Approaching Hecate with their urge to leave wasn’t as difficult as they thought. Hecate was amicable about their separation. He touched on the safety in numbers rule, but didn’t push the subject. He agreed to their leaving alone only because of the growing restlessness growing within his own ranks.
“I know I have problems within, and taking a civilian and her child will be problematic, but I have a responsibility to myself to do what’s right.”
“You’re going to have your hands full with that one,” responded Deidre, waving lazily at Kelsey standing at the opposite side of the room. “Take care of her.”
“Will do,” Hecate said, shaking hands with Shannon and Deidre.
He gave them a civilian map marked with the location of their rally point with other military forces. “Just in case you change your mind. It’s a twenty two mile hump, but it could mean safety if you change your mind,” he said, handing it to Shannon. They walked to the revolving doors and stopped. “I’m serious; I’ll take care of your friend and her child. If she were leaving with you I would’ve raised a stink, but…” His shoulders moved in a very unmilitary shrug.
Hecate asked once more if they wanted to go through with their idea. The answer stayed the same. He reminded them once more of where the undead were massed and the probable lycan hotspots were in the area. With a handshake and a smile, Shannon and Deidre moved through the doors.
As Shannon walked through, Greene appeared. He offered discomforting news in the way of offering his opinion that things were surely going to be difficult for the military party. He didn’t offer details, and Shannon didn’t ask. His words were enough to reassure her that they were making the right decision. She’d almost stopped considering him a figment of her mind, and more of a bizarre guardian.
“I hope to God they’ll be okay,” he said wistfully, appearing in the window of a T-Mobile store they were walking by. Shannon could see his sadness reflected in the window. She didn’t know what to say to herself concerning Kelsey let alone a disembodied spirit.
Shannon stopped, and turned around to find Deidre staring at her. “Ready,” asked Deidre. Her tone was flat, and she looked unconvinced on Shannon’s ability to see a dead friend.
“As I’ll ever be,” answered Shannon.
Neither spoke of Kelsey as they moved along in a wary half crouch. Kelsey was determined to stay with what she thought of as a safe bet. Who were they to force her to move with them and not the soldiers?
Shannon and Deidre stepped into the street, one after another. A well-lit city street would have given comfort, but now dread began to blanket them. They could feel the eyes that watched them as they moved along silently through the city streets. Both women didn’t bother to comfort themselves with the thought that Hecate’s people were watching over them.
Shannon briefly glanced up at a streetlight. How long before the power eventually failed, she wondered. For now the illumination gave the city a lonelier feel.
The city was still in ways that left both feeling vulnerable. Shannon allowed herself a look back at the store after they had walked three blocks. She saw the soldiers moving out in cautious twos and threes. One of them stopped and waved. Shannon could smell it was Hecate. She waved back, causing Deidre to urge her along. “We’re in the open, and too well illuminated. Come on. That way.”
“Right,” said Shannon, returning her attention to their trek. They moved to a sidewalk, staying clear of windows, doors and walls as much as possible.
Neither spoke for an hour. Their attentions were focused on making it out of the city without incident. “I don’t know how much further I can go on,” said Deidre finally. Her voice was filled with a reverberating sadness that Shannon had never heard from her. “What if this is it?” she said, stopping suddenly. She held her arms out, the shotgun held out in her right hand by the pump foregrip. “What if there’s no coming back from all this shit, Shannon?” Deidre’s arms fell to her sides, slapping her ribs. She turned back in the direction they had been heading and resumed walking. Deidre’s feet rose and fell in automatic steps, and Shannon wondered when if the change had been sudden or gradual. Her body spoke volumes of feeling alone despite Shannon’s presence.
Shannon kept pace beside her, taking notice that she was the only one looking around as they walked. “What if it’s not? What’s eating you, Dee? It’s been close to a week since things started falling away. We can turn this around. This isn’t the end.”
