof compartment also has gas cans in it,” Beth added.

Anger flared deep inside me; Beth was spilling everything to these people we didn't know. I knew that Alisdair had vouched for them, but I was still a little suspicious. I know they would have found these things eventually, and Beth was just trying to be up front about them, I understand that now, but at the time I was a little angry with her.

Of course a lot of that was probably the fear that someone would steal Sharon's sword. That and her glasses are the only tangible things I have left of her's.

A man around my age wearing a Code Phantom baseball cap frisked me and Gerry for hidden weapons while a middle aged woman with streak of gray running through her dark brown hair did the same to Beth and Pippa. We were then led to a black minivan with the Genetitech Laboratories logo on the side of it that was parked just inside the gate, and loaded into the back of it.

Our drivers were not the casually dressed road guards, but black uniformed security officers that sent a chill up my spine. Memories of Hashmir Kaur's security force filled my mind. I felt a little afraid; more for the others, Pippa in particular, than myself.

I think that the ride would have been silent if none of us initiated conversation. It was Pippa that spoke a little nervously as the van started the drive into town, “Why is the engine so quiet?”

Pippa was right, I had never heard the engine start, and could not hear it now. I figured the van to be a hybrid, which is surely something Pippa would have thought of too, but I think she just wanted to talk rather than be nervous in silence.

As it turned out, I was wrong. The van was not a hybrid, “It's electric,” replied the driver, a middle aged man with short gray hair. in a not unfriendly manner, “All the cars used within city limits are. Our electricity supply is in far better shape than our fuel supply. We only use fuel vehicles for long distance travels, and we're working on alternative fuels for those too. That does mean that you will have to give up the gas guzzler you came here in.”

“How many people are here?” Beth asked.

“Well the town was built to hold about ten thousand people,” answered the female guard, a black woman with hair as short as her partner's, “But there are only about six thousand here now. We weren't yet fully populated when the dead rose, and we suffered some heavy losses at the beginning before Doctor Byron took control.”

Seeing Lovelock as we drove through it was amazing. If Mallville had managed to maintain a thin illusion of normalcy then this place has it mastered. This looked like a normal small town; people were walking on the streets, kids were playing in the park, and none of them looked scared.

This illusion of normalcy was cracked a little bit when we arrived at the hospital. It's not that the hospital itself looked odd, it was that it was surrounded by two layers of fencing topped with razor wire, and that the gate allowing entry to the facility's parking lot was guarded by two black uniformed Genetitech security guards armed with looked like assault rifles out of a science fiction movie.

“Why is there so much security here?” Beth asked as we drove past the checkpoint. The guards made no effort to stop us, and we didn't even slow down to allow our driver to prove who he was. One of the guards even waved at us as we passed.

There's something vaguely unsettling about getting a friendly wave from a man in a black uniform holding a nasty looking weapon. There's also something vaguely comical about it too.

“That's a question for Doctor Byron,” explained the female guard, “She'll explain everything to you.”

At the front doors of the hospital we got out of the van along with the female guard. She led us into the hospital and over to a row of elevators. We took the first one to arrive up to the top floor of the hospital where we were led through hallways full of offices and meeting rooms, the sort of stuff you expect to find on the administrative level of a hospital, to a door with a sign next to it that read:

Dr. Evelyn Byron

Our escort opened the door and motioned for us to enter. Doctor Byron's outer office. The room was larger that even Kaur's outer office was, and tastefully decorated in neutral earth tones. The wall opposite the door was floor to ceiling window giving a view of the parking lot and town below. The female guard approached the perky blonde behind the desk, her name plate read “Polly Wordworth”.

“I've got the new arrivals to see Doctor Byron,” our escort explained.

“She's waiting, go right in,” Polly said in a seductive sounding voice as she smiled at us.

Our escort opened the large wood doors connecting the outer office to Doctor Byron's plush inner office. The doctor sat behind a large wood desk with the usual accessories on it; computer, lamp, picture frame, blotter, etc. The walls behind and to Doctor Byron's left were tinted glass; we were in a corner office here.

The office itself continued the neutral color scheme of the outer office with soft chairs set around the room, including four set right in front of the doctor's desk, along with a small table, maybe big enough for four people to sit at comfortably at by the windows at the right side of the room.

On the left side of the office was a wet bar with a microwave sitting on it. I imagine if I looked I would find a small refrigerator concealed in one of the bottom cabinets. Wine glasses hung from the underside of the upper cabinets over the sink, but if Doctor Byron had any alcohol there, she had it put away.

Of course it wasn't the office itself that I saw first, it was the doctor. Evelyn Byron stood from her chair to greet us, “Hello, I am Doctor Evie Byron, and welcome to Lovelock,” she said in a voice that reminded me a little of Sharon's when she was sick; a little distant, a little dreamy.

Evelyn Byron stood a little over five feet tall, making her about the same height as Beth, but it was her appearance that was unique. Doctor Byron is an albino, with bright red eyes shining out from behind her slightly tinted glasses. She has long platinum blond hair which was pulled back into a ponytail, and skin so pale as to make her almost look like a porcelain doll. I used to know some goths that would have killed to have skin that pale (they would have dyed the hair though).

“Thank you, officer, I'll take it from here,” Doctor Byron said cheerfully. Our escort nodded, and left the office, closing the door behind her.

“It is always nice to have new people here; it's been well over a month since we've had anyone new join the community,” Doctor Byron said, and extended her hand across the desk to us.

We approached the desk, and took turns shaking her hand, “Please, sit,” Doctor Byron invited, “Can I get any of you a glass of water or anything?”

We all mumbled one form or another of “No, thank you,” and Doctor Byron sat in her chair.

“I am told that you lost two people on your trip here, is that right?”

“That is correct ma'am,” Gerry said.

“I am terribly sorry to hear that,” Doctor Byron consulted some notes on her desk, “That would be Maria and Sharon then? Is that correct? I have all your names from Alisdair's people”

“Yes, ma'am,” Gerry said, his voice sounding a little choked.

“If you must be formal with me, please call me Doctor, or Doctor Byron, but it is okay to call me Evie as well. I try not to dwell on formalities here, not that anyone will let me,” Doctor Byron said with a hint of exasperation, “Okay, so... oh, Sharon was your wife?” she asked, looking at me.

“Yes, Doctor Byron,” I answered softly.

Doctor Byron pursed her lips for a moment before speaking, “I truly am sorry for your loss, but I am sure that she would be happy that the rest of you made it here alive. I know it is not much, but maybe you can take some solace in that.”

She was right, it's not much. I cannot take much solace in it though. I know that Sharon wanted me to make it, but it does seem a little anti-climactic to have made it without her. It just feels wrong.

“We will of course give you all time to grieve and adjust to life here before we assign you jobs. There are counselors available to you if you need it, and I do ask that you please take advantage of them before doing anything rash. We do not need any animated corpses loose in the town.”

“Job?” Pippa asked.

“Of course; everyone is welcome here, but everyone must work for the betterment of all. Surely Alisdair mad everyone contribute too, didn't he?” Doctor Byron asked, and then looked at the paper in front of her, “Yes, it says here that all of you were members of his group of corpse hunters, all of you except... well, all of you, I guess.”

Doctor Byron looked up, “Tell me, is it true that his group uses swords?”

“Yes, Doctor Byron,” Beth answered.

Doctor Byron took a pen from her desk, and wrote something down on the paper she had been reading fromt, “Hmm, that makes sense. Firearm ammunition must be at a premium out there, and quieter kills are probably better in the long run,” she looked up at us again, “Do you have any of these swords?”

“Yes, Doctor, they're in our car.”

Smiling, Doctor Byron said, “I do ask that you let me see one. I promise to return it to you unharmed,” she clicked her tongue, “but there I go getting off topic again; you asked about jobs... Phillipa, is it?”

“Pippa, ma'a-, Doctor.”

“Pippa it is. So we do have a lot of different jobs there depending on your individual abilities. I imagine with the experience you have all had on the road that we will have a lot of use for you. I'm afraid that most of our original residents are bit more brains than brawn, and a lot of those who have joined us since the virus don't have a lot of experience dealing with the animated corpses. From what I've heard you all do.”

