Shannon slept dreamlessly, but well. Her body called revile and she jerked awake, chiding herself for allowing what felt like too much of the day to slip by. With the world burning in the midst of an extinction level event, it seemed selfish to have slept so well let alone want more such nights. Still she wished for more and loved the longing.
The only thing she longed for more was toothpaste. She smacked her lips and clicked her tongue in disgust as she looked through the commander’s view ports. Nothing stirred. She was about to turn away until she saw activity at the tree line. Focusing her vision to the movement, she saw a woman step out. It was Deidre. She motioned toward the trees and Kelsey and Rance slunk out to join her. Kelsey was carrying a rifle, and Rance appeared to be clutching a pistol.
The trio ran to the roadblock and Shannon watched them until they disappeared from the view port’s line of sight. Shannon sunk to the turret’s floor. She wasn’t totally sold on greeting them. Her conscious thought urged her to undog the hatch and call out to them.
“Why should I,” she muttered bitterly. “They left me. Jackasses.”
“Oh yeah. Like they didn’t have problems of their own. I bet they did.” She answered without hesitation. Talking aloud to herself was something she’d never done before. She wasn’t sure if she liked it, let alone that she wasn’t going insane.
“Nothing ventured,” she said again, finally undogging the hatch. It squeaked loudly before banging a metal on metal announcement of her presence to the world.
A scream, followed by Kelsey telling Rance to hush caused nesting birds to take flight. Shannon looked around. Deidre, Kelsey and Rance were standing beside Shannon’s refuge. All had their firearms aimed at her.
“Want to get shot often,” Deidre asked, smiling. “Damn glad to find you okay.”
“Where you in there all night,” asked Kelsey.
“Cool! You slept in a tank!” said Rance enviously. His tone quickly changed. “Better than a ditch like us.”
“You left me behind,” growled Shannon. “What the hell is wrong with you?” She jumped down. The four tucked in pistols dug into her stomach and back. The pain reminded her that she was alive.
“No other choice, Shay. Damn walkers came out of nowhere. We had to get the hell out of there. Shit, you were better off on foot in dog form than we were in a one ton mobile value meal box.” Deidre was trying to explain, but it sounded too much like a defense of their actions. Shannon could see that Deidre wanted absolution for leaving her behind more than she wanted a fight.
“It’s true. We owe you a back window on your car, among other things. They almost got us all.” Kelsey hugged Rance closer, fight back against her maternal doting.
“Told you so,” Shannon whispered in near triumph. “And that wasn’t my car. Doesn’t even matter if it was.”
“Say what?” Deidre looked Shannon over with cautious eyes. It was a response she hadn’t expected.
“Nothing. Just talking to myself. You do that when you’re alone. It does keep you sane.” The words tumbled out of Shannon’s mouth. Better to get it all out in the open than surprise them further when it happened again in a big way. Shannon knew in her gut that it was inevitable.
“Survival makes you…,” Kelsey trailed off as she looked down at Rance.
Deidre’s mouth puckered briefly. “Well, we’ve got better things we need to think about. Walk with us, Shannon.”
Deidre took a few steps away and stopped once she noticed Shannon wasn’t with them. Shannon silently stared at them before joining.
“You can choose not to go with them if it pisses you off,” said Greene from the tank. Shannon growled, and Deidre took it personally.
“I’m sorry we ran out on you. I really am, and I hate to say it, but you have to get over it.”
Shannon remained silent as she looked ahead. They walked in silence for a moment before Deidre spoke again. “Anything useful in these vehicles? Yours appears to be in decent shape …”
“Wait. What happened to the truck?” Shannon held a hand out, stopping their walk. A pang hit her heart though she didn’t know why.
“We had a run in…” began Kelsey.
“More like a run over, Momma,” Rance interjected.
“Shhh,” hissed Deidre with a laugh mixed with uneasiness. “See it’s like this. The end of the world is still a new thing so telling you this is kinda difficult at best.”
“What happened to my car? Where is it?” The sense of loss grew bigger. She hadn’t worried about the car before now, and she felt idiotic about the sudden disconnect from a simple gas guzzling conveyance. True, it wasn’t much, but Shannon loved the Nova and now it was gone. “You trashed it, didn’t you? You hate me so much that you fucked my car over.” She felt her voice’s pitch rise and the need to fight to avenge the car rose with it.
