The rest of the night started off uneventful, but then took a strange turn.
Deidre took note of the increasing undead activity within the first hour of her watch. She had the 8 to midnight shift and as the night wore on she noticed the undead going from a single or duo shuffling to nowhere to packs of fifteen or more moving like they had a destination planned out.
A coyote howled close by. Deidre shuddered more at the throaty growl that answered it than the animal’s call. It wasn’t long before their came an animal growl followed by a fight. Deidre couldn’t tell the two apart until the coyote began whimpering in agony. Her body’s shuddering continued. It felt like she had stepped into one of those cold spots that ghost hunters always spoke about. In moments the sounded faded to nothing, which did nothing for Deidre’s hyper awareness jumpier than before.
After her watched ended, she woke Greene and gave him the run down on what she’d seen. Greene assured her that the time for her to be worried was over. His attitude sent her from annoyed to pissed off. He was being nonchalant about the whole thing. Earlier he had understood that mankind was no longer the dominate species. Now, it seemed like he couldn’t give two fucks about it all. She supposed that almost becoming a meal at least or joining the Club Maggot Monger had that effect on some people. She wasn’t going to argue with him. Being a dumbass was on him, not her.
Sharon had next watch and Deidre nodded at her as she moved to the roof access.
“You’re watch is over,” whispered Shannon, never taking her eyes off the street.
“It is. I can’t sleep. I’m thinking maybe the fresh air up top will make me tired.”
“Just don’t be seen or be loud. Strict noise and sound discipline.”
“Understood, grandmother,” whispered Shannon, sketching a mock salute.
Deidre opened the door adjacent to the roof ladder next to the kitchen, but paused.
“They seemed to be moving in a pack toward the northeast earlier.” She had to tell someone what she’d seen. Shannon seemed a natural for obvious reasons.
“I heard you mention that to Greene. You think they’re being drawn to something?”
“There’s that KOA park about fourteen miles down the road. They could be headed there.”
“Maybe. I haven’t heard any shots coming from that direction.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. Not everyone has a rifle or pistol these days.” Deidre knew that was a stupid assumption, and Shannon didn’t let it slide by.
“That’s a dumb thing to say, Dee.”
“Yeah. I guess it is. I’m heading topside.”
“Be careful up there.” Shannon looked at Deidre and smiled. The smile was empty and it did nothing to calm Deidre’s growing unease.
Deidre climbed the iron ladder, taking care to keep the access hatch from banging closed against the shingled roof.
She watched quietly as the zombies slowly walked by in groups of three or more. It was a long three hours. Not once did she have a cigarette even after the encounter with the naked walker an hour into her shift. It was the walker’s almost normal stroll that drew her scrutiny, not its lack of attire.
It was almost casually moving past when it stopped and turned toward her. She could feel its dead, milky eyes looking at her and through her.
She shouldered the shotgun Helfron had given her as her mind processed the sight. This must be what a deer feels like, she thought, forcing herself to remain still. She squeezed her eyes closed and remembered her childhood days of hiding under her blankets when she was afraid.
The naked zombie male had looked at her, of that she was sure. He craned his head left and right before moving closer to her. The closer he came the more Deidre’s attention went to where his genitals should have been. His penis had been forcefully removed. His body bore no other marks of possible infection so she supposed that it had been bitten off. She scrunched her face at the thought even as she stared at his ruined manhood. Dried blood stained the inside of his legs. “Asshole bleed out,” she whispered as he plodded closer. “Worst blowjob ever.” Once he reached within twenty feet of the front door she moved under a table and clicked the shotgun’s safety off.
Deidre considered waking the others as she waited for the deader to start banging on the glass. She dismissed the thought. Waking the others might cause a ruckus, which could conceivably draw more to the doors. Instead she watched him press his forehead against the glass as he peered inside.
Left and right he rubbed his head against the glass. With each movement it became smudged with desert dust and dirt. Deidre was sure that he’d seen her; ignorant that he’d seen her as a dim glow that merited investigation.