Deidre stopped short of walking up an interstate on ramp. She turned to Shannon, her hands working the shotgun angrily. “We’ve got zombies, werewolves, and zombie werewolves. You’re a werewolf and while this may be old hat to you, it’s new to me. It’s new to Kelsey and Rance. For most of the normal nine to five goddamn world it’s new. Look at us!” Deidre raised her weapon, and thumped her chest with it to accentuate her words. “We’re two women without a plan, without even short term supplies, moving toward something we don’t even know about. And just why in the blue fuck are we moving north? Why?”
Shannon didn’t know what to say. Her mouth opened, shut, opened again, and then shut for good. Like it or not Deidre had a point. Where were they going and why.”
“See what I mean? You have no idea either. What are we going to do? Move north until we get to Canada, and then what? Montreal is gone from what I heard. So’s Alberta, Ontario, and Toronto. Fucking Nashville, goddamn Tennessee is gone. This shit is everywhere. Everywhere!”
“Is this about Kelsey?” Shannon spoke without knowing why she was speaking.
“It’s about Rance. He’s the whole reason I traveled with you people. There’s nothing left to work for now that he’s gone.”
“Don’t you have family?”
“Mom and dad’s dead. My sister lives in Nebraska. She has a husband and two kids, and her own problems to deal with.”
“Live for them then. I know that’s trite and clichéd, but that’s all you’ve got then. If you won’t live for yourself then live for them.”
Deidre laughed. It was hushed, desperate laugh. “It’s a long walk to Lincoln, Nebraska, Shay.”
“Like Canada’s any closer.”
Deidre blinked in surprise. Canada was a nice idea, and most certainly no worse an idea for a destination than Nebraska. “Why?” she said, regaining her composure.
“Why are you here? Things are going to hell and your kind’ve helped with that, but yet here you are. Why?”
Shannon shrugged. She looked away in the distance, and then down at the ground before meeting Deidre’s eyes once more. “Got nothing better to do. This is a break for me. First time in my life I don’t have to worry about hiding what I am. Trust me, it’s not fun for me either, but it makes for an interesting change of pace.”
The exchange lightened Deidre’s attitude. Thinking of what family she had had a calming effect on her. “You and your fucked up sense of positivity. Okay,” she said, smiling. “Nebraska it is. Like you said, got nothing better to do. Haven’t seen Janet and the kids in two years. Zombie werewolf apocalypse is a good enough reason for a road trip.”
“Then what are we waiting for?”
“You know how to get there?”
“No. Do you?”
“We need a map.” Deidre dug the Hecate had given them from inside her shirt. She turned it over, looking at it with mild bemusement. “This piece of crap will get us out of Arizona but past that we’re screwed. Come on. There has to be a convenience store somewhere near the freeway.”
Deidre turned back to walk down the road when she heard a far off boom. She would’ve ignored it and doubled down on moving forward if not for Shannon grabbing her arm and saying, “Look.”
“What do you think that is?” asked Shannon flatly.
“Something we don’t want to be a part of. Let’s get back to it.”
“Yeah, let’s,” answered Shannon.
In the distance black, oily smoke rose skyward. Whatever had happened was large indeed, and neither woman wanted to be anywhere near what could have caused it.
Deidre paid more attention to her surroundings from then on. They walked on for several miles until they came to an atypical stop of for families traveling between home and their vacations. The area was covered with the infill of Shell and Gulf stations surrounded by fast food places and mom and pop greasy spoons.
Shannon and Deidre’s stomachs growled in unison at the sight of Arby’s and McDonald’s signs blaring their specials for all to see. Food, or the prospect thereof, would have to wait. First they needed to make sure the area was clear of threats.
They climbed over the guardrail and slid into a gully two hundred yards from the nearest building, a newer Motel 6 claiming that it had the softest beds in 100 miles. The motel was also the biggest structure in the vicinity that could hold problematic concentrations of werewolves and zombies. Both looked it over like wary rats eyeing a piece of drying bologna on a trap.