“It’s not like that. Damn, girl. Relax and let me explain. Deidre licked her lips and rubbed her right foot into the ground. To Shannon she appeared as nervous as a child explaining how mom’s favorite decorative plate got broken. “See, we were cut off and had to run the zombies down. Your radiator got punctured. Kel and I think it was a couple of ribs that did it. We’re sorry, and if it makes you feel any better, we killed a whole lot of them. Maybe fifteen or twenty.” Deidre smiled nervously, while tightening her grip on the M4 she carried.
“Can it be salvaged?” asked Shannon testily. “Maybe we can patch it up.” Shannon felt stupid, talking about a car that could easily be replaced with something better and for free no less. Still, the car had served her through her entire decade long wolf hunt. “Where is it?” She had to see it if only to say goodbye.
“Eh,” said Deidre casually. “Don’t get too emotional, okay? It’s just a car, you’re a grown woman, and trust me, no amount of Stop Leak is going to fix it. It’s waaaaay past a patch or something like it.” Deidre walked forward, leaving Shannon to look at Kelsey in astonishment.
“She’s right, Shannon. The…” Kelsey paused to find the right word to describe the offending puncturing object. “The offending object? Yes, the offending object went through the front before being pulled across the metal water reservoir thingy.”
“It was the top half of a zombie!” said Rance, smiling still. “It was gross!”
“What? A zombie half? But my car!”
“Sorry, Shannon.” Kelsey face held a reassuring smile as she stepped into Shannon and hugged her. “It’s gone.” Kelsey broke away, took Rance’s hand and followed Deidre, who was further down looking into an abandoned Humm-Vee. It stood alone on the side of the road in a failed attempt to escape.
Shannon joined Deidre as she moved away from the vehicle. The hood was up and had been pock marked with bullets. The engine and passenger compartment was also ruined. “Well, this thing’s a loss. Maybe there’s something further down the road or in town.” With dawning realization, Shannon understood that town meant Tucson, thirty miles away.
“Had no idea we were that close.” Shannon muttered miserably as she peered into the passenger compartment. The remains of two dead soldiers rested inside. They looked no better than the devoured dead Shannon had seen at the asylum. It was clear though that the aircraft had done the damage and not undead.
“I’m kind of surprised too. I had no idea we’d come this far either. Time travels fast when you’re running for your life.” Deidre moved along with Kelsey close behind while Shannon stood facing away from the ruined vehicle. She listened for anything unusual. The cliché of something being too quiet fit. Nothing moved and that suited her well enough.
None of the women made to examine more of the abandoned vehicles closely. It was pointless with the way the traffic had been stopped bumper to bumper not to mention the wrecks that lay on the grass shoulder.
Shannon and Deidre occasionally glancing into a vehicle while Kelsey moved along in between them. Kelsey clutched Rance’s hand, eyeing each car suspiciously as they moved forward. Her paranoia, or situational awareness as Deidre called it, was high. It unsettled Shannon to see Kelsey act so. Surviving in the new world alone was hard enough; doing so with a child was something Shannon couldn’t fathom.
She thought of the father that had killed Helfron. She couldn’t imagine the fear the mother and father had felt. The emotion behind ending their children’s undead lives was something she didn’t even want to consider.
Pushing the thought aside she pressed onward. Moving to a large population center was a bad idea to her, but they needed to… To do what, she wondered. A car could be found anywhere. Well almost anywhere. Where were they going, and what was their end goal.
Maybe I should strike out on my own. The thought hung heavy in her mind, but then she considered what had happened in Woodrow and the lycan female that Ricketts referred to as Drexler. That one seemed dangerous and striking out on her own wouldn’t help anyone, let alone Deidre, Kelsey, and Rance. She pulled her mind out of her reverie and focused on her environment instead.
The damaged vehicles lining the highway increased her uneasiness. More often than not bodies littered the ground and there was no way to distinguish infected from not. All the bodies had been charred. “What a waste,” she murmured, before jogging to catch up to the others. She had lagged a little behind. “Hey, Dee,” she called, joining Deidre. Any idea if some of these could’ve started as survivors from that place that looked like a rec center? Maybe some of them bailed out before all this, thinking they had a better shot here than there.”
“Christ on a cr-,” began Deidre “You like thinking about inconsequential stuff, don’t you?” Deidre sighed. “You aren’t thinking anything I haven’t.”
“Look, about that place…” began Kelsey. Shannon could see the tension on her face. The way that Rance gripped her hand spoke volumes of trouble.
“Doesn’t matter, now,” interjected Deidre. “We went there last night looking for shelter, but we got a shotgun reception instead. I got two of them. Maybe they were sentries or maybe scouts, or maybe they were sick fucks looking for women to add to their little group.” Deidre shrugged. “The point is, they shouldn’t have threatened us.” Deidre’s tone was even. She spoke like she was describing a moderately good novel.