His rubbing took on a more insistent tone, and Deidre ducked back away from sight. The sound became more intense and wetter. Her mind played images of him rubbing his forehead skin off, exposing the possibly still wet tissue underneath. The sound kicked her already overactive imagination into warp speed.
I’ve gotta move. Find a new place away from that, she thought. Cautiously she climbed from under the table and made her way to one at the diner’s corner. She kept her teeth gritted, eyes narrowed in expectation of coming across a dirty pair of shoes with a set of mobile undead feet in them. The crawl was only seventy feet from here to there, but might as well have been a football field. Once she had made it to a far corner booth she realized she’d been holding her breath. She ventured a glimpse around the booth seating at the naked zombie.
Complete horror met her eyes. During her crawl a little girl had joined the male zombie. The girl was blonde, around seven years old, and wearing a purple night gown with polka dots and an embroidered flower on the chest. The front was completely soaked with blood. Two of her front teeth were missing and Deidre was unable to figure out if they had been ripped out in frenzied feeding or if they’d come out the old fashioned seven year-old way.
The little girl’s tongue ran across the glass in large loose circles. The tongue was bloated more than it should have been, but that didn’t deter the girl. She licked the glass back and forth. It was a curious thing to watch even in its morbidity. After five minutes of licking, the girl gave up and went about her way.
The male had ceased to be an object of curiosity. Seeing an undead adult was bad enough but to see a child was worse. It shook Deidre up in ways she would never be able to explain. She watched the little girl walk to the road and take the hand of another little girl. The second girl appeared to be five and had been cute once like the first. The younger zombie had brown hair, and full lips that at one time must have been filled with smiles of generosity and deviousness. The younger girl was dressed in an equally blood soaked t-shirt and boxer shorts. It was painful to see that once she had been a Scooby Doo fan that would’ve delighted in meeting the canine detective. Now she’d be interested in the gang for other reasons.
The two girls stood unmoving in the road. It was like they were waiting for someone else. A boy that looked like he had just entered his teens ambled briskly past the diner’s corner window. He took no notice of the diner or the naked zombie. His attention was solely on the girls. He too was dressed in nocturnal death clothes. Deidre was fairly certain that the front of his red and black plaid pajamas weren’t as caked as the girls.
The teenager reached the girls, and took the eldest girl’s hand into his. He became a little animated, as if he was chewing the girl out for something. He’d been the big brother in life and had remained so in death. He finished whatever grunting lecture he had in him before bending down and giving what looked like a stiff hug to the blonde girl. Both undead girls appeared to hug him in return.
Deidre’s heart froze, and then broke. Three children united in life and death. They released each other from their clumsy embrace before continuing on their journey.
Deidre watched them shuffle away before her mind snapped back to the male. He wasn’t there. Maybe he’d left for parts unknown while she watched the children or maybe he was looking for another entry point into the diner. She ducked back under the table and listened to the still night. Nothing clanged, banged, crashed, or even squeaked. After twenty minutes of sweating, fearful concentration, Deidre decided that the naked zombie had left to continue on his own personal mission. It wouldn’t be until later that she would realize that the male had been Greg.
For more than half an hour afterwards Deidre cried. She hadn’t cried so hard since she’d tendered her forced resignation. The world had suddenly become too much to bear.
After wishing Shannon an eventful watch, Deidre went to her sleeping space in the kitchen. She lay down, closed her eyes, and couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t because of the hard floor or even the male zombie, but because of the image of the undead children hugging each other. As much as her rational mind told her they weren’t kids any longer, she couldn’t help but to think of them as still as children. “Forever children,” she murmured to herself. It was indeed hard to deal with, the new world. Deidre wasn’t sure if she could survive the next day mentally let alone the rest of her natural life. She was sure that she wasn’t the first to contemplate suicide let alone go through with it if she went that way. It was all too much.
Shannon listened to Deidre’s deep, thoughtful breathing. It was clear that Deidre didn’t have a problem with Shannon’s lycan nature. The real problem was dealing with the multitude of undead that waited on the other side of the glass and cinderblock walls.
