“Flame throwers!” Calhoun snapped his fingers. “Flame throwers to protect the gate! That’s it!”
Calhoun tapped his chin as he tried to remember what it was that had terrified him so. Whatever it was, it had escaped him. “Don’t rightly know.”
“Okay, but you’re ready to talk about the flamethrowers? Eric is in my office with Juan.” Travis looked at him worriedly.
Fumbling with his jacket, Calhoun managed to find the pocket he had made by sewing a kerchief into the lining. Tugging out his notebook, he waved it in front of Travis. “Got it right here! Let’s go!”
The big red thread in his mind, full of fire and the destruction of messed up clones, throbbed and opened up, pouring out all the information he needed to guide the young ones to proper defenses.
For the next thirty minutes, he was vividly sane.
Five minutes after the meeting, he was lost again in the web of his own mind, feeling uneasy that there was something trapped inside that was very important and dangerous to the fort.
After the meeting with Calhoun broke up, Travis found himself consumed with helping Juan and Bill build an extensive list of supplies the fort would need to expand. Walking in the cold, notepad in hand, he had to marvel at the high walls that encompassed their world. Strange how the first makeshift wall made up of construction trucks had given birth to high, concrete walls patrolled by armed sentries.
It was nearly dinnertime when he finally made it back into the hotel and up to the room he shared with his wife. He felt half-frozen and was dying for a hot shower. When he pushed open the door, he saw Katie sitting in a chair near the window, holding a baby blanket, and staring wistfully toward the hills.
“Do you ever wonder when it happened? When the tide turned against us?” Her voice was soft, thoughtful, and melodic.
“What do you mean?” He shrugged off his heavy jacket, glad that the heater in the room was working.
“There had to be a moment, a flash, a second, when it all turned against the living. When the future of the world was precariously balanced between the living and the dead. And then the scales tipped in favor of the dead.” She looked toward him and he saw she had been crying.
“Katie, honey,” he said, feeling utterly helpless all at once. He was confident and strong when out on the walls, planning, plotting, building, and fighting, but seeing his wife crying made him feel desperately weak.
He moved to comfort her, wondering if he could.
“I was just sitting here, looking at the blanket, and wondering about the baby and then it hit me. What if our baby is the first of the new generation that will grow up with the dead walking? He or she will never know what it is like to live freely outside of these walls. And then it occurred to me that there must have been just one deciding moment in all of this.”
Travis knelt beside her chair, his hand rubbing her fingers lightly.
“Maybe, but we’ll never know what it was or when it happened. This insanity had to be happening for some time before what we call the First Day. It couldn’t have gone to hell in just twenty-four hours. Jenni’s no good husband was bitten the day before. There was that weird plane crash in Chicago. Riots were being reported for days before the First Day.”
“Why didn’t they tell us?” Katie’s green eyes were so big and beautiful with tears sparkling in them. “Why don’t you think they warned us?”
“Maybe they thought it was under control. Or maybe they didn’t understand how fast it was spreading.”
“Do you think they wanted it to happen?”
Travis pondered this, then shrugged. “I may sound like Crazy Old Calhoun, but maybe they wanted it to happen so they could seize full control, but it went too far. I don’t know, but if there was a moment when the scales tipped, then maybe it will come again. But this time those scales will tip in our favor.”
Katie leaned her forehead against his and stroked his cheek lightly. “I want to believe you.”
“I’m sorry I’m being so hormonal,” Katie said, pouting.
“Nah. You’re just saying what everyone else thinks. We’re all in a weird funk. We need to get ourselves out of it. Focus on more positive things.
Like the fact we are alive. We are inside fortified walls, not outside them.
We have food and supplies. We have ammunition. We have each other.”
Travis felt better just expressing those few thoughts aloud. It was all true, but so easy to forget when the days were cold, gray and full of unexpected dangers.
“You’re right,” Katie said after a beat. “And maybe we will have our moment to claim it back. For our sake and the baby’s.”
Travis leaned over the armrest to kiss her swelling belly. He was in awe that his baby was growing inside of her and of the magic of that reality.
His little family meant the world to him, and he never would have had it if not for the zombie rising. It was a strange, wondrous truth.
“I’m going to take a hot shower, then take my favorite girl out to dinner.”
“Oh, that sounds good! Where are we going?” Her bright smile washed away all the shadows that had been haunting her expression.
“Well, there is this quaint little place downstairs that has some of the best food around.”
“Sounds amazing! I can’t wait!” Katie grinned and wiped the last of her tears away on the baby blanket.
“And then maybe we’ll get crazy and go watch a movie. I hear there is a Burt Reynolds double feature tonight.”
“Oh, wow! I don’t think I can stand the excitement!”
Travis grinned, stood, and pulled her out of the chair. Holding her close, he kissed her tenderly on the lips. “You know you want to hear Curtis heckling The Bandit for his lawbreaking ways.”
Katie snuggled up against him, laughing softly. “We’re just one big crazy family, aren’t we?”
Laying his cheek on her blond hair, Travis smiled. “Yeah. We are. And it will be okay.”
Katie sighed, her body relaxed against his and Travis was glad that she trusted him so completely. He would never let her down. It was his sacred vow. He would never let Katie down.
5. No Peace for the Living or Dead Rune sauntered into the dining room and looked around with a cautious eye. The hotel was full of shimmering patches of light and shadows, but he was trying not to let on that he could see them. He was relieved to see the dining room full of people lining up against one wall for dinner.
People from the kitchen were loading up the buffet with big bins of food and it smelled like it was chili tonight.
The soft whisper of a ghost glided past him and he kept his eyes straight ahead and didn’t acknowledge it.
Looking around, Rune caught sight of Maddie and Dale waving at him from the line. He nodded his head at them in greeting and took up the last place in line. He wasn’t too surprised when Maddie and Dale joined him. Maddie had her long hair braided down her back and had found a long flowing skirt and comfortable sweater to wear. Rune wasn’t too sure how old she was, but he thought she was pretty, wrinkles and all. Dale was clean-shaven except for razor sharp chops. They were impressive.
“Figured you were taking the time to rest up. I volunteered to help with the garden.”
“I got a nice little shave and a haircut. They actually got a beauty salon here. Can you imagine?” Dale shook his head, looking floored by the idea. “I was pretty fucking amazed.”
An old man in a wheelchair glided by to the front of the line. His arms were covered in tattoos and he looked older than God. Rune was impressed with how things were run in the fort. It almost felt like normal life.
“Maybe I’ll drop by and get my hair properly done. Wind is hell on it after awhile.” Rune folded his arms over his chest, edging up in line a little.
“You could stay here, you know. Not head back out there. It’s so dangerous. So many people have died.” Maddie shook her head sadly.
“Can’t. Once they figure out I can see them, they won’t stop badgering me,” Rune said in a soft voice.
“Oh, right!” Maddie’s eyes widened and she looked around the dining room cautiously. “Are they here now?”
“A few. Over by the bar,” Rune said, trying hard not to look at the bar.
“Has to be a bitch having what you got with this shit going down,” Dale growled. “Damn, man. Glad I ain’t you.”
“We all got our crosses to bear.” Rune shrugged.
A tall, homely redhead walked into the dining room and right behind her was a perfectly formed ghost of an old, angry woman. Rune caught himself before he shivered.
“More, huh?” Dale shook his head. “Nobody is getting to rest in peace nowadays.”