“But who were they exactly?” Shannon’s curiosity was high, and most of it was morbid. She wanted to know what other people were up to.
“Don’t have a clue and couldn’t care less,” began Deidre. Kelsey cut her off. “We had to. One of them grabbed Rance and said they’d kill him if we didn’t put down our weapons and come with them.” Kelsey visibly shuddered. It was something that she wanted to forget, but couldn’t.
“I’m surprised the shooting didn’t wake you. I guess the tank was good for sound proofing,” said Deidre.
“I didn’t hear a thing. I was dead to the world.” Shannon immediately realized how silly the term had become and she felt her face redden.
“Well, Kelsey’s bloodied now. She killed one with her bare hands. Me, I beat mine to death with my 16. They were male and I didn’t have to ask what their intentions were. It was pretty clear when they entered our area and started talking right from the off about what they wanted to do with women and kids. None of it was positive so we gave them some food for thought.” Deidre lit a cigarette. She looked at the empty pack before cursing and throwing it to the road. “In retrospect, we killed them so I guess they’re not learning anything now.”
Shannon remained silent. The further along they traveled together the more she understood the human desire for living that she’d ignored for years. So much of her time was spent living as a werewolf among humans that she’d forgotten that she had base human emotions too. “It’s kind of early for scavengers, isn’t it?”
“Not really,” said Kelsey, pausing to lift Rance onto her shoulders. “Think about Katrina. Not every looter was looking for diapers and toilet paper. I mean, what good’s a plasma TV when you have nowhere to plug it in? A lot of people looted what they wanted, and not what was needed. In the end, what were they left with?”
“Got that right,” said Deidre in between drags. Shit hits the fan there are two groups of people; those that’ll help and those that’ll take from any and all. In the end, we have to be careful not to get mixed up with either. I’m not going to take from others, but I sure as hell ain’t going to put my stuff in a community pile.” She shifted the bag she carried. Between it and the large military backpack, Deidre was carrying the bulk of ammo and supplies. “Shannon, be a dear take the bag will you?” It was more of an order than a request. Deidre was tired of being the pack mule.
Shannon silently took the bag. It was heavy, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Shannon thought she was the toughest of them at the onset of the outbreak. Now she considered Deidre to be the queen warrior woman. She wondered if Deidre had always been so aggressive, but had hidden it like Shannon had. Deidre definitely seemed different. Before everything she’d smoked constantly. Now, she smoked very little. It seemed like cigarettes had become a coping mechanism in her journey through global armageddon. “We ought to be in the Tucson city limits by midafternoon,” said Shannon in an attempt to change the subject. She concentrated on her stride as she hefted the pack further up her back.
“My thoughts, too,” answered Deidre. “You okay with Rance, Kel? I can take him for a while if you want.” She looked back to Kelsey, expecting her to hand the boy over. Instead, Kelsey shook her head no. “Let me know if you want to swap, okay?
“Okay,” she said, looking around as she walked. “I get the feeling we’re being watched. I don’t know why but I do.” Her face was uneasy through the dried sweat and dirt that caked it.
“We probably are,” answered Deidre, nonchalantly.
Deidre’s lack of fear bothered Shannon more than Kelsey’s overabundance of it. She hoped against hope that Deidre wouldn’t do something foolish because of it. The truth was, they were being followed. Drexler was close, but not too close. She caught a brief smell of her, but couldn’t lock on to it. The she-werewolf was teasing her, and it made Shannon’s mind itch.
Once they existed the traffic jam’s kill zone, the feeling of human eyes joined the feeling of Drexler’s hunting. Whoever was watching them kept their distance.
The wind shifted from time to time and her nose filed with the smell the raw stink of their bodies, and well maintained weapons. Whoever was pacing them was trained at least. They kept their movements as quiet as possible while they continued their surveillance. In the shadows of the pile up’s left side she thought she’d seen a shadow move. She hoped that her turning to look behind them would give those following reason to not attack. That was her hope at least.
She glanced at an abandoned Ford Mustang’s rolled up window. Greene’s face was there, giving her a wink. Shannon didn’t scream or yell. What she did was fall sidle wide around it His appearance had startled her more than she cared for.
“I know now’s a bad time to mention it, but we’ve got to talk, girlfriend.” His voice drifted to her ears and was followed by ringing laughter. The dementia she felt had to stop. Of that she was sure. “Nope, you’re not going crazy, and you’re too young for dementia,” he said. His answer reaffirmed that she was the craziest one on the road. How else could he have known what she was thinking?