As the night progressed, more undead than previously seen made their journey past the diner. At first watching the staggering duos or trio only unnerved Kelsey. As their pack sizes increased, so did Kelsey’s uneasiness with being trapped in a building with large windows. She sat perfectly still, watching them pass with wide unwavering eyes. Being on first watch, and alone for it, allowed her mind to run free.
What unnerved her more was the lone zombie stopping and then turning to the window as zombie-Greg had. She was sure they could see her. Like Greg they ventured to the window for a look, and like Deidre had, she hid. Sometimes she could hear the zombies’ light scratching at the glass and off times not so light, banging on the windows. Those times she was certain they had seen her. After fifteen minutes or half an hour of useless trying to get in they would wander off.
What scared her most were the ones that would try opening the door. Like any human thinking a locked door was a mistake, they would shake it back and forth. More than once an undead performed the human ritual of attempting to enter a domicile. None gained entrance.
Kelsey waited out her shift leaning against the counter. The longer she spent on guard the more she was sure that the main wave of the zombie exodus had once been residents of Zellar. She wasn’t ready to test her assumption. An assumption was good enough for her.
She sat, watching the zombies file past, wondering where she and Rance could go or what they should do. She knew she couldn’t make her way through the world on her own. She’d been living with her parents, and even that relationship had been strained. They only tolerated her because she was of their blood and nothing more. She’d been foolish enough to get pregnant by a man that didn’t stick around like so many other women. And like so many other women she was dealing with the consequences alone. Well, mostly. Mom and dad had once been devout Mormons, and they believed that unwed sex was evil, and out of wedlock pregnancy was worse. They broke with the church because of her and Rance, and Shannon had the feeling that they held a simmering grudge because of it.
Unconsciously she wiped away tears. “I’m always crying,” she mumbled. “I’m tired of crying.”
Kelsey hadn’t thought of her parents since it all started. Now she wondered how they were faring or if they were even still alive. She pushed the thought of them from her mind and focused on the future.
“Better learn how to use this thing,” she said, examining the US military M4.
After a few moments of fumbling around she found the magazine release button. The magazine fell to the floor. Anger flooded her awareness as she examined it. Had Deidre purposefully given her an unloaded rifle? It certainly looked like she had. Someone like Deidre wouldn’t so easily forget to load a weapon. She angrily tossed the useless magazine across the room. It clattered loudly as it bounced of the wall and hit the floor. “That explains the knife she put on the end of this thing.” Kelsey was so mad that she spoke louder than she had intended. That made Deidre stir where the magazine through hadn’t.
Kelsey’s mind then turned to learning everything she could about firearms. If Deidre treated her like this when things were precarious at best, what would she do if she went from being a single-mom friend to dead weight that Deidre would always have to worry about? With the act of handing over a useless weapon Deidre proved that she was trust only slightly more than Shannon.
“Fucking bitch,” whispered Kelsey through clenched teeth. And then Kelsey wept for the last time.
Four hours later, Kelsey angrily woke Deidre to take her place by kicking her in the butt.
“What the fuck,” groused Deidre, snapping to awareness. “Why’d you do that?”
“Thanks for the empty fucking gun, Deidre.”
Deidre gave a start. The kick alone was surprising, and the foul language was all out shocking.
“What? What are you-”
Kelsey tossed the empty magazine to the floor beside Deidre. “Were you afraid I’d shoot myself, or you by accident? That was a lousy thing to do. It explains the knife on the end. I’m surprised you let me have it. I might have accidently cut my own throat with it.”
“It’s a bayonet,” answered Deidre in a low voice. “Look, Kel,” she started, regaining her composure.
“Don’t you dare ‘Kel’ me. Don’t you fucking dare. You untrusting cow. Screw you and burn in hell.”
Kelsey turned toward where Rance was sleeping, but stopped suddenly. Deidre was watching her, and then her sight went to what she had stopped her. Both women were stunned to find Shannon still awake. Shannon said nothing as she returned their stares.
Kelsey walked silently by Shannon, and Deidre moved to get her shoes on to take her post. Neither felt a need to communicate with Shannon or untie her.
Great, thought Shannon. Here I am with a full bladder and an empty stomach while those two go through their trust issues with each other. What a world, what a world.
Shannon lowered her head and tried to sleep. She had surmised that the M4 Deidre had given Kelsey had been empty. It was the way Deidre had turned away from Kelsey when she pulled the bolt back. It was like she didn’t want Kelsey to see something. With an empty magazine the bolt would have been locked back once pulled. Shannon hated that she was right. Kelsey needed Deidre more than Deidre needed her, but Kelsey could be taught. Now, Deidre had pissed on Kelsey’s trust. It didn’t matter what Deidre’s intentions had been, she’d set Kelsey up for failure, and Kelsey wasn’t about to forget that lack of trust.
Shannon’s mind kept her body from reaching a state of relaxation. Her ears were automatically attuned to any approaching shuffling sounds from outside. The varying degrees of sporadic pounding during Deidre’s watch did nothing for her desire to sleep. And her current situation was most unhelpful as well. In a breech situation she couldn’t count on either woman to cut her free.