Shannon was having her problems coming to terms with it as well. She’d never had to worry about being infected with lycan blood in her hunting. The lycan virus overran every other virus on the planet. While turning you into a human flesh craving beast it also cured whatever ailed you. At least it used to do that.
The virus forced the growth of new tissue with every turn. It even forced new growth when you were in human form. The virus merged with normal human DNA, overwriting genetic code before bringing the animal out of its long buried racial memory. Shannon wasn’t a scientist, but she felt the difference the morning after. She’d even felt different before her first change. Now, she had to worry about being infected with something she considered far worse than what she’d grown accustomed to.
And it wasn’t werewolves that scared Deidre. There was no fear from Deidre in that regard. It was the zombies, and Shannon knew it. Being a werewolf you could wrap your mind around. Dying, coming back and then eating friends, family or even strangers was hard to grapple with. As knowledgeable as Greene was with the storybook sweets stealing monster and the contemporary reanimated flesh eater, he never addressed whether anything of the past remained in the latter. Shannon wondered about that now. Her own insomnia rode in on that train of thought.
Shannon and Deidre were the only two still awake in the kitchen area as the sun came up. Helfron was supposed to take watch at 4AM, but Shannon let him sleep. She hadn’t smelled zombies or anything for that matter for almost an hour and a half. It was irresponsible to leave her post, but she felt they were safe for the time being.
She was about to make her way to Deidre before she realized that Deidre was making her way to her.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Deidre whispered, motioning for Shannon to sit. “How’re things out there?”
“Quiet. No movement or scents for an hour and half.” Shannon looked around the floor. “Where’s Kelsey and Rance?” She sniffed the air, confirming that they were close, but unseen.
“Freezer.” Deidre pointed quickly to the walk-in unit. “Rose turned it down so they won’t freeze to death. Bad news is the meat will thaw quicker.”
“It’s all good. We could always pop down to the Sav-Rite for more steaks when t he meat goes.” Shannon’s smile was weak, and Deidre knew it.
Shannon padded the conversation with something that didn’t reek of fear. Padding it with horrid grocery shopping jokes seemed like a safe, if not strange, way to go.
Deidre grunted. She was set on a collision course with talking about everything bad. “This is…,” she began. “You know… You know what? I don’t know what any of this is, but it’s something royally fucked up.”
Shannon looked at Deidre’s eyes, and understood that the woman she called her friend had been crying.
“I don’t know what to say about any of this, Deidre. I know you’re scared. We all are. Hell, girl, I’m scared shitless.”
Deidre scoffed. “You? Scared? You’re a lousy liar.” Deidre didn’t mean what she said. She knew that Shannon was scared but could think of nothing else to say. Shannon knew Deidre was at a loss but went with it anyway.
“I’m terrified, Dee. Being a werewolf is one thing, but being undead…that’s a horse of a different color.”
Deidre snorted a short laugh. “I love that movie. There’s no wizard to save us though, is there?”
“Not this time.”
“What’s it like, being a werewolf?”
Shannon had been expecting the question at sometime from someone, but Deidre’s timing was utter shit.
“Scary and exciting at the same time,” answered Shannon nervously. “It’s scary because you have all this power and hardly anything can stop you, but it’s exciting because you have all this power and hardly anything can stop you. It’s a gift and a curse.” She hoped the last statement would put Deidre at ease. It didn’t.
“Do you…” Deidre fought for a delicate way to ask her question. No solution came so she went with asking outright. “Do you remember everything after changing back to human?”
“Yeah.” Shannon picked at the laid out aprons she lay on. She didn’t like questions that inevitably led to what it was like to kill with your bare hands, claws, or teeth. That’s where she feared this was going. She knew the answer well enough and that was why she administered the final deed with a firearm. To Shannon it gave her the option of trying to fool hers conscious into believing her hands were clean.
“How do you deal with it? Killing your own kind I mean. How do you really feel about that?” Deidre’s question went in the opposite direction. She was thankful for that small mercy.
“I know what I’m doing is right. I kill those that deserve it. Some would call it murder, but is it murder if they’ve killed innocent people and I give them a chance to fight back? It’s sounds corny as hell, but it’s the way I look at it and how I feel.”