Three dust covered cars sat idle in the motel’s parking lot. None of the neglected vehicles had been driven in days. The desert grit blanketed them like a perverse kind of snowfall. But even their apparent disuse didn’t mean the motel or the surrounding business fronts were empty. No lights shown through the windows, and the majority of the motel curtains were pulled shut.
The sun was setting behind them, and a number of street lights flickered on. Some of the lamps pulsed, giving the area a strobe lit effect. Shannon tapped Deidre’s shoulder and pointed at the Shell station. The gas station’s interior was still well lit and the parking lot was deserted save for a Los Angeles police cruiser. The police car sat vacant with its driver’s side door open at a gas pump. The nozzle hung from the tank. Nothing moved inside the store or around the car.
“Far from home, ain’t he?” mused Deidre as they moved forward for a closer look. They moved just outside of the range of the gas station’s exterior lights, observing the scene as they lay prone.
“Maybe he knew a lost cause when he saw one and took off. LA’s a big city. Bound to have more than its share of corpses roaming around.” Shannon sniffed the air. She could smell the cold engine of the Ford Crown Victoria, the stink of one, no, two cops that had occupied the car. One was a male, the other was confused. A male that liked to be a female? No. She couldn’t place it, but the smell was wrong. She was thirsty and tired so maybe that was messing with her sense. That and the stink of the gas station’s tanks filled with mostly fumes. A number of the tank caps lay open. Scavengers had to have come by looking to boost their fuel supplies with what was left.
“Maybe, but I’m not taking any chances that Officer McGruff is inside and still in the mood to serve and protect. Let’s hang here for a while, keep watch on the place. We’ve got nothing to lose by doing that.”
Shannon shrugged her shoulders. It was a plan, and their best chance to find a map and get some kind of supplies, provided that it hadn’t been emptied. Still, they couldn’t wait too long. Each moment they delayed was a moment someone else, a bigger badder someone else at that, could roll up on them.
Shannon chose another tact. “We need to get in there, but we’re going to have to sleep sometime, Dee. We’ve walked too far with too little rest.” She stretched her limbs like she was tired. The truth was she wasn’t in the slightest. She could go three days without sleep, but she didn’t need to use her nose to know Deidre was close to running on reserves. Deidre’s steps had picked up after her rant, but over time had slowly moved from natural easy walking to forced steps.
“You sleep,” said Deidre. “I’ll take the first three hours.” She rubbed her eyes. It was clear she was exhausted.
“Deidre. I can go longer without rest. You sleep and I’ll watch. If anything happens I’ll let you know.”
Deidre considered it. “Okay. Let me know first thing if trouble shows up.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” Shannon tried to sound reassuring, but she felt exposed. They were hidden from human eyes, but it was the now reigning monsters of the world that concerned her.
“Just wake me up if you see something, okay?” Deidre shrugged off the half empty backpack and laid her head on it.
“I will.” Shannon focused on the gas station, and a minute later light snoring drifted up from Deidre. The snores weren’t loud, but it was an unnatural noise that certainly could draw attention. Shannon wondered if she snored when she slept. It was a silly thing to wonder, but silence was now their best weapon, and if they couldn’t sleep silently then they were in greater danger.
As if in answer, Deidre’s snoring ceased. Thank God for small favors, she thought as she peered into the growing twilight.
Shannon watched as the occasional zombie moved past the Shell. Once an undead woman walked in, moved behind the counter, picked something up and shuffle back through the door. It wasn’t until the dead woman was down the road that Shannon realized the woman had taken a carton of cigarettes. Shannon resisted the urge to call “thief” after her. Instead she pondered why a roaming dead person need a carton of smokes. Smoker in life, smoker in death, she thought as she turned her attention back on the Shell. The act of observing the dead was growing monotonous quick, fast, and in a hurry. She silently swore that she’d wake Deidre up in an hour to get the good goddamned map if nothing perilous showed up.
Then something more puzzling than the nico-zombie happened. An undead teenaged girl slunk from the motel. She walked to the police car with a lazy purpose that Shannon found captivating. The girl removed the nozzle from the police car before dropping it to the ground as she tried to place it back into the cradle. She did this twice before being able to set it back home.