“More than we care to, yes,” Gerry answered.

“Did you graduate high school, Pippa?”

I could see Pippa deciding whether or not to answer truthfully. After a moment of biting her lip she gave a drawn out hesitant, “No.”

“Then you will have a choice. We can either find a job that you would be suited to, or you can continue your education. I will tell you that, if you choose the latter, it will be like no schooling you've had before. I will warn you that it will focus mostly on maths and sciences, so you might want to keep that in mind when making your decision if those are not good subjects for you.”

We spent the next two hours in Doctor Byron's office giving her a brief recap of the last year of our lives. Gerry, Beth, and I told her about Mallville and all the political bullshit between Kaur and Alex, and the resulting riot and destruction of the community. We told her of Ash, and of our travel to Daisy Lake.

Pippa told her the same story she had told us about how she had lost her friends, escaped San Francisco by boat, and eventually found us. From that point we all told about Daisy Lake, our escape from there, and our journey here via The Church of Christ's Light. We briefly covered the deaths of Maria and Sharon (Beth had to do most of the talking here, as I couldn't bring myself to speak much), and the near loss of Gerry.

During our stories Doctor Byron took a lot of notes, as if we were giving some sort of college lecture. This is what Zack meant by saying that the doctor is a “little odd”; she seems to have been viewing our whole experiences as some sort of laboratory data to be examined and experimented with. I don't have any real problem with her, but it all felt a little tacky to say the least. Maybe she should have just recorded it, and took notes later. Of course hse probably was recording it too.

When we were just finishing up our stories, Polly wheeled in a cart with plates of food on it. We weren't expecting a meal here, but we really weren't expecting what we got; salads. Polly handed each of us a plate of salad with chunks of tofu in it drizzled in some sort of sweet dressing. I've never been much of a salad person, but I also haven't had a vegetable that did not come out of a can in over a year.

“How do you have lettuce and spinach?” Pippa asked through a mouthful of the green leafy stuff.

Doctor Byron, who looked amused at our reactions, answered; “The best way to answer that is to tell you more about Lovelock. This is what you would call a company town; founded by Genetitech Laboratories and named after Doctor Jennifer Lovelock; one of the company's founding members back in the eighties. The idea was to create a place where Genetitech staff could do their work that was secluded but was neither ugly nor limited by space.”

Doctor Byron stopped to take a small bite of salad before continuing, “Under this hospital, under much of the town actually, are four levels of research space. It's safe from nuclear detonation, and can be made completely airtight and self sufficient with areas for growing food year round and living in case of emergency. It is why this town will survive if we all work at it.”

“Ummm, should you be telling us stuff like that?” Pippa asked.

“It's not a secret, it wasn't even a secret before. I cannot go into detail about some of the research that went on here before, but I can tell you that all of our efforts are now directed towards survival. Maintaining a stable food supply, destroying the animated corpses, and curing the 'Zed Virus'” she made finger quotes when she said Zed Virus.

“How is the town being powered?” Gerry asked.

Doctor Byron seemed pleased, “Oh, good questions! If you look out the window you will see that the roof of every structure in town is equipped with solar collectors. You will also see what are called VAWTs around town; these are a type of windmill. Finally, and at great expense I'm sure, the company equipped the town with its own nuclear reactor down in the labs; perfectly safe, I assure you. Under ideal conditions we have enough power to supply a town twice this size. Under less than ideal conditions we do have to cut back a bit sometimes.”

“Wow,” was all Gerry managed in reply.

“This town was state of the art when it opened up a couple of years ago. We weren't even fully staffed yet when the virus struck. In some ways this works out well though, as we can take in survivors without putting excess strain on our resources. “

The phone on Doctor Byron's desk spoke at that point, “Doctor Byron, Doctor Selznick would like to know when he and Doctor Ellis should be expecting the newcomers,” Came Polly's sultry voice.

“Tell them I apologize for keeping them so long. I'll bring them down myself as soon as we finish lunch,” Doctor Byron replied.

After we finished eating our rather late lunch Doctor Byron led us back to the elevators, her white doctor's coat flapping behind her as she walked. We took th elevators down to the third floor, and got out to find a normal hospital corridor, only almost completely devoid of life.

The hallway we found ourself in was not populated by families visiting the sick, doctors rushing around with clipboards, patients dragging IV stands with them as they walked, or even nurses pushing racks of food trays. It had that same eerie movie set quality that Palma had when we left it, or at least it would have if not for the two people leaning against the disused nurse's station a short ways away.

Doctor Byron introduced us to Doctor Warren Selznick, a bookish man with glasses, and Doctor Nina Ellis, who had a head full of curly brown hair that looked like it would defy any attempts to make it stay in any one place.

“Warren and Nina will see to your examinations, just to get an idea of your health, and of course to make sure that none of you are infected. By the time you are done with them, I will have someone here to take you to your new accommodations,” Doctor Byron stared off into the distance for a second and then asked, “Did the four of you want to live together, or separately, or how do you want to work that out? I should have asked you earlier.”

We looked at each other. I was looking to see if any of them looked doubtful, but found them all looking at each other with the same question on their faces. Gerry answered for us all, “I think after all we have been through together, we would like to stay together, for now at least.”

I nodded agreement, as did Beth and Pippa.

Doctor Byron smiled, “Good, that's what I thought, but I didn't want to make assumptions. I think I know the perfect place for you,” and without a further word, she turned and walked back to the elevators.

“She's always like that,” said Doctor Selznick, “Don't worry about her.”

Pippa and Beth went with Doctor Ellis while Gerry and I went with Doctor Selznick. We were each put in separate examination rooms that looked both long unused but also spotlessly immaculate.

Stripping down to my shorts made me wish we had been given the opportunity to shower first, although I did wash my face at least in the room's sink while I waited for Doctor Selznick to look Gerry over. I think he picked him first due to the bandage on his forehead and the bruises on his face from the crash.

Doctor Selznick tried to make small talk while he examined me, which made it all that much more awkward. He asked twisted versions of the normal questions. What did I do before? Where am I from? If I'd had a lot of contact with the zeds (although like Doctor Byron, he referred to them as animated corpses)? I was very relieved when we were done.

When I was reunited with the others in the waiting area across from the nurses station, Pippa tossed the even more outdated than normal for a waiting room issue of Midnight Star onto the seat next to her, ran over and gave me a hug.

“What was that for?” I asked her when she let go.

“I'm just glad we made it.”

I looked over the top of Pippa's head to see Gerry smirking at me, and Beth mouthing the words “She loves her big brother”

Pippa released me and asked, “So are you healthy?”

“He said that I'm pretty good health for being on the road on and off for six months, but that I should try and eat more vegetables and less salt.”

“That's pretty much what I was told too,” Beth said.

“She told me that I needed to get more sleep,” Pippa said with a kind of annoyed half-smile.

“Well I might be able to help you with that,” said a man's voice we didn't recognize.

We turned to see a man with short thinning brown hair wearing a black Genetitech Security uniform standing by the nurse's station, “I'm Tommy Smit, and 'm here to take you to your new home.”

I don't know what I was expecting, but it's certainly not what we got. Tommy led us to another electric minivan and drove us through the town. I was amazing to see people just enjoying themselves in the early evening twilight. I was never much of a go-for-a-walk kind of guy, but seeing that I could safely do that again made me almost want to.


Our new home was actually a little blue house situated in a neighborhood of nearly identical little houses, but to me it looked like heaven. Our address is 6942 Brahe Court; it's the house with the rock garden in front... oh wait, they all have rock gardens in front. I guess the brainy types don't have time for gardening.

The house is a three bedroom two bathroom affair that came with basic furniture (beds, a couch, etc), and already had all of our stuff (aside from whatever had been confiscated) laid out neatly in the living room. It is really nice, if a bit sterile.

“Why is there already furniture here?” Pippa asked Tommy as he showed us around.

“These were supposed to be housing for Genetitech staff, but the facility was nowhere near fully staffed by the time everything went screwy. The company didn't want any distractions for their new eggheads, so they made the houses as ready to live in as possible.”

