Linda and Bette came out together, Bette walking in front dressed in Army fatigues. Linda wore hunting clothes and her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. To his disgust, they were holding hands. As they neared him, he took a breath and boldly stepped in front of them. Bette looked surprised, but Linda already looked annoyed.

“Linda, I would like just a moment of your time,” he said softly. He tried very hard not to glare at Bette.

“I don’t know, Curtis,” she said.

“It’s okay, hon. You take care of this,” Bette said, giving Linda’s hand a squeeze then walked on.

Linda put her hands on her hips and looked at him intently. “What is it Curtis?”

“Look, I...uh...know I fucked up…somehow…somewhere…you know...with you,” he stuttered, trying to remember his well rehearsed speech.

“We were never together, Curtis. We were fuck buddies,” Linda answered tersely.

He winced, but plunged on with his pre-planned speech, “But you’re going out on a dangerous mission. You could die. I just don’t want, you know, bad blood between us.”

Linda sighed deeply and folded her arms over the breasts he had loved to touch so much. She looked away from him, then said, “Okay, that’s true. I don’t want bad blood either. Look, I just wasn’t clear enough with you. I needed you to relieve all that stress. I thought you understood. That it was just sex.”

Curtis felt his temper rising and felt his face flushing, but he curled his hands up tight and tried not to scream at her that she was a dirty whore.

She took in a deep breath and exhaled very slowly. “Curtis, I’m sorry. I just don’t feel that way toward you.”

“I did something wrong. I know that. I know I’m young and not wise in the ways of women,” he said in a voice that was becoming increasingly heated. “I know I do not fully know how to satisfy a woman yet. But if you had just given me time-”

“Curtis, the sex was fine. It was what I needed at that time. I was not looking for a relationship. I didn’t want that. Bette just happened. I’ve never been with a girl before. Ever. It’s been all new to me. But I love her.

I’m sorry that hurts you. But if we can just be friends and let our past go, Curtis, that would make me so happy.” Linda was close to tears and looked at him with trembling lips. “I really don’t want bad blood between us.”

Hurtful, angry words danced on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed them away, nodding slowly. “Okay, okay.” Forcing a smile, he said, “Friendship is good.” In his mind though, he saw the two of them, tangled up, naked, sweating, touching each other, kissing each other and he wanted to hurt them both so badly he felt pain in his gut. “I can live with friendship.”

For the first time in awhile, Linda smiled at him. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Curtis. That makes me feel good.”

He kissed her awkwardly on the cheek, tasting her skin, and hating her as much as he loved her.

Linda walked on toward the woman that she now let touch her breasts and the other places Curtis had considered his. He felt himself grow hotter and more flushed.

“Hey, Curtis, ready to go?” Greta asked from beside him.

He started, his sheepish grin wiping away the tension in his young, handsome face. “Sure. Yeah. I’m ready.”

“Okay. Do it now,” he said, presenting his rear.

Smacking it, she gave him her sternest look. ‘You shouldn’t go out without me.”

Dale tattooed and intense, stood nearby. “I’ll take care of your boyfriend.”

“I’m her girlfriend,” Ken said, putting on his best flaming gay routine.

Lenore growled at him and he pulled on one of her braids. Reluctantly, she smiled and they embraced tightly. “Take care, you crazy faggot.”

“Will and can do! Dale will protect me, won’t you?”

Dale just grunted, grinned, and donned his sunglasses.

“I love it when he does that,” Ken whispered to Lenore.

“For now!” Ken then heaved his rifle over one shoulder and jauntily strode over to Dale. “Let’s be off, my good man.”

* * * * * Katarina read over the map and the notes from their briefing. She looked nervous, but was keeping it in check. Bill looked down at his boots and sighed. His beer belly was smaller now and he didn’t huff when he ran. He was becoming a fit man who was dating a younger woman. And here he was running off to lead a zombie parade. He wasn’t sure whether he was brave or a damn fool.

“I think I have this memorized now,” Katarina decided.

“You better. That’s our asses,” Bill answered her gruffly. He heaved himself up into the fancy Durango and adjusted the seat.

Katarina slammed the passenger door shut. Like everyone else on the mission dubbed “Operation Distract” she was in hunting clothes. Only a few volunteer soldiers were in their old army camouflage.

“I got it. I promise. Just do what I say.”

“Oh, God, is that what our marriage will be like?” he kidded her.

She took him seriously for a split second, then laughed and smacked his arm. “Oh, you.”

Ahead of them Bette and Linda shared one last kiss. Behind them Ken was tapping out some obscure song on the car horn.

Maddie smacked Dale’s cheek playfully then gave him a big hug. Dale lifted the older woman off the ground, hugging her tight, and kissing her cheek. She was his surrogate Mom and tears were running down her cheeks. Rune and Dale clasped hands, exchanging last words, then Dale slid into the Durango’s passenger seat. Rune gently led Maddie away as the older woman wept with worry.

Juan stood nearby watching with Travis and Katie. He noted that the vehicles were ready and motioned to the gate operator. The gates began to whine open.

“Here we go.” Bill gripped the steering wheel tightly, trying not to let his nerves get to him.

They both took deep breaths.

“I wonder what twenty thousand zombies look like,” Katarina finally said.

The sun burned brightly in the sky above as the helicopter flew low over the three Durangos speeding down the old farm road. Already nature was taking advantage of the fall of Man. Crabgrass spread tendrils across the unused road as weeds poked through the asphalt. The elements were eating away at the structures along the road as the foliage around them rose up and shrouded them in leafy robes.

It made Curtis feel despair about their situation. How easily humankind was being erased from the face of the earth.

“Almost there,” Greta’s voice said in his headset.

Shifting in his seat, Curtis looked ahead, but saw no sign of the mobs of undead. “I don’t see them.”

“We estimate that they are about fifteen miles in front of us at this point,”

Kevin’s voice answered him. “Bring the Durangos to a stop.”

Curtis looked into the back of the helicopter where Kevin sat flipping through a sheath of papers on a clipboard. The man’s forehead was beaded with sweat. These were his plans that everyone had agreed on and he had insisted on flying out with Greta to run strategy from the air.

Curtis resented him to no end. Kevin was not one of them. He was one of the others. An interloper. Just one more person to complicate things and make it hard at the fort.

With a curt nod, he sat back in his chair and looked down at the Durangos now idling on the road below. Linda was down there with that slut. It ate at him that Linda was a volunteer, but at the same time whatever happened, she deserved it. He had hoped that she would see the light.

That he was the one for her and that she needed to be with him. But that hope felt futile every time he saw the two women together. The Southern Baptists had that right. It was just not natural.

If only he could go back to the old days, sitting at the station house, flipping through the latest catalog detailing the best in prisoner restraints, watching Linda deliver the mail every morning. Those were the days.

“Bette,” Kevin’s voice said in his headset once more.

Curtis could feel the hesitation in Kevin before his voice said, “You have a go.”

Curtis looked down to see the Durango that Linda was in began to move down the road, while the other two remained in position. The windows of the departing window rolled down and the two women stuck out their hands to wave and give the thumbs up.

Curtis felt his stomach slowly roll over, but his jaw set. Looking down at his map, he readied his pen. Time to go to work.