She tried to steady her paranoid, hyperaware mind with watching Kelsey and Rance sleep. Shannon watched Rance and his newly aware mother with growing admiration. Something akin to jealousy entered Shannon’s mind in regards to Kelsey and Rance’s bond. At least Kelsey had something to live for past self-imposed vengeance. She had a child born from her body. What did Shannon have? Nothing but hate from what she could tell. That hate and her mission kept her… What? She had no idea at that moment, but she was determined to find out.
Shannon spent the night into the predawn hours waiting, watching, and listening. As the night approached dawn, Shannon fell asleep. Against her will her body shut down for rest.
The rest was brief and useless. If anything it made her feel worse.
“Hey. Wake up. Come on. Wake up. I don’t have all day to coddle you. Wake your ass up,” said Deidre, shaking her.
Deidre tried harder and harder until Shannon’s eyes opened. She was sitting Indian style in front of Shannon, hands folded in over the shotgun in her lap. Deidre had been poking Shannon’s forehead with her right index finger, knocking Shannon’s head against the post.
“I dozed off,” Shannon mumbled, blinking against the morning glare pouring into the kitchen.
“Like hell. You’ve been asleep for three hours. I made it a point to check on you every thirty minutes until I was sure you were asleep. I didn’t need you choking to death on your drool. God forbid that shit should be my fault somehow. Something’s happened since you were down. Listen…”
While Shannon slept the zombie march had increased from a handful her and there to several dozen at any given time. Deidre had watched them from the roof, hoping for a clue to their reasoning and destination. The roof had served as a better observation spot for that than the diner’s interior. Aside from better line of sight, sound traveled better.
“Go figure, right?” said Deidre in a near conversational tone. It was the only time Deidre had halfway smiled at Shannon since Shannon’s rampage. “Anyway, cupcake.” Shannon wasn’t sure if she meant it as her term of endearment or insult. Deidre used the word both ways, and sometimes it was hard to discern one meaning from the other. “I heard something big going down more than a few miles down the road. I heard gunfire, both automatic and semi. And what’s more, I heard what I’m sure was tanks. It was all far off and the wind made it sound faint, but I know what I heard. It doesn’t hurt that I saw what I appeared to be muzzle flashes from big guns too. Could be the military has regrouped and is making a stand.”
“Could be scavengers in Army vehicles, too.” Shannon cleared her throat. She was thirsty. Her throat was had turned into an outpost of the Mojave; a sign that bad news was on the horizon. Growing up she knew trouble was on the way when she became inexplicably parched. “Not all guys who know their way around a tank are still in the service, Deidre. Could be scavengers fighting the military with their own gear. The sounds of battle doesn’t necessarily mean help’s coming.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” roared Kelsey from the corner. Although she was smarter than she had been hours earlier her mind was still strained and grabbing at any straw of hope.
“Language, mommy!” howled Rance in protest. He was his mother’s watchdog with the very bad words.
“Sorry, baby,” answered Kelsey, her eyes never leaving Shannon. “What do mean by all that? Don’t you have any positive thoughts? See, that’s how you got infected to begin with. That negative attitude of yours.”
Shannon chuckled in spite of herself. “I’m just trying to be a realist, Kelsey. That’s all. Besides, after yesterday, I don’t have much reason to be that positive.”
“Hey, I agree with you, believe it or not. I took the same track as you, but Sally Sunshine here wants to check it out. Frankly, so do I, but fuck if we don’t know what’s waiting down the road a mile away, let alone thirty miles from here.”
“Language, Aunt Deidre,” interjected Rance again. His face was pouty. He was tiring of hearing words he couldn’t say.
“That’s getting old quick,” Deidre whispered to herself. She looked at Rance. “Sorry, doll. Look, Shannon, against my better judgment, Kelsey and I have decided to make you the tiebreaker. I trust you about as far as I can throw you these days, but my gut tells me that you didn’t mean to do what you did.”
“So what then? You’re taking me along with you? Just like that. You decide that I’m a good enough dog to have around, but you’ll kick me if I show a moment of getting out of line?”
“Something like that, though not so nicely put from my line of thought.” Deidre unfolded her hands to wave Shannon’s pistol in her face. “See, I’ve got your gun.” She waved it again, left to right before Shannon’s eyes. “Not afraid to use it neither, but I think you know that. Get out of line and I’ll put you down, capeche?”
“Yeah, I get it.” Shannon felt dejected. She was fairly sure that she was going to be the point woman for every iffy turn of the corner. She was relieved to be free, she really had to pee plus the freedom of movement was an added plus. “Can I use the bathroom?”
“You can do it right there for all I care.” Without a further word, Deidre cut her free. “You know where the Jane is. If you run, I won’t be that heartbroken or even come looking for you.”
The ropes fell free and Shannon made for the bathroom.
Lifting her skirt and lowering her underwear, every horror film that had a bathroom scene flooded her mental movie screen. Reluctantly, she drew her legs up in preparation for a bite or a body to come slithering under the stall door. Neither occurred as Shannon had the most nervous urination of her life.