With three bedrooms and four of us we had to decide what to do about sleeping arrangements. Our first thought was that Beth and Pippa could share a room, but Beth seemed reluctant, so we scrapped that idea. I suppose they should both have their own spaces, I mean it's not like there's not room for each of us even though there are not technically four bedrooms.

We ended up deciding that Beth would take the master bedroom while Gerry and Pippa would each take one of the smaller bedrooms. I am sleeping it was what meant to be an office. There is not closet in it, but it does have a nice desk and lots of electrical outlets. Maybe I can get a hold of a computer and see what is left of the internet.

Sorting through our stuff, the AR-15s and the AK-47 were all missing, and if there were any more grenades they were gone too. We also discovered that my sword was missing (although Sharon's was there, which in many ways is more important to me), but Doctor Byron did say she wanted to borrow one.

To make a bed I laid out a couple of sleeping bags on the floor to make it a little softer. There are some built in bookshelves behind the desk. On them, like museum exhibits, I set up Sharon's glasses, her sword, the little graduate ape she gave me for Valentine's Day, the pewter Dark Vader helmet, and Tara's Christmas Gift. The paper on Tara's gift is a little worn and wrinkled now, not that it was perfectly wrapped to begin with.

Beth told me that I shouldn't put those things out like that, “It's only going to make you feel bad.”

“I am going to feel bad no matter what. I have had a girlfriend and a wife in the last year and have lost them both. There is nothing that is going to make me feel better.”

“There's no reason to go out of your way to make it worse on yourself though. You don't need visual reminders of it every time you open your eyes; it's not healthy,” Beth said, clearly getting exasperated with me, “Just think about it, okay?”

I was lying down on my makeshift bed awhile later when Pippa knocked on the door. Light flooded into the dark room as she opened the door.

“We have light now, you know?” Pippa asked, and flipped on the overhead light. I blinked as my eyes tried to adjust, “We were gonna go for a walk to look at the area. Do you want to come?” I saw her eyes looking at the bookshelves as she spoke, but she did not comment about them. I'm sure Beth told her not to say anything to me about it.

“I don't think so. I think I want to spend a little time alone tonight, okay?”

Pippa looked dismayed, “Are you sure? Gerry's coming too.”

“Good for him, but I'll pass, thanks.”

“Well... okay. I hope you feel better.”

“I'm fine Pippa, just tired. It's been a long couple of weeks.”

Pippa just nodded and left, closing the door quietly behind her, but not turning the light off before she did. I sat there under the brightening light as the bulb warmed up and thought.

I'm not really sure how long I sat there before deciding that I really didn't want to be alone after all. Beth was right about one sitting there and staring at the remnants of my lost loves was not healthy. In fact it was making that dull empty ache inside me worse.

I left my room, and went out to the front door. On the simple wooden dining room table was a single key on a piece of paper. The paper was folded in two and had my name written on it. I picked up the note, opened it, and read:

Good, I'm glad you came out of that room.

This key is for the front door, Officer Smit gave us a total of five, take it with you if you decide to go out.

Remember, you can always talk to me if you need to. Pippa is worried about you, and I think Gerry is a little too, but he's not in really great shape right now either.

Don't cut yourself off from us.

Your friend,

I pocketed the key, and as I headed for the door I realized for the first time in six months that I did not have my wallet. There wasn't really anything in it other than my ID and a bunch of store club cards (Insert Coin High Score card, Big Box Books Advantage card, etc), but this was the first time I can ever remember leaving my home without my wallet, aside from the last time I left Tara's apartment obviously. Coincidentally, that was the last time I really had a home to leave.

Well, it doesn't cost anything to walk around, right?

I though briefly about bringing a weapon. Sharon's sword, or one of the Glocks or something, but then realized that I wouldn't need one. I was finally somewhere safe, or at least reasonably so. Although as I discovered carrying a weapon would not have been all that odd.

The town was nice, even if most of the storefronts were empty. I could see how to the casual passerby this would look just like a normal little town. The only thing that really stood out to me as odd about the whole town is the lack of chain stores. There are no T-Marts, or Apollo Coffees, or Taco Huts to be found anywhere. I guess letting big companies build over your semi-secret research base would be asking for trouble?

After wandering around for a bit I found myself outside of a place called Bacchus. It was a bar, and it seemed to be really popular. I went inside just to take a look since I had no money.

Bacchus was a normal looking bar, neon beer signs adorned the walls, there was a jukebox over in one corner playing “Rock This Town” by The Stray Cats, and the long bar was populated with people who seemed to be doing more talking than drinking. The only really odd thing was the empty shelves behind the bar; there were no bottles of alcohol there at all.

Someone called my name, and I looked around trying to find the source. Who here could possibly know me already? It turned out to be Zack Hutchins; he was sitting at the bar sipping a glass of clear liquid, “Hey come here!” he called to me, and motioned to the empty barstool next to him, “Take a seat!”

Not wanting to be rude, I went over and sat next to him, “So how do you like it here so far? I bet it's a lot better than outside, huh?”

“I haven't really seen a lot yet, but so far everyone is nice, yeah.”

“Hey Milly, a drink for my friend here. Same as me,” Zack called to the bartender.

“Oh, no thank you,” I said, “I left me wallet in the last world.”

“We don't use money here,” Zack explained to me, “What would the point be? There's no government to back it anymore.“ he took a sip from his glass, “I'm afraid communism has taken control here, everybody works and everybody reaps the benefits of it. There is a two glass limit though.”

Milly, a broad woman who looks like she might make as good a bouncer as she does a bartender, placed a glass in front of me on the bar.

“Why a two drink limit?” I asked.

“Doctor Byron is not really crazy with the idea of being intoxicated, but she allows drinking; however she does not want anyone getting so drunk that violence happens. Plus I'm sure there's a limited supply of this stuff ready at any given time.”

I took a sip of the clear liquid, and it felt like my throat burst into flames. I coughed and sputtered and then realized that a number of the people around me, including Milly the bartender, had been watching me take that first sip, and were now laughing.

“That's awful!” I said to Zack, who was also laughing.

“Yes, yes it is. I don't even want to know what they make it out of,” Zack took another small sip,” Adding ice to it only makes it worse too. I suppose another reason for the two glass limit is that anyone willing to drink a third should be given a psych evaluation.”

I sipped my chemically drink, and no, it did not get better the second time, “So have you been here the whole time?” I asked.

“The bar, or Lovelock?”

I wondered at that point if I was being mocked for being the new guy. This was hardly new for me, as I spent most of my twelve years of school being mocked. It turned out I was not being made fun of though, Zack was just having a good time.

“Well, I suppose if I had been in the bar the whole time, I would have been in Lovelock too, right? So yes, I've been in Lovelock since everything happened; my wife is a lab tech down in the vault.”

“The vault?”

“It's what she calls the underground labs, says it reminds her of some video game.”

I know the game, and thinking about it made me think about Sharon. I took a larger sip.

“I'm not much for video games myself, so whatever. I'm more into reading than playing games, I like to let my imagination to paint the pictures instead of having polygons do the job for me, you know?”

“I like both, “ I said.

He looked at me for a moment, “That's cool. I used to run the town bookshop, Paperbound Knowledge, it was called. “

“So the store's closed?”

“Sort of. It's more of a book swap now. People bring in books they have read and swap them for books they haven't . A guy named Evo, he came here last fall, runs it,” Zack sipped from his glass again, “I miss it, but I know I'm doing an important job working for security, and at least they don't make me wear one of those silly uniforms,” he patted his stomach,” Not that they would find one to fit me, eh?” he laughed.

If that man is more than ten pounds overweight, then I'm George Romero. Maybe he was bigger before though, I know I was.

“So things are good here?” I asked.

“All things considered, yeah. I mean we've all lost things right, but it's surely better than what you were dealing with out there, eh?'

“Well it is nice to walk the street without needing a weapon.”

“You should still carry a weapon,” Zack said, turning so that I could see the revolver holstered on his hip. He looked at me with those semi-vacant eyes and said “All it takes is a bad fall off of a ladder to turn one of us into one of them.

