“Their souls have moved on. They’re free of this world.”

“Actually, Reverend, not to correct you or nothing, but they haven’t really moved on. They’re all around us. All the time. Some are stronger in this world than in the other, but they are all caught between the world of the living and the dead.” Rune looked at everyone steadily. “It got messed up.

All the dead rising like that. The natural order of things got screwed up.”

“Kinda like that line in Dawn of the Dead when they said there was no more room in hell?” Jenni could feel that Katie’s hand was trembling and she felt terribly for her. She didn’t even want to think of her kids not being in heaven. That was the thought that made her feel better when the nightmares came.

“I don’t know rightly.” Rune slowly set down his water and rubbed his mustache with his long fingers. “All I know is that I see ’em. I see the ghosts. And everywhere I go, they’re there. Trapped.”

The Reverend looked like he was about to say something, but as he gazed at Rune’s face, he seemed to think better of it and averted his eyes.

“I think they are all waiting for something to happen so they can move on.

Something big. I don’t know what it is, but they’re trapped here until it gets done.”

“I don’t know if it’s a consolation or not, thinking of our loved ones being ghosts as their dead bodies try to eat us,” Katie finally said. “But it makes me feel a little bit better than living in fear that our loved ones are trapped in those rotting things.”

“I’m real sorry for y’all losing your loved ones. But y’all got a good thing going on here. And good things are rare in this world,” Rune decided.

There was an awkward silence as people pondered what had been said and slowly they began to talk amongst themselves. Maddie took Rune’s hand in her own and smiled at him softly.

“At least we know the zombies are stupid,” Jenni said at last. “Stupid is good, right?”

“And they are afraid of fire,” Charlotte added, as if the conversation had not taken a strange, metaphysical turn. “Another primitive fear of the reptilian brain.”

Jenni thought about it and imagined bonfires all around the fort. It appealed to her.

Katie hesitated then, said, “So, we have a few...really weird new weapons.”

“Uh-huh.” Charlotte took another bite of her sandwich.

“And what do you do if you see a zombie?” Nerit asked in a loud voice.

“Poke it in the eye!”

The chorus of children’s voices made Jenni look over from where she helped lay cement blocks on top of the old wall. A group of twenty kids, all ages, had gathered around Nerit and a dummy made up to look like a zombie. The kids all held the fort’s makeshift spears.

“And then what do you do?”

“To make their brain soup!” some little wise-ass called out.

The kids broke up into wild peals of laughter.

Jenni looked over at Juan. He was sweating hard, his long curly hair slipped free from his ponytail. Feeling her gaze, he looked up at her then over at the kids.

“They need to know how to fight back,” he said finally.

“Yeah,” she answered, looking back at the kids.

A young boy, about Mikey’s age, walked up to the zombie effigy and rammed the end of his spear into its cloth eye as hard as he could, then shook it hard.

Jenni sighed and spread more wet cement with the trowel. “I wish Mikey hadn’t turned back to defend me.”

“He didn’t know, babe,” Juan said in a soft, cautious voice.

“I know, but...you would have liked him,” Jenni fought back a few tears and lifted the heavy cement block into place. She rarely spoke to Juan about her kids. It was hard to speak of a piece of her life she could not ever share with him.

Juan kissed her cheek softly, causing the makeshift platform they were on wobble a little. “I know, Loca. I know.”

“If I could find a way to give you kids...”

“Loca, it’s okay. Really. I got you. I got Jason, even though he does hate me, and I got Jack. And Jack is a pretty bad ass kid. Kinda furry, but a great kid.”

Jenni laughed despite the lump in her throat.

“Besides, Katie and Travis are probably going to be spitting out kids left and right and we’ll end up with babysitting duty.” He wiped the sweat from his brow, managing to get a little cement in his hair. “I just want to be with you. Okay? If we’re together, I’m happy. Even if you are batshit crazy.”

Jenni laughed and leaned against him. “Crazy is good.”

“Crazy is good. And fun in bed.” Juan grinned at her lovingly.

“You’re such a pervert,” she teased and kissed his salty cheek.

“And you like it.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead, then moved to lay another brick.

Jenni looked back down at the kids and Nerit.

“Hey, Mom.” Jason slid into the chair next to Jenni at lunch. He peered out at her from beneath his long bangs and looked a little embarrassed.

“Hey, baby, what’s up?” Jenni shoved a couple of homestyle fries dunked in mustard into her mouth and ignored Jack staring at her longingly from Jason’s side.

“I was wondering if I could have Shelley over to watch movies tonight?”

Ducking his head, Jason looked up at her through his bangs. “Maybe.”

She playfully nudged him with her elbow and grinned. “My sexy son is getting some loving!”

Jenni rolled her eyes, shrugging. “Okay, okay. Have your make out session, but she has to leave by eleven.”

“Hey, I gotta tease you when I can. You’re always off with Roger and your crew making crazy mad scientist zombie killing stuff.” Jenni hugged him and smothered him in kisses. He squirmed with discomfort.

“Mom, fine. Okay. I get it. And thanks, Mom,” her stepson said, and quickly kissed her cheek. He ducked out of her grip and stood up.

Jenni saw Shelley standing nearby and gave her the thumbs up.

Jack laid a paw on her knee and looked at her plaintively. With a sigh, Jenni gave the dog her dessert, two peanut butter cookies. Graced with a doggy grin, she smiled back.

The boy and his dog jogged over to Shelly, leaving her to finish her fries alone.

* * * * * As her best friend dug through a pile of supplies, Jenni giggled. Katie looked up at her, holding baby wipes in one hand and diapers in the other.

Katie frowned and put her items into the growing stack beside her. Jenni remembered her own anxiety when she was pregnant with Mikey. She felt envy mingled with happiness as she watched Katie search for necessities in a large unsorted pile. The pile had been designated as unnecessary goods and was left in a storage room. It was from the WalMart truck. Baby supplies just hadn’t seemed important in the first days. Months later, Katie was desperate to find what she could.

Jenni, meanwhile, eyeballed what looked like lingerie, WalMart style, but slinky nonetheless.

“Do you want a boy or a girl?”

Katie was deep in the pile again and had to straighten to speak. “Uh, either. Travis wants a girl though. He actually offered to name her Lydia.”

Katie nodded. “He said it was okay with him. I told him I’d think about it.”

Sitting back, she pressed a hand to her belly. “I know that if this nightmare hadn’t happened that Lydia and I would still be together and that Travis...” She hesitated and then wiped a tear from her eye. “I know I never would have met him.”

Instantly, Jenni crawled across the piles to hold Katie. She held her friend tightly, feeling the other woman trembling.

Katie laughed and wiped another tear away. “I love them both, you know.

Lydia and Travis. And I’m very happy with Travis, but...I miss her.” She paused. I can’t... give the baby her name. It doesn’t feel right.”

“Then if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Travis is trying to be a good guy.