The two startled soldiers rushed out. They had been inside systematically killing the four zombies inside then looking through their pockets for keys.
“Get in,” she ordered, sliding into the center of the seat.
Charlie slid in behind the wheel while Ruben moved around to the other side of the truck. Already the fit was tight and Raleigh tried to make himself as small as possible.
“Get out and let him in first,” the Senator ordered.
Raleigh hesitated, then obeyed. His eyes flicked to the horde coming closer and closer.
Ruben slid in and pushed himself up tight to the Senator. Raleigh began to climb in when he saw the Senator smile then slam her foot down on Charlie’s as she shifted gears. The truck lurched forward, knocking Raleigh to the side.
He never realized how close the undead were until he saw one reaching down for him. He really should have gone with the others from the fort.
He really should have… * * * * * Inside the truck, Ruben shouted, “What the fuck?”
“We needed a distraction,” the Senator answered, leaning across Ruben’s lap to shut the door.
Shakily, Charlie continued driving, trying not to look at his mirrors.
“I could have driven off with him and left you,” the Senator answered coolly. “Remember that.”
Behind them, the zombies feasted. Ruben averted his eyes from the mirrors and looked down at the M & M wrapper on the floor. He wondered if Raleigh tasted like chocolate.
2. When All is New
Everything had changed. Nothing was the same.
Katie jogged down Main Street, her pony tail swinging back and forth behind her head like a pendulum.
Overhead a helicopter was veering off toward the north. It was probably running some field workers out to a nearby ranch the fort was attempting to secure. Or maybe going to the farm. Or maybe taking someone to check on the water station. Or maybe it was just refueling at the nearby airstrip.
Helicopters… Who would have thought the fort would have helicopters back when they were just trying to survive. Jenni had joked about a handsome black leading man and helicopters when they were first on the road. She had been full of Romero film facts and tossed them out as if they were the zombie bible.
Katie’s eyes suddenly stung and she tried not to think of Jenni in her pink bathrobe riding shotgun beside her in that old white pickup.
Jogging around the corner she saw Nerit taking a calm stroll down the street. Her hands were tucked into her pockets and she looked more relaxed than Katie had ever seen her. Of course, with the influx of soldiers into the fort, Nerit’s job had become easier. Beside Nerit ambled her old hunting dog and Katie smiled at them as she jogged past.
How different Nerit was from the first time she saw her on the roof of Ralph’s Hunting store. The long braid was gone now. She had a younger hairdo, cut short and sassy to her shoulders. Ken had insisted on it along with the rinse that took the yellow caste from her silver locks. Nerit looked younger now and more at peace.
Katie almost felt resentful of Nerit moving on past Ralph. Of course, she had moved on past Lydia. Even her father’s death was muted now. She had assumed he was dead for months and to be given a chance to talk to him, share with him her new life, and say goodbye had been a gift.
But it was hard to let go of Jenni.
They had saved each other in so many ways so many times. In her heart she knew Jenni had done the right thing that day and so had she. It was only right that she fired the bullet that rescued Jenni from death at the hands of the zombies. But it still hurt.
Swinging around another corner, she jogged along the interior of the wall.
Above her, on a sturdy platform were Jason and some of the other teenagers. They were busy building a catapult. Even Jack was up on the platform, leashed in case he tried anything crazy like diving over the wall at a zombie.
Jason seemed better lately. Stronger. He had wept for days, but even through his tears, he kept saying that he knew his Mom was all right. He had seen her in a dream and knew she had come to comfort him. It was all right. Soon, he had crawled out of bed and started drawing defensive weapon schematics for the fort.
He was moving on… With a small frown, she ran under the platform and then turned down another street. Bill came into view wearing his new police uniform. The police force for the fort was now five former police officers. They all wore matching uniforms when on duty. Though crime was not a common occurrence in the fort, they did have to deal with a small load of petty theft, occasional fights, and sadly, domestic disputes. Since the council had made it clear that any major crime would result in immediate expulsion from the fort, those inclined toward crime were kept in check.
There was a strong fear of what lay beyond the hills.
“Hey, Bill,” Katie called out as she jogged toward him.
“Hey, Katie. How you feeling,” he answered with a grin. He looked kind of handsome in his uniform. The fresh glow of his newfound love with Katarina also made him more attractive.
“Good. Just getting my morning jog in before chores,” she answered.
Running up to him, she kept moving, but managed to give him a quick hug.
“Tell your husband the poker game is at eight tonight,” Bill said. I plan to demolish him, Juan and Eric.”
As she passed by the theater she caught sight of Linda and Bette holding hands and staring up at an old poster someone had tacked up announcing the premiere of Jaws. The bloom of their brand new love affair was still fresh and beautiful. Of course, there were naysayers. There was a group of fundamentalists, mostly Southern Baptists, who had a strong issue with the miniscule gay population in the fort.
And then there was Curtis.
Curtis was never happy anymore. Never smiled. Never did much of anything other than sit in the communication center or patrol the streets with Bill. He avoided social gatherings that would put him near Linda.
Curtis’ total breakdown after Linda hooked up with Bette was heartbreaking. It was just a damn shame that he had to be hurt because Linda found someone to truly love.
Of course, moving on in this world was important.
But how could she let Jenni go? Their life together seemed unfinished.
Kevin and Travis came into view as she headed back toward the hotel.
They were standing up on the wall with Eric. Talking animatedly, they were obviously planning more expansions. They were all smiling. Kevin clapped Travis on the shoulder and they both laughed. It made Katie smile a little, but it hurt at the same time.
Jenni was gone… Kevin was just as powerful a presence as Jenni in the fort. At times, Katie resented it. But he was very nice and she liked him very much.
But sometimes she wanted to scream at him. “Why are you here and she’s not?”
But she knew the answer and it wasn’t Kevin’s fault.
Tears were now hot and heavy in her eyes and she fought them.
Running through the gates into the old construction site, she saw Juan in one corner. He wasn’t allowed to do any of the heavy work. He was still healing, but he had managed to get permission to build a small garden as a memorial to Jenni and others who had died. Already he had the area roped off and was busy breaking the ground. Bags of rich soil and fertilizer sat nearby. Behind him was a statue of the Virgin Mary resting against the wall, ready to be erected at some point.
Slowly, she came to a stop near him, slowly stretching out her limbs. Her baby bump was a little bit of an issue, but she was learning to work with it.
How could she have gained and yet lost so much in just a year? She had been shocked when Peggy had told her a whole year had passed since the first day.
Standing with her hands resting on her swollen belly, she looked toward Juan. His ponytail was falling into his face and he kept flipping it back. He seemed intent on not looking up and slowly Katie realized he was crying as he worked.
Refusing to cry, refusing the release it might bring her, she walked determinedly into the fort.
She wasn’t ready yet. She couldn’t do it. Despite the changes in the world around her she couldn’t let go of Jenni. Not yet.
3. While You Were Sleeping
Walking light-footed across the floor, Ruben moved toward Charlie. The younger man was seated in a window, hunting rifle slung across his lap, staring down over the darkened street. They were holed up in a small town museum and night was settling firmly over the land. Only the full moon gave any light to the room.
Behind them the Senator was fast asleep on a World War II cot in a recreation of a bunker. She was snoring loudly.
Charlie looked at him slowly. The boy’s face was pinched and a little gray.
The food they had salvaged two days before had been bad. They were all a little shaky still.
Ruben crouched down next to the nineteen year old. He had eight years on the boy, but he felt old and fatherly toward the younger man.
Charlie looked slowly toward the Senator, then back at Ruben. “Gonna wake her?”
“No.” The word was said softly, firmly and with conviction.