Zackariah held his glass up, “Eternal vigilance!” he yelled, and the other people in the bar cheered. He downed the rest of the glass, and slammed it to the bar top with a grimace on his face,” Milly, my second please!”

“Eternal vigilance?” I asked.

“It's the price of survival,” Zack smiled, “Things weren't always like they are now here. If it wasn't for Doc Byron, you wouldn't be here right now.”


Milly came and refilled Zack's glass from an unlabeled clear bottle, “That's it for tonight,” she reminded him.

“You're in a rush to get rid of me?” he asked, and Milly laughed a reply as she walked away to tend to other patrons.

“So yeah, Doctor Byron, or Evie as she wants us all to call her, but no one will, she's only been in charge since last June, before that it was the original administrator, Grimm.”


“Two ems. Grimm; Doctor Xavier Grimm, brilliant but a total bastard. He originally closed the town's borders to all non-residents, and then opened them only to try and capture survivors to use for experimentation. Margaret, my wife, she heard that he wanted to intentionally infect outsiders with the Zed Virus to try and see if the infection could be halted.”

“Wow,” I said, and took a drink, “So what happened?”

“Well, after the mayor, Mark Teeters, on the edge of madness it was said, and that turned out to be true, committed suicide because he couldn't live with the idea of turning people away to die out there, Doctor Grimm wanted to move the whole town down to the labs and just seal everyone in until either all of this either sorted itself out, on until a cure could be found.

“Most of the scientists disagreed with that, as did most of the town. I think a lot of people were worried that Grimm would start to use 'non-essential personnel' as lab rats. Doctor Byron, who may seem like a space cadet, but she is wickedly smart, or so I'm told, organized a coup of sorts. Doctor Grimm was removed from his position, a couple of people did die in the process. With Grimm gone Doctor Byron was installed, although she did protest the idea of her being in charge.”

“What happened to Grimm? Did she have him killed?”

“Of course not. The only thing Byron is interesting in killing are zeds, or 'animated corpses' as she calls them; bizarre woman.

“Grimm stays down in the labs now, and has a constant security escort. I'm not sure if they are afraid of what he will do, or what someone might try to do to him. I don't know what he is doing down there, but Margaret hears that it is related to the Zed Virus. She doesn't work in that area though, so she doesn't know for sure.”

“What does your wife do?”

“You don't work for the Iraqis, right?' Zack asked.


“Okay, weapons. She's a bit of a robotics whiz, and she works with these two guys trying to make zombie extermination machines. You should see them test these things sometime.”

Zack looked at his watch, “Wow, it's getting late; Margaret's going to be home soon. I had better hit the road,” Zack downed the rest of his drink, grimaced again, and turned to me, ”So did they place you guys all together?”

“Yes, we're in a house on Brahe Court.”

“Oh? We're on Galileo, that's not too far from you. I hope things work out for you guys here. I'll see you around town, I'm sure.”

With that, Zack left me sitting there alone with my glass of what may have been turpentine, I'm really not sure. I did finish it though, and I realized after I was done that I felt a little better, but I may just have been grateful that the moonshine didn't kill me.

I left a short time later, and went home. The house was quiet when I got in. The others had already gone to bed. I didn't realize how late it really was. I must have been out for longer than I had realized, as the clock on the microwave in the kitchen said it was almost eleven.

I'm not sure why, but I looked in the fridge, and found that it had some carrots, apples, and a pitcher of water in it. I poured myself a glass of the cold water which tasted a lot better than the warm water I've been drinking for the last couple of weeks. It made me feel a bit like it was all over.

I took my first proper shower since leaving Alisdair's church that night. I ended up plugging the drain and just letting the water pour down on me and fill the tub. It felt so good to be submerged in water, and it gave me more time to think.

I thought about what I wanted my life to be like when I was a kid. I thought about what I thought my life would be like a few years ago. I thought about what my life had turned out to be, and how little of my own decisions have brought me here.

I also thought about all the people I've seen die in the last year. Friends, coworkers, a lover, a wife. Would my telling Sharon how I felt years ago have changed that? I know things would have ended up different than they are now, but would they have been better?

I went to bed with those thoughts.

The next couple of days we looked around the town some more. We got some bikes and rode around. I carried Sharon's sword with me until mine was returned on the third day. No one looked at me like it was odd, but maybe that was helped by the fact that Pippa wore hers too. Gerry and Beth went back to carrying handguns since we were assured that if we did need to use the ammunition we had that it could be replenished.

On the fourth day a man named Keith Eley came to the house to talk to us. He interviewed us to try and determine what jobs we should hold. The good news is that none of us are going to be stuck running a shop, tending bar, or cleaning toilets. The bad news is that it looks like we will all be going our separate ways, as far as our jobs go at least.

Pippa is going to go back to school. According to Keith the classes are really small, and there are a lot of people who have come from outside in them. She may need to work hard to catch up to them though.

Beth is going to join the main Genetitech security force, meaning she will get to carry the nice weapons, and wear the black uniform. It also means that she will be spending most of her time in the labs or at one of the entrances to them (there are some other than the hospital, but I've not gone to look for them. She is happy about this, I think she missed being in uniform, or maybe she had just lost respect for what her uniform stood for at Mallville.

Gerry is going to be working with Acquisitions, so basically scavenging again. Those lock picking skills of his make him forever useful. I really should get him to try and teach me, I mean how hard can it really be?

As for me, I'm back to security too, but civilian security. No uniforms, no futuristic looking assault rifles, just border guarding and the occasional escort with Acquisitions. Maybe I can work my way back to guarding a roof somewhere. LOL.

It will be good to get back to doing something again. I've felt restless since we got here. This must be what it feels like to toss the ring into Mordor, defeat the empire, or kill Voldemort; so you've finished your life's quest, now what? The answer is back to what you were doing before it all began, apparently.

Every day that passes now, I can feel my old emotions returning a bit. I don't like it, I keep feeling like I am going to start crying, but I never do. I'm afraid that if I do try to talk to one of the counselors, they'll not trust me with a gun enough to let me work security. I'll just keep it to myself for now, and since I have found a new place to hide this journal, it should keep Pippa's snooping eyes out of it. I do love the kid, but I need this book for me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Forty-Seventh Entry: Minus One

June 4th

We are on the road again, this time spending the night in a roadside rest area., but I don't know if I can sleep here. I keep thinking I am hearing them outside, but looking at the map we are only maybe 5 miles from Lovelock. We could have made it tonight, but we didn't want to travel any farther in the dark.

The night of Sharon's burial, I dreamed again, it's the first dream I can remember having in awhile. I was standing over Sharon's grave, still only almost filled like I left it. I was reading her tombstone over and over again, thinking of the truth behind each of the words Maria had chosen when a voice interrupted my thoughts.

“Are you okay?” asked a woman's voice; Sharon's voice.

I turned, and a few feet to my right Sharon was standing there in blue jeans and a pink t-shirt stretched tight across her breasts.

“You're alive!” I exclaimed, “But how?”

“I'm not alive, love. I just wanted to say goodbye to you better than I could before.”

I felt something gripping my ankle, and looked down to see a dirty hand coming up out of the loose dirt, it's emaciated fingers held me firmly.

“You're still in there?”

“No,” Sharon answered firmly.

The ground in front of me heaved, and Sharon pushed up through the ground. Clods of dirt clung in her braids, rested on her nose, in here eyes, and fell from her open mouth. She was dressed in a dirt-streaked white nightgown, a different one than the one I shot her in.

I jumped back, yanking my foot out of zombie Sharon's grasp.

“How?” I asked.

“That's not me,” Sharon said, shaking her head.

“But you're in there! You're trapped in there!'

“I was, but you released me. You freed me from being that.”

“Then why is it still here?” I asked as the ghoul continued to pull itself out of its grave.

“It's here because of you. This is how you are remembering me right now. This is why Maria told you not to let me get back up, this is what she wanted to spare you from.”

“I've seen plenty of zeds.”

“Not of someone you loved. “

“What about Bud?”

“You didn't love Bud, or at least I hope you didn't; that would be a bit squicky.”

“How do I get rid of it? How do I stop remembering this?”