Watching the girl sucked up Shannon’s full attention. Mentally she cursed herself for allowing it to happen, but she couldn’t help it. The undead girl seemed to be trying to put the car and gas pump to rights. Shannon watched the girl make her way to the driver’s side, climb inside, close the door, and then sit motionless for a couple minutes. The door opened again and the girl got out, slamming the door with a strength that impressed Shannon. The undead girl seemed perplexed as to why the car wasn’t moving. Three times she walked around it before giving it an awkward kick and then drifting off into the darkness.
“Lousy car thief,” snickered Shannon.
“What was that?” asked Deidre in a sleepy tone.
The remark startled Shannon. “What?” she answered, louder than she intended.
“Shhhh, damn it.” Deidre gave a quick stretch before rolling over. “What was that about a lousy car thief?”
“I think a dead girl tried to drive off in the police car.”
“You’re kidding.” Deidre rolled over to face Shannon. She sat up and stared at the vehicle in hopes of seeing the girl.
“Seriously. This dead girl came from the motel,” Shannon pointed to the Motel 6, “walked to the car,” she mimed a person walking with her fingers, “removed the gas nozzle, and then got in. It looked like she was trying to figure out what to do next before she wandered off.” Shannon then pointed to where the teenaged zombie had stumbled off.
“No shit.” Deidre quickly lost interest. There was nothing to see now. “Any activity other than that?”
“Zombies walking around, but nothing in great numbers.”
“Any of your ‘people’?”
Shannon’s face went sour. She sensed the quotation marks. “No, I haven’t seen any of ‘my people’.” The insinuation annoyed Shannon. Deidre didn’t mean anything by it, but Shannon the remark still agitated her. “If I had I would’ve woke you up.”
“Don’t have to get bitchy. It wasn’t a put down.”
“Hmph,” answered Shannon. “It doesn’t matter. There’s to see anyway.”
“Fine. Has it been three hours yet?”
“It’s been…” Shannon checked her watch. “Four hours.”
“So much for three hours. Your turn.” Deidre put her shotgun aside and brought her machine gun up to her shoulder.
“Okay. We’ll sit here and watch the sunrise together then.”
Together they lay prone on the ground, watching the area. As the sun was showing its orange and rose pink glow over the horizon a group of seven zombies approached the gas station. The night had seen singles and duos stumble through the dark, and most unheeded their surroundings. The size of this group, six in all, was enough to put them on edge. It was when two of the stumblers turned, staring in their general direction that Shannon and Deidre began to worry. The sight of them moving toward them was a wake up better than any hi-octane triple shot of espresso.
“Do they see us?” whispered Deidre, putting the butt of her weapon into her shoulder.
“God I hope not. Goes without saying that this isn’t right.” Shannon flicked her safety off.
“Those two know we’re here. How’d they notice us when the others didn’t?”
“I have a bad feeling,” she said bitterly. The annoyance was creeping up on her, overruling her tiredness. She hated closing her eyes to rub them, but she needed to in order to regain her focus. She opened them as Deidre’s nudged her elbow. The two had reversed direction and were lazily trailing after the group which had stopped and now appeared to be huddled together in conversation.
“Is it me, or do they look like they’re having a meeting?” Shannon stared hard at the group.
“Sure as shit looks like it.”
Without warning the group began to writhe collectively before collapsing to the ground. Shannon and Deidre watched in horrified dismay as they began to transform.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” muttered Shannon. Deidre gave her own curses as they watched the group rise up.
“Fucking were-zombies,” hissed Deidre. “We’ve gotta go. We’ve gotta go now.”
“We move, we die.” Shannon desperately grabbed Deidre’s shoulder, stopping her. “Do you think we can out run them? There’s too many. We have to stay low and not move unless they come at us.”
