“Like I said, we’ll see how it goes.” The man who could see the dead looked around, studying the fort, seeing the flickering of spirits all around him. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Juan grimaced at the stink coming off the woman he loved. She was hanging on his back, covered in drying blood and gore and reeked of death. She seemed immune to it, having been out in the deadlands all afternoon, but he had been in the nice and tidy dead-free zone of the fort.
It amazed him that he had been used to the stench of the dead when they had been under siege in the first days. It was strange how humans acclimated to things like that. But once the dead throngs were cleared out and clean fresh breezes filled the fort, the smell of the dead was again sharp and repellent.
“You ruined my jacket, Loca,” he grumbled, trudging toward the clean up area.
“As if I have a choice,” Juan drawled, grinning and grimacing at the same time. “What did you do this time to get so messy?”
“Up close and personal decapitations of the zombie kind. I went whackywhacky with my trusty ax.”
“You’re supposed to shoot them before they get too close.” He felt his stomach coil up at the thought of her fighting with the ravenous dead.
“Yeah, well, sometimes runners see it a different way.”
“Fresh and fast. I think another van of survivors ended up a buffet.”
Jenni sighed, laying her head against his shoulder.
He tried hard not to be angry with her. Sometimes it was damn hard.
She had a tendency to act first, think later. Her rabid hatred of the undead often spurred her to insane acts of heroics.
“I just wish you didn’t take so many chances,” he said at last.
“Well, zombies need to be killed or they munch on us.” Her voice was soft, almost petulant. “A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.”
“It works, doesn’t it? Zombies die. I come home to you.”
“I’m not going to die without a fight,” Jenni assured him.
“I don’t want you to die.”
They reached the fenced in area where the weapons were being cleaned and where Charlotte was attending to any wounded. A bite was deadly.
Everyone knew that, but they had two instances where someone had tried to hide their wound only to turn after entering the paddock. It was frustrating to have to implement additional measures to keep the fort safe, but they had no choice. Two armed guards stood watch as Charlotte finished bandaging up a newcomer. A pistol was tucked into the holster on her hip as an extra precaution.
Juan plopped Jenni down onto a lawn chair and stared down at her bloody appearance. “Seriously, you couldn’t shoot them in the head before they reached you?”
“Well, I was trying, but they were kinda fast. And then it just got all crazy.” A dark and frightening emotion shadowed her expression and then it disappeared.
With a sigh, Juan sat next to her, taking off his cowboy hat. Slouching down in his chair, he pondered demanding to know what had happened out there. Jenni had her moments when it was clear that the grief she felt over the loss of her children was overwhelming her, but he could not say anything when this happened. His beloved tended not to speak of the past at all. Occasionally a snippet or two of information would leak out about her life as an abused trophy wife and mother, but it was never on purpose. It was always worse when she saw something out in the deadlands that reminded her of her children, but she had been handling those situations better of late.
Jenni flipped her hair over one shoulder and stared at him. He had a feeling she knew he was holding his tongue.
“It was a kid. She got bit. The new guy on the bike had to kill her. I saw the light go out of her eyes. I saw the hunger come into them.”
“I’ve never seen that before,” Jenni continued. “The life goes out. It was so clear. I could see it. Like a curtain falling over her spark. Then bam.
Here comes the hungry zombie.” Shaking her head, she pulled the ax off her back and tossed it onto the ground.
Nodding mutely, Jenni slumped down in the chair. Nearby, Charlotte was examining the older, Indian woman. Jenni motioned toward them. “It was her grandkid. It sucked.” Jenni thought for a long moment, swinging her legs back and forth. “I don’t want that to happen to me.”
Juan was silent, knowing better than to say a word. It could shut her up and cut him off if he said the wrong thing.
“I don’t want you or anyone else to see the light go out in my eyes and the crazy hungry zombie look come into them.”
“You can’t say that!” Jenni pointed at him, her voice vehement. “You cannot say that! You don’t know. None of us know. Bob died today. I’m sure he didn’t go out there thinking he was gonna bite it.”
“Okay, okay. You’re right. None of us can know. You just gotta be extra careful when you go out there.”
“I want a bullet right here-” Jenni pointed to her forehead. “-if it ever goes down that way. I want it fast. I don’t want to be one of those things. I don’t want the light in my eyes to go out and for the hungry zombie to take over.”
Juan stared into her dark, luminous eyes, tinged with the Jenni madness that made him crazy for her and love her more than he thought possible.
The mere thought of her not being next to him made his throat tighten with emotion. He didn’t know what to say, and she seemed to be waiting for words to soothe her. At last, he managed to say, “Okay,” his voice cracking slightly.
Nodding, satisfied, Jenni curled up in her chair. She looked so small and so delicate, the blood splatter and the reek of the dead couldn’t keep him away. He grabbed her arm and tugged her firmly out of her chair and onto his lap. Holding her close, he nuzzled her cheek. Her body melded into his and she made a small, happy sound that made him smile.
Katie quickly counted the boxes of ammunition, her fingers lightly touching each stack. “Fifty.”
“Damn,” Peggy muttered. She shoved her brown hair back from her frowning face and made a notation on her clipboard.
The two women were in the storage room used for the ammunition stock.
In recent days, a fresh batch of zombies had appeared out of the Texas Hill Country. There was speculation that they were from one of the fort’s neighboring towns. A few of the zombies had been somewhat recognizable as former friends or business acquaintances. Nerit had ordered the horde destroyed, and a good chunk of ammunition had been used up.
“We still got a lot in these other boxes,” Katie reminded her.
“Yeah, but if they don’t find fresh supplies, we better learn to make our own bullets soon,” Peggy responded.
Katie nodded, her hand gently rubbing her swelling belly. In the days before the zombie uprising, she had never imagined being pregnant. It was something her wife, Lydia, and she had discussed a few times, but adoption had always been seen as the route to go. Now, time was more precious and not to be squandered. Death was everywhere as the living struggled to maintain a foothold on the world.
She had been forced to decide when the world ended whether to let her sorrow drag her down into the depths of despair and give up or fight to survive. She had chosen to survive. In the silence of the night, she still mourned Lydia and their old life, but she had also allowed herself to let go of the old world. That had opened the door for her to find love with Travis and now they were expecting a baby.
“Jason and the kids are working on new weapons for the perimeter. It’s scary how good they are at inventing diabolical ways to take out the zombies,” Katie remarked as they moved to the next box.
“Yeah, well, kids are always good at finding ways to be in trouble. They’re just frying zombies instead of ants now.” Peggy looked around the room at all the shelves stuffed with battered boxes of ammo. “It never feels like enough, does it?”
Peggy looked down, her expression clouded with fear and pain, and then she shrugged. “Nothing we can do but keep going and hope to God we don’t get eaten.”
There was nothing really to say to that, so Katie kept quiet. Everyone in the fort had their moments. It seemed to be happening more now. Travis was gloomy about the dampened spirits of the fort, but Katie thought it was probably only natural. There were more cold, overcast days than sunny. Also, illnesses had been working their way through the fort population. The flu had already made one pass and a bad cold had many people stuck in bed. Plus, the safety of the fort allowed people to actually have moments of peace. Strangely, it was easier to shove all that pain and terror away when fighting to live. It was the mundane daily routine that made things harder to handle. Old ghosts and old memories seemed to surface at unexpected moments.