“You don't, not forever, but for now you can do what you would do to any other zed.”

I suddenly realized I could feel the weight of my sword on my back, but not just mine, Sharon's too. The sword belts were criss-crossed across my chest. I reached up and felt the handles of both swords in my hands. I pulled the swords, and could tell the one in my left was Sharon's by the cheery little Hello Kitty sticker on it.

“Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you could ever imagine!” Sharon cried out.

I looked over at Sharon, and she suddenly looked embarrassed, “Sorry. This is what you need to do though.”

“I can't kill you again,” said, shaking my head and backing away from the ghoul now shambling towards me.

“I'm over here, that's just another zed. Do it!”

I brought both swords up over my right shoulder, and swung across and down with them, tearing great gashes in the front of Zed Sharon's nightgown Her right arm dropped off, crunching in the gravel.

Zombie Sharon looked down at the stump of her arm, and her head fell off along with her right shoulder along the tear in the front of her nightgown. The swords had sliced clean through her. The rest of her body joined her head and arm on the ground.

“How do you feel?” Sharon asked me, walking towards me, her sneaker clad feet grinding the gravel beneath them.

“Sad. Alone.”

“You're not alone. I'm always with you, and so are the others. Just don't turn into Maria; don't push them away. They are all so worried about you right now. They're afraid you might give up, but I know you're strong-”

“I'm not.”

“And I know that you'll never give up as long as someone is depending on you, and they all depend on you every bit as much as you depend on them. God still has work for you to do, and I don't want to see you one second before you complete that goal, you got it?”

“But I already miss you so much.”

Sharon hugged me, “I'm going to miss you too, but I'll be waiting for you, and if you really need me, I'll try and come to you, but my story is over. Your story isn't finished yet; you have to keep going, for me, for yourself, and for them. Okay?”

“I don't want to.”

“No one asked what you wanted. If you try to pull any more shit like you did tonight, Beth will kick your ass; I made her promise.”

I squeezed Sharon tight to me, and suddenly my arms were gripping nothing. Sharon stepped back, through my arms and I realized that I could see the house through her.

“Looks like my ride is here,” Sharon said, looking at me through her hands, “Remember that I love you, but don't be afraid to love someone else if you get the chance. I would never hold that against you.”

“Don't go!” I said, putting my hand out to her; through her.

“I'll never be gone; as long as you love me I'll always be with you,” she was almost invisible now, and her voice had taken on an echoey sound, “See you, space cowboy. You're gonna carry that weight.”

I woke up with the bright sun shining through the windows against my closed eyelids, and my body screaming at me in pain. I was in so much pain from the over-exertions of the day before that it took me a few seconds to realize that I was holding someone in my arms.

For a heartbreaking moment I believed it was Sharon and pulled her body against me, burying my face in her hair; her short hair. I opened my eyes to see short dark hair that was most certainly not Sharon's. I realized then that the person I was spooning with was too small to be Sharon in multiple ways.

I am pretty sure I yelled as I pushed away from her. I pushed so hard that I fell out of my side of the bed, and landed hard on the wood floor, making my aches and pains scream even louder, and most definitely eliciting a yelp from me then.

Pippa scrambled over to my side of the bed and looked down at me, “Oh my God,” She said, ”Are you hurt?”

'What the fuck are you doing?” I rasped at her from the floor as my physical and emotional pain added to that dream got the best of me.

“I'm sorry,” she said, her eyes already starting to tear up, “I was worried about you, and I didn't want you to be alone.”

“So you got into bed with me? Jesus Christ, Pippa, Sharon just fucking died yesterday! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I didn't mean it like that!” she said, tears already cascading down her cheeks.

“Are you retarded? Get the fuck out of here!”

“I'm sorry, I just-”

“Get out!” I barked, the effort hurting my throat..

Pippa scrambled back across the bed, and I heard her bare feet slap against the floor as she started sobbing. She slammed the door behind her as she ran out into the hall.

Of all the things that I regret doing in my life, and that list is long and includes many recent events, I would say that yelling at Pippa like that rates in the top five, and is probably the only thing in the top ten that involves neither Sharon nor Tara

I lay back on the cool hard floor, unable to move because of equal parts physical pain and lack of willpower. It wasn't long before I heard feet stomping up the stairs and down the hallways towards me. The bedroom door flew open and slammed against the wall hard enough to rattle the oil lamp on Sharon's nightstand.

“What is wrong with you?” I heard Beth's voice say even though I could not see her.

“I could write you a list,” I said, not sitting up.

Beth came around the end of the bed so that I could see her. There I lay on the floor in a t-shirt and shorts, and she was already fully dressed in jeans and a blue blouse, “I'm not going to let you do this,” she said sternly.

“What, rest?”

She spoke more quietly, ”Become like Maria. I'm not going to let you push the rest of us away from you so that you can throw your life away.”

It seemed like my subconscious and Beth were easily on the same track.

“Beth, I woke up and she was in my bed. She was in Sharon's spot,” I explained, “I thought she was her. I overreacted because I was hurt, and scared, and confused.”

Beth nodded, “What she did was stupid, but she really did mean well, I think. I don't think she was coming on to you in any case.”

“I'm sure she wasn't.”

“Will you talk to her?”

“When I'm dressed, yeah, but right now I think I just need to lie here for awhile. It hurts to even talk to you.”

“That's because you wouldn't let us help you. I doubt you've ever done that much physical labor in your life.”

I'm pretty sure she's right.

“It was my responsibility, she was my wife.”

“And she was our friend, and so are you. Come down when you're ready, Gerry made pancakes and we need to start packing up.”

I still don't know how Gerry made pancakes in a fireplace, but after laying on the floor alone with my thoughts for what felt like a long time, I did get up, get dressed, and hobble down for breakfast. I'm not sure how I was functioning then, or even now for that matter; it's like all of the pain around Sharon's death is locked up inside me somewhere.

This is not to say that I do not feel sorrow over losing the woman I loved because I do. It's more like I am deadened inside a bit, but not completely. It's like most of the time I feel next to nothing, and then at other times I feel like crawling into a hole and burying myself. I'm not sure what's even keeping me going.

When I went outside after eating I saw that someone had finished filling in Sharon's grave for me while I slept. I am grateful to whoever did it, no one told me, and I did not ask. I couldn't have finished it then, I hurt far too much. I also noticed that someone had set a bouquet of the wildflowers growing around the new grave tied together with a ribbon on the mound of fresh dirt. I think Sharon would have approved of it.

It seems that we ended unpacking most of the stuff in the Excursions while we were at the Lil Hidden Bed and Breakfast, because it took a lot of the day to load them back up. I know I was not the greatest help in the world (or indeed any help), but I still don't think it should take that long to load up two cars.

Even though we only figured ourselves to be another day or two from Lovelock, we still packed up some of the food and supplies that remained in the kitchen pantry. We don't really know what the situation in Lovelock is going to be, but having supplies to barter with cannot be a bad thing.

I didn't see Pippa all day, she was hiding in the room she had taken as hers, although I did notice that the record player and box of records had been packed into the back of the black Excursion. By late afternoon the only things still to be packed up were a few items of clothing, my satchel, and some of the guns that Maria had taken out to clean, mostly to keep busy I think.

Beth didn't say anything about it to me all day, but as the sun set I went up to Pippa's room, and knocked on her door.

“Come in,” she said.

I went into the room to see that she was already (still?) dressed in the sweatshirt and shorts she sleeps in. She looked distressed to see me.

“I said I was sorry,” she said quietly.

“I'm sorry,” I said, “ Can I sit down?”

Pippa nodded, and patted the bed next to her. I sat on the edge of the bed even though the armchair in the corner would actually have been more comfortable.

“So you don't hate me?” she asked.

“No, what you did was done with the best intentions. I overreacted for a number of reasons, and none of them excuse it.”

“You really thought I was her?”

I sighed, and decided to level with her, “I was having a dream about Sharon before I woke up. I felt you in the bed next to me, and thought maybe that it all had been a bad dream.”

“Is that why you were...”

“You were awake?” I asked, suddenly a little embarrassed.