Deidre growled her disagreement but decided that staying put was the best choice. They watched the group prowl the area. It was obvious they were looking for food and both were sure that they would be found. “I can see escape and evasion isn’t in your vernacular so what do we do?”
“We wait, see what they’re going to do and then act.” Shannon sniffed the air between them. “Try to get your fear under control. They can-”
“Screw that. I’m a split second from pissing myself.” Deidre kept her finger on the trigger. He was using amounts of self-discipline that she never knew she had to keep from firing. Sweat beaded on her face before trickling down to her shirt. She had no idea her breasts could manufacture as much sweat as they did now.
The were-lycans advanced cautiously, their noses flaring violently as they sampled their scent cones. They spread themselves out, each sniffing a different area while making sure their cones overlapped.
At thirty yards away, one of them halted unexpectedly, its nose jerking upward to the sky. Unexpectedly, the were-zombie began sneezing. Ropey string of pale yellow infection flew from its nose. Bits that resisted from falling away wrapped around its muzzle as its head whipped furiously with each exhalation.
Deidre bravely stretched her head higher for a better look. Shannon didn’t have to; she could hear the infection expanding and contracting inside its chest and nasal passages as it violently expelled air. She tried to ignore the sound but couldn’t.
“Kind of like maple syrup and pebbles banging around in a bucket,” said Greene, standing up to watch. He nonchalantly smoked a cigarette as he watched. “That’s something Nyquil’s not getting rid of.”
Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off, thought Shannon, trying to banish Greene.
“No. Not right now. You know, things are about to get interesting, and a better OP would be over there in that cement mixer.” Greene pointed to a red and white big rig with Tucson Redi-Mix painted on the mixer. The rear end protruded from the back of the Shell. “Driver’s dead inside, but it’s good to go, if you want to go check it out. Oh and cover your nose and mouth. He’s been that way for a while so he’s kind of past the buy before date. They shouldn’t notice you. If you and sweaty tits there go when I say.”
Fuck off, Steve, fuck off, Steve, fuck off, Steve.
“Okay, okay.” Steve flicked the cigarette away. “Don’t say I didn’t try to help you. You know you have a fellow watcher about two hundred yards to your rear, right? Lady-girl’s been following you for the past four miles. Just saying.”
Greene vanished and Shannon reflexively looked to their rear. She didn’t smell anything out of the ordinary. That wasn’t saying much because now the world smelled like death, decay, and the living. The smells of the living seemed to be comprised of piss, fear, shit, and impending death.
“I think we need to get the hell out of here, like yesterday get the hell out of here.” Deidre’s whisper was underscored with pants filling dread.
Shannon turned to face forward again, but her eyes strained at the corners for a sight of anything concerning Greene’s warning. She saw nothing, smelled nothing, and that scared her.
The sneezing were-lycan was surrounded by its friends. Each was partially crouched and two were pacing back and forth, watching their ill comrade. The sick lycan snarled in between sneezes, warning the others to keep away. It fought valiantly to keep from as it stumbled in small circles trying to keep the others back. It raised its muzzle to roar at them, but doubled over, sneezing. It writhed on the ground, slamming its muzzle and head into the macadam.
“Weak,” said one in a slow, thick grating voice.
“Sick,” said another in return. The sick one rolled onto all fours and howled weakly.
“All sick,” said another. “This,” it jerked its muzzle at the sick one, “different.” That one cleared its throat and spat on the ground. “Kill. Eat. Smells different. Smells like food.”
Shannon gritted her teeth. Her nose was picking up something she hadn’t expected; the sickness was leaving the were-lycan on the ground. “Steve’s right,” she muttered. “Okay, we’re leaving soon. We can’t go forward, we can’t go back so we’re going to the bottom of the drainage ditch and heading left when I say.”
“When you say?” snapped Deidre. And Steve was right about what? Listen-”
“No, you listen, Dee. That bastard on the ground is changing, and I don’t mean back to a zombie. It smells like his body’s fighting whatever the hell this is, and when he does, this shit’s about to turn into another bloodbath.”
“Expelling? You mean like healing?”