“No, not to me.” Deidre took out a cigarette and began tapping it on the floor. “Sounds like justice actually. It’s not like you’d be able to get them to trial anyway even before all of this.”
Shannon scoffed. “Yeah, exactly. No court would believe me or anyone else so it seemed easier to become the big three and do it myself.”
“Decisive; I like that. You make sure they’re guilty before you pull the trigger?” “There’s never any doubt. You were a lawyer. You know about due diligence and all that. I’ve never killed an innocent lycan by mistake. Understand that there are those… of us that are passive, meaning they want nothing more than to be left alone. Those precious few live as hermits and save their appetite for cows and livestock. They’ve maybe eaten less than a dozen people and have given up the need to feed. You should know that there isn’t a werewolf alive that hasn’t eaten at least one person.”
Deidre’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “Only one, huh? Wow.” She’d seen her share of horror movies and read a bit here and there on werewolf lore. Up until the past 24 hours she believed the full-moon-out-of-control legend like most people. Only a scant few pieces of media touched on there being a choice, but the majority of those reverted back to the no control at all message. “So you made up your mind to be what you are now? Just like that?”
Shannon was confident that Deidre wasn’t being sarcastic or making an unspoken accusation. “Just like that.” Shannon snapped her fingers. “First time I changed I wanted to kill my boyfriend more than somebody out walking their dog. My first change came occurred because of an overly heavy period. Talk about weird.”
Both women laughed heard enough to wake up Helfron. Groggily he rolled over and told them to be quiet, there were other people sleeping. Deidre flipped Helfron off as he fell back to sleep.
Shannon chuckled mirthlessly. “Everyone’s going to have to get up in less than an hour, so fuck him.”
“So everything about you remains?” Deidre spoke in a quieter voice. She’d lost her taste for being generally civil, but she refused to be rude.
“You retain both of your selves, Dee. Sometimes the dark wins out. Either way the real you comes out.”
“Something remains of them, Shannon.” What light there was in Deidre’s face had been extinguished.
“Something remains in who? Those?” Shannon motioned towards outside.
Deidre wasn’t reluctant to tell her story. The ending convinced Shannon that she didn’t want to do anything except keep the undead at the maximum range of a sniper rifle. She was scared more than before.
It was too much to digest. Shannon had fought to keep her humanity intact. She’d neglected telling Deidre that the more you killed the closer to pure beast you became. It was the second most important reason she used a pistol. It was a vital anchor to retaining her humanity.
The thought crossed her mind that maybe the undead could be anchored to their humanity too. It came and went in a flash. She realized that the kids, even though they were still looking out for one another, would’ve still treated any of them like a hot lunch.
“What of the man?” Shannon wanted to change the focus of the discussion, but was more intent to satisfy her curiosity. “Aside from being naked, did there seem to be anything evident remaining?”
Deidre went into a coughing fit. She butted the cigarette out as if it had gone up in flames. “Shit,” she said, trying to catch her breath. “That guy? Fuck, Shannon. The guy was Greg.” She answered like it was a grand realization. “I kid you not. It was mother-loving Greg.”
“Bet your ass he was. And his little buddy was missing too.” Deidre giggled at the memory. It was funnier now than it had been then.
It took Shannon a few seconds to comprehend what Deidre was telling her. She’d never given any part of Greg any consideration, nor had she had any reason to think of any man’s in the past decade. “Oh,” she gasped, understanding what the term ‘little buddy’ meant. “Christ, you don’t think… I mean he wouldn’t do anything with a dead head. Would he?” Shannon felt like a little girl talking about the male anatomy.
“No shit, girlfriend,” Deidre said, pulling out another cigarette. She lit it up before continuing. The conversation made Shannon feel better. It was a grotesque little sleepover that more than likely would never end, but she was happy to have the camaraderie.
Shannon watched Deidre take a drag off her cigarette before speaking again. “You know, those things are going to kill you.”
“Fuck that. After today, smoking’s the least of my worries.” With that, Deidre took another drag and watched the smoke float away in lazy streams.