“Yeah, you were tossing and turning a lot, and then you put your arm over me and that woke me up. Then you started rubbing your face in my hair, and your-”

“Yes, I know what happened,” I said suddenly.

“I didn't tell anyone, not even Beth.”

“Thank you for that. The last thing I need is Chris Hansen coming after me,” I said trying to make a joke. Pippa didn't get it, and just looked at me funny.

“I wouldn't have stopped y-”

“Don't finish that sentence!” I cut her off.

“I'm sorry,” she looked like she was about to cry again.

“Pippa, it's okay. I appreciate your wanting to make me feel better, but there is nothing you can do. Nothing is going to make it better because nothing can bring her back. Just be my friend, okay?”

Pippa thought about it for a second, “Well, you are an old pervert, but okay, I'll be your friend,” she said smiling.

I smiled back with good humor I didn't really feel, “Thank you.”

Pippa put her arms around me, and hugged me. My body screamed in pain, but I hugged her back as best I could. She's a good kid (wow, that makes me sound old), she just needs to STOP READING MY JOURNAL! PUT IT BACK, NOW!

I slept alone that night, and woke up the same way. I still reached for Sharon when I woke even though I didn't have any dreams to prompt it. I felt a sharp stab in my chest when my hand encountered empty bed next to me and I remembered. I lay there for a long while feeling sorry for myself.

Eventually I did get up, and realized I was feeling better physically, a lot of the soreness was gone even if the empty feeling inside remained. I got dressed and went down for breakfast. Gerry had made a big pot of oatmeal; not the most delicious meal ever, but it was filling which was good because it would be some time before we got to eat again.

As we were finishing a quiet breakfast there was a loud thump out front, like something fell on the porch. We all traded glances, with us all eating together no one was left watching outside. This was of course a major tactical error that probably wouldn't have made much of a difference.

Maria got up from the table so fast that her chair fell over and banged on the floor. She quickly walked out of the large dining room, heading for the front of the house.

'Shit!” I heard her yell. She came back into the room, “There's a bunch of them out front.” As if to emphasize this we heard a window shatter in the sitting room.

Gerry left the dining room through the door to the kitchen.

“We should go out the back then,” suggested Pippa.

“No,” Gerry said from the kitchen, “They're out there too.”

Beth got up and followed Gerry into the kitchen to see for herself, “Where did they all come from? What brought them here?” she asked no one in particular.

“The swords are in the cars, huh?” I asked,

“Yes, but not all of the guns are, “ Maria announced.

Maria disappeared from the room again.
“What do we do?” asked Pippa, looking frightened.

“We need to get to the cars and get out of here,” said Gerry, “We could use the guns and blast our way out.”

There was a crash from the kitchen, as the back door fell inwards from the combined weight of multiple zombies.

“Shit, they're in!” Gerry yelled, moving into the dining room,and slamming the door behind him.

“Here!” Maria said as she came back into the dining room. She was carrying the two AR-15 rifles that they had found back in Covenant along with one of the Browning shotguns and a Beretta and a Glock tucked into her waistband. I also noticed three hand grenades clipped to her belt on her right hip.

Maria handed me the Browning, Beth one of the AR-15s, Gerry the Glock, and Pippa the Berretta, saving the other AR-15 for herself,.

“Be careful with that, “Maria said to Beth, “It's modified; fully automatic.”

“Isn't that illegal?” Pippa asked.

“These green pineapples aren't exactly legal either. I don't think he really gave a shit, you know?”

Another crash, this time from the front of the house; the front door had given way. I was a little surprised by that; it seemed like it was a pretty solid door, but I guess the frame was maybe not all that it could have been.

“Upstairs!” ordered Beth

Lacking any better ideas, we did as Beth ordered. Maria and I were last, and we saw the first zeds coming down the hallway from the entry room. I stopped long enough to fire a shot at the one in the lead. It had been a while since I had actually fired a gun, but it felt familiar, almost good. The face of the lead zed disintegrated into hamburger meat.

“Why are we going up?” Gerry asked as we thundered up the second floor, “Won't we just be trapped out there?

“No, it's a good idea!”Maria said, bringing up the rear, “If we can lure them into the house then we can just jump off the roof of the porch, get in the cars, and get the fuck out of here.”

She stopped at the head of the stairs, and fired down into the zombies already massing at the bottom of it. These ones seemed really into getting at us. I guess we should have started a fire downstairs first. Maria whooped as a couple of the zeds fell, slowing the progress of the others, but not stopping them.

Beth, Pippa, and Gerry each ran into the rooms at the front of the house, but all came back moments later.

“My windows don't open!” Pippa cried.

“Mine are stuck too!” yelled Gerry, coming back from his room.

“I think they're painted shut.” Beth said, returning to the hallway,” The good news is that there don't seem to be any of them out front anymore, although they could still be on the porch,

“That would be better news if we had a way out there,” Gerry replied.

“Do something fast!” Maria said, and fired another three shots down the stairs.

“We could try my room?” I suggested.

“It wouldn't be that big of a jump,” Beth said thoughtfully.

“Quickly!” Maria said. The zeds were almost to the top of the stairs, and Maria was trying not to use up the entire clip since the rest of the ammo was in the cars. She fired a couple more times, knocking a zed that had just come into the view in front of her falling backwards.

“Let's try it!” said Beth, and headed for the stairs.

Passing Maria on our way to the stairs I could see that the stairs were clogged, and the floor at the bottom of them was full of zeds. What had attracted them to us? The smell of the freshly dead maybe?

As I climbed to the third floor I heard Maria start firing again, and the her gun stopped as it ran empty.

“ Maria, come on!” I yelled down to her.

“I'm coming,” she yelled back.

I heard her feet thumping and then a bang shook the house.

“What the hell was that?” asked Beth from the door to mine and Sharon's room.

“Hand grenade, I think,” I yelled back.

“These windows don't open either!” I heard Gerry yell.

“Who the hell has a bed and breakfast in a setting like this and seals the windows shut?” Beth asked,

“Someone sick of people leaving without paying?” I answered.

“Fuck it! We're getting out of here,“ Beth said. Moments later I heard the sound of shattering glass and Beth through a chair through the front facing window,” Now it's open!”

I ran into the room where my wife died, in time to see Gerry drop out the window onto the porch roof below. I grabbed my satchel from the floor where the chair used to be, and then spotted something on the nightstand, something I hadn't noticed before.

On the nightstand on Sharon's side of the bed sat a pair of glasses; her glasses. Had they been there before? Had someone put them back there? I thought she had been buried in them.

“I'll go next, you help hand Pippa down to me,” Beth said before carefully sliding out the empty window frame. I heard her feet thump on the roof below.

I stood there, staring at Sharon's glasses.

“Hurry up!” I heard Beth yell from outside.

“I'm scared,” Pippa said to me, looking down out the window.

I snatched Sharon's glasses from the nightstand. And tucked them into my already bulging satchel. I crossed the room to Pippa, and put my hands on her shoulder,”It'll be okay, Beth's gonna catch you.”

“You're coming too, right?” Pippa asked, seeming unsure about what I would do.

“I'm just going to wait for Maria, okay?” I said, trying to sound reassuring to myself as much as to Pippa.

I helped Pippa up into the window frame, and then held her hands as I lowered her into Beth's arms. Beth in turn practically shoved Pippa off the roof onto the top of the black Excursion, where she fell into Gerry's waiting arms on the ground. They both kept the car between them and the porch, trying to keep any zeds still down there from seeing them.

I looked back to the open door to the hallways, ” Maria!” I yelled.

“Coming!” Maria came into the bedroom and slammed the door behind her, I saw blood flowing down her right arm, “This is a nice gun, but it makes a shitty club.” She said, tossing me the gun. I barely caught it by the still warm barrel.

“Are you okay?” I asked, knowing the answer, but not knowing what else to say.

Maria looked at her arm, “No, I don't think that I am,” She held her arm out to me, and I could see a ragged chunk of flesh missing just below her elbow, “Hurry up, she said to me, “We need to go.”

“You go first, “I said.

“No, you go.”

“You are coming, right?”