She washed her hands, appalled at her own fear. She lowered her face to the sink, and splashed cold water to rouse her fully. It helped to clear away some of the dirt clinging to her. She righted herself and wiped her face with paper towels. She opened her eyes and shrieked in terror at the sight of Greene’s face overlapping her own.
“Hell of a night, huh? Did you sleep okay? I bet you didn’t, being all tied up like that.” His image spoke with clarity, not from inside her head, but from in front of her. The calm in his voice unnerved her even further. She shrieked again and tried to step away from the sink. Her feet tangled together and she fell, landing on her ass. She scooted hurriedly from the sink and backed into the door opening.
Deidre burst through, armed with the 12 gauge. “What is it? What’s going on?” She swept the area before rushing to the window overlooking the graveled rear parking lot. “What’d you see? Was a zed at the window? What?” She looked excitedly to Shannon and then around the bathroom.
Shannon’s began to rise on its own to point at the mirror. Her mind overroded the knee-jerk reaction and stopped the movement. “Nothing. I, uh, I saw a rat. That’s all. A rat ran by me. That’s all. I saw a rat.”
Deidre looked at her crossways before looking to the floor and under the stall. “The longer this goes on the more I think you’re worth more dead than alive.” She gave another suspicious look to Shannon, shook her head, and then left.
Shannon cautiously approached the mirror. She nervously ran her fingers across the silver surface. She half expected to see a hand grab hers, but nothing happened. Greene’s face didn’t appear either. She chalked the image up to nerves, lack of sleep, and a guilty conscious. With hands shaking more than ever, she finished her impromptu cleansing never taking her gaze away from her reflection. Greene’s face didn’t reappear, but her mind couldn’t escape the sight of his image.
Shannon walked into the kitchen and found Kelsey and Deidre stripping out of their work clothes. On the counter by the griddle were two stacks of clothes that looked familiar. After a few seconds of close scrutiny Shannon realized they were hers.
“Deidre, you’re taller than me. Why wear my stuff? I get Kelsey. She’s shorter. But you?”
Both women ignored her as they continued undressing.
Rance sat six feet away on a chair, hands over his eyes. He was still at the cute stage where seeing girls naked was yucky. His attitude endeared him more to Shannon than ever before. Regardless of what had happened, Shannon knew she would do what it took to protect the boy.
Turning her attention back to the two women, Shannon appraised their under garments. It was true that you could judge a person by the undies they wore on a day-to-day basis. Deidre was strictly a Victoria’s Secret gal and was built like an Amazon super model more than a waitress.
Kelsey had the body of a mother that worked to keep weight off. She was in good shape though not as toned as her taller compatriot. Her under garments were utilitarian; whatever it took to get the job done. Hers were new, bought from a Wal-Mart or K-Mart. It was clear Kelsey didn’t spend her money on unnecessary frivolities.
Deidre pulled on a pair of Shannon’s male cut jeans. The jeans fit her better in the legs than Shannon as Shannon always wore bigger than needed. On the other hand a similar pair hung off Kelsey, and needed to be rolled up at the bottom.
Kelsey blushed when she looked up, and saw Shannon’s stare.
Deidre looked up as well, and offered Shannon a wry smile. “Sorry about raiding your stuff, but we needed clothes. Good thing you buy big or I’d be dazzling the undead.” She reached into one of Shannon’s bags and pulled out another pair of jeans. “Here, get changed. We leave in twenty.”
Shannon stripped down to her underwear and instantly became self-conscious. She hadn’t been in any state of undress in front of anyone since she’d been infected. “Wow,” said Rance’s little voice. Shannon looked up in time to see him cover his eyes with his fingers.
Deidre was lacing up her tennis shoes as Kelsey slipped on one of Shannon’s t-shirts. Both looked over to Shannon. “Got yourself a six-pack, don’t you? I know that doesn’t come natural.” Deidre appeared envious but appreciative toward Shannon’s physique. Kelsey’s face reddened once more, though Shannon suspected it wasn’t because she was being modest.
“Everyone lives with what they’re given,” said Shannon, refusing to meet their eyes.
“Not all of us were given that.” Kelsey turned away to tie up her shoes.
“Not all of us were porked by a werewolf and then blessed with Supergirl’s body.” Deidre was straight faced as she buckled on an Arizona State Trooper’s issued gun belt.
“Fuck you, Martin,” murmured Kelsey. “This from the bitch with the Wonder Woman body.”
“Mooooom!” urged Rance.
“Quiet, Rance. All rules are off. We get to say what we want for now on.
“Look, we’re not going to fight over who’s got the hottest body, are we?” said Deidre. She adjusted the belt to her hips. “That shit is soooooo ten days ago. Case in point: society has fallen. There is only survival, now, and not what someone else dictates what we should look like. Frankly, you have a great figure for a woman with a kid and besides, I’d trade my body for a kid any day.” Deidre’s face went red at the admission. She quickly looked down to check the police issued gear to cover the blood that rushed to her face. Regret had a smell, and it wafted off Deidre in waves.
Deidre’s words had a positive impact on Kelsey. Her face brightened. “Really? I’d never thought I’d hear that from you.”
“You’re going to hear a lot of weird shit from me from now on. Come on, time to load up and get the hell out of Dodge.”