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.


Anonymous said...

Dang, shame to see Maria go. I wanted to find out what had her in a twist. Who did she have to put down that made her act so weird after leaving Mallville?

At least she went well.

Void Munashii said...

I'm honestly not totally sure who she lost other than that it was in the first weeks of the plague. It may become clear eventually in the re-write or in her own short story though.