Maria smiled oddly at me, and came over and put her good arm around me in an awkward hug, “I really am sorry for everything. Please try to remember me kindly, okay?”

“You're coming with us,” I said, not as a question this time.

“Sure, if it'll get you moving; now hurry up!”

I looked out the window again and saw that Beth had dropped down to the ground too where she was standing with Pippa and Gerry, who had retrieved the AK-47 from the back of the black Excursion. Beth waved to me to hurry up.

I tossed Maria's empty AR-15 to Beth, and then my Browning as well, and started to climb out the window. It was only a short drop to the sloped porch roof below me, but before I could drop I heard Maria behind me.

“I love you guys; please forgive me,” I turned to look back at her as she opened the door to the hallway, “Come get me, assholes!”

“Maria!” I yelled to her, and lost my balance. I dropped to the roof below, and landed awkwardly. My feet slid out from under me and I crashed onto the shingled surface on my left shoulder and rolled.

The world spun, and then just for a moment I was airborne as I slid off the edge of the roof. That moment ended roughly as I slammed into the plastic storage pod on top of the brown Excursion. My momentum kept me rolling off the top of the car, and I crashed into the gravel surface of the parking lot, trying to twist my body as I fell to protect my satchel, and taking the brunt of the impact on my left side.

Beth and Pippa were over me in a moment, pulling me roughly to my feet,” Are you hurt?” Pippa asked.

One of my three graceful landings had knocked the wind out of me, and I could only gasp, “Maria!”

I looked up at the third floor window just in time to see the curtains blow outward as twin bangs rattled the house. I knew instantly what she had done; Maria had used her last two hand grenades to avoid wasting away like Sharon had.

“Maria!” yelled Gerry, his voice rich with fear and pain. I think he knew what she had done too, although he didn't know why at that moment.

After seeing what happened with Sharon, I don't blame Maria for doing what she did. While I treasure every last second I had with Sharon, even as she died, a large part of me wishes I could have put her out of her misery. I only hope that if I were infected that I would have the courage to do what Maria did.

Now that I was at ground level I could see that there were still some zeds on the porch, and they were bottlenecked at the front door to the house. Gerry howled with a fury I've never heard from him, and opened fire on them with the AK-47.

“Get in the car!” Beth ordered me and Pippa over the thundering of Gerry's gun.

I was still unable to breath and feeling really unsteady, so I was in no condition to do anything but let myself be pushed into the car by a panicked Pippa while Beth went over to Gerry.

After only a few seconds Gerry had completely emptied the AK's clip, and Beth was grabbing him by the shoulders and turning him to her, “We need to go!”

“Maria's still in there!” I heard Gerry's reply.

“She's gone, man, we need to leave!”

Beth was right; while Gerry's emptying his weapon into the zeds on the porch did take down a few of them the survivors had been alerted to the fact that there was a food supply right behind them. They started shuffling towards us; the ones on the porch staggering down the steps to the gravel while the ones inside started trying to force their way back out the front door.

“We can't leave her!”

Beth looked back at me through the window. I had finally started to get my air back, and leaned over Pippa to call out the door in a wheezy yell, “She was infected.”

Gerry looked over at me, his eyes wide in shock. I couldn't hear him, but I am pretty sure he mouthed, “What?”

“She was bit; bleeding. She had been infected!” I called to him.

Gerry lowered the gun, stunned. I saw him wipe at his eyes with his left hand. The zeds were almost to the cars now. Pippa leaned across me to check that the passenger side door was locked.

“Let's go then.” Gerry called, his voice uneven. I think his mind was trying to cope with what his heart knew the moment we heard those explosions; Maria was gone.

Gerry threw the AK into the Black Excursion while Beth came back to our car. As Beth climbed into the driver's seat and Pippa slammed the back door shut I heard Gerry's car rumble to life.

“Should one of us ride with him?” Pippa asked, still afraid but also concerned.

“No time,” Beth said, starting our own engine as the first zeds started to throw themselves against the passenger side of the SUV,” We'll switch up when we stop somewhere.”

Gerry hit the gas, and gravel sprayed into the air which rained down on our windshield as the Excursion struggled to find purchase in the loose rock. The Black Excursion lurched forward as the wheels finally caught on something.

A blond zed with a pair of cracked glasses stepped in front of us as Beth floored the gas herself. The rear wheels of the SUV fishtailed in the gravel as we moved forward. The blond zed tried to find something to grip on the hood of our car, but slid down and under. The Excursion thudded over her undead body.

Gerry was driving way too fast down the narrow road as we fled the Lil Hidden Bed and Breakfast. Trees whizzed by us on both sides as Beth struggled to keep up and stay on the road.

“Dammit, Gerry, slow down!” I heard Beth hiss through gritted teeth.

The black Excursion slid as Gerry made a fast right turn onto the road that would take us back to the highway. At the speed he was going we would probably have made it to Lovelock that day if we didn't run into any obstacles. Unfortunately we did not manage to not run into obstacles.

It was shortly after we were back on the highway, only a few minutes really, when it happened. The road was clear and Gerry was going around seventy judging by our own speedometer when it happened. One second Gerry was in front of us, a gentle tree covered slope running up to our left, and not so gentle tree covered slope running down at our right, and the next second he appeared to sink into the road surface.

“Shit!” Beth screamed as she slammed on the brakes.

Pippa and I were both slammed into the seats in front of us; this made my left side groan in protest. The SUV skidded on the road surface before coming to a stop just inches from a gaping whole where the road had collapsed, taking our lane and a good portion of the road going the other direction with it. If Beth had been following Gerry any more closely than she was, we would have gone over the side too.

Beth's door flew open as soon as she had the car in park, and she jumped out. She went to the edge of the pit, and Pippa and I were right behind her. At the bottom lay the smoking wreck of Gerry's Excursion.

The front end of the SUV was a crumpled mess, the hood had flown up and smoke was pouring out of the engine. Broken window glass lay scattered around the vehicle, and glittered in the sun. The black roof pod had broken loose in the crash, and was laying upside down about ten feet away, I could see liquid flowing out of it; our gasoline. A short distance from the roof pod I could see one of the car's wheels laying on its side.

With a loud creak the driver's side door slowly opened, and a man with a blood covered face fell out into the dirt and loose rocks at the bottom of the landslide. His right arm was caught up in the already deflated airbag, and this caused him to fall on his left side. It was Gerry, and he was still alive.

“Gerry!” Beth called down to him.

Gerry looked up at us, and then waved slowly.

“Are you hurt?” Beth asked.

“I don't know,” he answered, shaking his head.

“We have to help him,” Pippa urged.

Beth grabbed Pippa by the shoulders,“Pippa, get a gun from the car, if you see anything, shoot it. If you see a bunch of them, get in the car and go; Go for Lovelock.”

“I'm not going to leave you!” Pippqa replied, sounding appalled.

“You're going to do what you need to do to survive,” Beth said, putting her face right in Pippa's.

Pippa looked at me for help, I only shrugged, took off my satchel and handed it to her, “Take care of yourself,” I said, “and keep out of my stuff.”

Beth and I both started down the sides of the hole that used to be a portion of highway. We were half running, half sliding down toward where Gerry lay next to the ruined SUV. When we got to him I noticed he looked extremely pale except for the bright spots of blood running down his face from his forehead. I quickly realized that this was because he was covered in some white powder from the car's airbag.

Gerry looked up at us from where he sat, “She's really gone, isn't she?” he asked, “Maria, I mean.”

I nodded.

“She wasn't a bad person, you know?” Gerry asked, upset and clearly a little stunned from the crash, “You know that, right? You remember, right?”

“Yes, Gerry, I remember,” I said while Beth ran her hands over his arms and legs, checking for any broken bones.

“I don't understand why she changed. She would never tell me, but she was a good person,” he continued to ramble.

“I know. She sacrificed herself to help us escape.,” I said,

“Can you walk?” Beth asked.

“We don't even get to bury her,” Gerry moaned, “We could have buried her next to Sharon. I could have made her a marker.”

Between the grenades and the surviving ghouls I'm not sure how much of her there would be to bury. I kept that thought to myself of course.

“Come on, Gerry,” Beth urged, “We need to get out of here, we don't know how many of those things might be around us. Can you walk?”

“I guess so.”

Beth and I each took an arm and gently but quickly hauled Gerry to his feet.

“What about the supplies?” I asked, pointing to the wreckage.

“Let's secure him first. We can come back down if we have time.”

“Guys!” Pippa moaned from the edge of the road, “There's one here!” She was looking back and forth between something behind her and down at us.

“Kill it!” Beth said, “We're coming back up.”

It was a struggle to get Gerry up the hill, as much because the hill was sliding away under as as we climbed as it was because Gerry had to practically be dragged. He was in shock, the stresses of the day already for too much for him.

Having had my own mental crash only a couple of days earlier, I could hardly begrudge Gerry his own issues. He didn't love Maria, or maybe he did and just never made a big deal out of it, but he still had just lost someone he was close to. He was probably closer to Maria than he is to any of the rest of us. I'm sure having just driven off the side of a hill wasn't helping things either.

As we neared the top of the hill we heard Pippa grunt with effort, followed by a squelchy crunching sound, “Pippa, you okay?” Beth asked.

Pippa appeared at the edge of the pavement holding a sword coated in black sludgy blood in one hand, “Yeah, he's taken care of.” She was smiling with her face but not with her eyes. Too much loss in too short a time is having an effect on us all.

I can't believe that Maria is really gone too. I still cannot bring myself to forgive her, but I”m not mad at her anymore. To be fair, I don't really feel anything for her but the disbelief that she's gone; there's just this heavy empty feeling in my chest now. I know I should be sad about her, but I'm not; I'm not really sad about anything anymore.

We got Gerry to the top, walked him over to the back seat of the remaining Excursion, and loaded him in. Pippa had already retrieved the first aid box from the back, and Beth set to tending to Gerry's forehead.

“I'm going to go see what I can recover,” I said, and started back down the hill.

The inside of the SUV was just as messed up as the outside. Many of the contents of the back of the car had flown forward in the crash, and were now in the front seat. Loose bullets, cans of food, a book on forest survival, bottles of water, clothes; it was a real wonder that Gerry was not seriously hurt by all the flying crap, never mind the crash itself.

I went around to the back, and opened the rear tri-door, raising the window, and open the bat wing style doors and started rooting around in the back. I pulled out a duffel bag that I knew to have Gerry's clothes in it, and started stuffing it with the loose detritus littering the rear of the car. I wasn't really looking for anything specific, just grabbing whatever would fit; bullets, books, canned food, if it was small, I grabbed it.

I went around to the passenger's side of the car, and saw where the loose wheel had come from; in the wheel well at the front of the car there was a sheared off piece of metal where the wheel had originally been. There was a puddle of various fluid running out from under the car; I don't know what they all were, but they did not smell good.

On the floor of the front passenger seat I saw the handle of Gerry's sword poking out from under a rolled up sleeping bag. I pulled the sword out, and tucked it gently under my arm. I could not find his sword belt though. It turned out this was because it had ended up in the wrong car, and was already at the top of the hill.

“There's more of them!” Pippa yelled down to me. As I turned to look at her she disappeared behind the edge of the road.

“How many?” I called up.

“Three,” I heard Beth call down, “but we may be attracting more. Lets get out of here!”

Loaded down with what little I had salvaged from Gerry's car, I started back up the hill, which was not all that much easier without Gerry than it had been with him. I reached the top in time to see Beth take the head off of a dark skinned zombie with her sword, and see Pippa ram her sword into the left eye of a female zed that she had pinned to the ground with one of her heavy boots on its neck.

I could see that farther down the road behind the Excursion was three more shamblers heading our way.

“They didn't follow us from the house, did they?” I asked, lugging my salvage to the open rear door of the car.

“There's no way they could have caught up to us this fast,” Beth answered, “They were probably already in the woods and attracted by the sound of the crash.”

“What do you think?” I asked as I started trying to find a space to shove the duffel bag into.

“You should go get more stuff.” Pippa said

Beth shook her head, “We don't know how many of them are in there. We should get moving; we don't have room for much stuff anyway. I want to try and find somewhere we can stop; I think Gerry may have a concussion.

I got into the passenger seat next to Beth while Pippa rode in back with Gerry. I looked back at him as Beth started the car and began to gingerly maneuver it around the edge of the collapsed road. She was gritting her teeth as she did it, probably hoping the same thing I was as I looked down at the smoking wreck of the other car, 'I hope the rest of the road doesn't collapse'.

Beth drove slowly, and on the wrong side of the road, trying to stay away from the top of the slope as possible just in case any other parts of the road were weak. I could see that she was scared of driving now, and I don't blame her.

I turned back to look at Gerry and Pippa. Pippa was sitting right behind me, and looking at Gerry as she sat there with his hands in his lap, and his head down.

“How are you feeling?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.

“My head hurts, I feel like the car is sitting at a weird angle, and I think I'm going to puke at some point,”

Gerry lifted his head to look at me. There was a piece of white gauze stuck to his forehead at his hairline, and I could see that Beth had cleaned the powder from the airbag off of his face. I could also see that he had been crying.

“Do you forgive her?” Gerry asked.

“Huh?” I asked, surprised by the question.

“Do you forgive Maria for what happened?”

I turned to look out the front window and didn't speak. After a few moments I turned back to Gerry, who was looking down again, and said, “I'm trying to.”

“She didn't mean to, you know?”

“I know she didn't.”

“That doesn't bring Sharon back though.”

“No, it doesn't,” I agreed.

“Maria did like Sharon, really, she liked all of you guys, she just didn't know how to deal with things, she wouldn't have ever really hurt her on purpose,” Gerry rambled.

“I know,” I said, but do I really? There's a little war inside me between what is left of my emotions. One part of me wants to forgive Maria for everything that happened because of what she did for Sharon at the end there, and for how she sacrificed herself to try and save the rest of us. The other part of me wants to still be mad at her for putting us out on the road again, for Sharon, and for killing herself rather than face the same fate she accidentally inflicted on Sharon. I'm not sure how we all would have coped seeing someone else die from the infection though.

We didn't go much farther yesterday, spending the night in a ransacked general store. It was not the ideal place to spend the night, but we didn't want to stray too far off the highway or risk it getting too dark before we got ourselves locked away. Even though some of the windows are broken, and the door looks like it was kicked in, we were still able to somewhat secure it enough to allow us to get some sleep. Unsurprisingly there was no food to be found there.

I dug out one of the survival books we took from that gun-nut last year because I wanted to see if it had anything on concussions. It did, but they include headache, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and depression. Going by that it seems that all four of us may be concussed. It also says to see a doctor! What the hell? What kind of asshole writes a survival guide that assumes you will have access to trained medical care?

Gerry slept through the morning, so we got moving late; Beth wasn't sure if he should be allowed to sleep or not (the manual does say that most minor concussions just need rest). As a result of that, and having the fight off the four zeds that had appeared outside overnight, we did not get far today.

Our slow drive seemed a lot longer than it really was due to the lack of conversation. Gerry sat in the passenger's seat staring out the window in silence, Pippa dozed with her head against the window next to me, and I was still trying to process everything that has happened in the last week so that I could write some of it down here in a sane and rational sounding way.

That brings me up to now. The rest area we are in looks like it may have been fairly new when the world ended. Still, even after a year of disuse the smell of public restroom remains. The lights and water of course do not work, but it is a strong and windowless cinder block building that only had one ghoul roaming around it when we got here.

There is a vent over the door to the outside that we can look through thanks to a ladder that we found in a maintenance storage closet. It is my watch right now, and so I periodically climb the ladder to look outside, not that I can see anything, it must be cloudy tonight or something.

I do hear the occasional scraping sounds outside, but that could just be wildlife, right? Without humans around they probably come through places like this more now, right? Not that we've seen any wildlife, but it's a possibility.

We have to make it tomorrow. We need to get off the road before we lose anymore of us. I don't know if I could bear losing Pippa, or Beth, or Gerry; not after Sharon and Maria. Please, God, let Lovelock be what we need it to be.