“Shut up and listen, dammit.” Shannon didn’t take her sight off the group as her voice went lower and more menacing. “They’re going to attack it, and they’re going to kill it. They’re not acting like a pack. They’re acting like a mob of individuals.”
And they did attack. The moment the no longer not-so-sick werezombie took his eyes off one the killing began. Shannon smelled something akin to healthiness creeping back over him as the others pounced on him. She caught a glimpse him putting two on their asses before the remaining two closed in. The snarls and roars filled the air with the blood that was being spilled.
Shannon and Deidre retreated as fast as they could down the drainage ditch.
“I left some of our gear back there,” said Deidre in between gasps.
“Forget it,” answered Shannon, pressing her forward. “We can get new shit when we need it.”
An infuriated tangle of roars from behind gave both a mental shove forward. The pace was picked up and they topped the rise in time to see the bloodied werezombies charging at them. Their muzzles and the fronts of their clothes were covered in their former friend and they were hell-bent on having Deidre and Shannon as deserts.
“Shit,” cried Deidre.
“Run!” urged Shannon, her voice echoing off the surrounding deserted structures. She began the change, and then her blood and heart stopped. The wind had shifted a bit and then she smelled her. The rage fueled bitch dyke lycan, Drexler, was…close. Shannon’s mind reeled and for a brief moment the world stopped along with her heart. Drexler wasn’t close. No. She was near, maybe a quarter of a mile at the most, but close enough for the scent to register on the wind. And Shannon’s fear went from to the bone to a hellacious soaking at a cellular level.
Drexler was threat level she had never thought possible, and mixed with the current threats, there was no way in any hell that she or Deidre would make it through the next sixty seconds.
“Dee,” screamed Shannon as she embraced the change. It might help her survive, but she was certain that Deidre was fucked. She had to at least warn her. The drainage ditch had played out. The end was grated with heavy metal grid work. Their only chance was to crest the ditch and make a run for it on the road. Shannon followed Deidre up the side and for a moment she was gaining on her. It was when Shannon stopped to look over her shoulder that their distance opened up again. Damn could that girl run.
Deidre was forty feet ahead and still moving away. She glanced over her shoulder as Shannon screamed her name again. “Dee! Run! That lycan bitch is-”
The werezombie in the lead opened its muzzle as it charged forward, set to release a roar of impending triumph. A snap rushed past Shannon’s ear and its throat exploded. The undead lycan took a half step and then collapsed. A few seconds of weak mushy breathing came from the shredded throat, and then nothing. The shot had taken out the werezombie’s spinal column. It died unmoving as its comrades trampled or rushed past its body. They were rabid with blood lust. Froth, infected saliva or both flew from their muzzles, and nothing could convince them to change their minds or their course of action. They ran ahead, unmindful or uncaring that something had killed one of their own.
Three more snaps, three well placed shots to the head, in rapid succession fell the remaining threats. The werezombie pack died quickly and oblivious to the death of the others.
Shannon was fully changed, and she hoped to God that her shaking wasn’t visible to either Deidre or Drexler. She need to maintain confidence for one and dominance for the other. The dominance aspect was a pipe dream, and she knew it.
“Remember when I told you to get to the truck, and you didn’t?”
Greene was back, and his tone was vengefully accusing.
“Why didn’t you go to the truck like I told you? If you had, things would’ve been different. But no.” He drew no out in a long unflattering to anyone mocking voice. “You fucking knew better. Idiot. Stupid fucking idiot. You stupid fucking idiot mutt.”
Shannon turned to face Greene, to scream for him to shut his damned mouth, but he was gone.
Her gaze fell upon Deidre, poised in a crouch nearly against the wall of where Greene had urged Shannon to retreat. She didn’t take notice of Shannon or the expression of utter rage covering her face. She was too busy looking for the sniper.
“She’s moving away, I think.” Shannon spoke mostly to herself as she turned around sniffing.
“Dude, she’s retreated so get to the truck like I told you.” Greene’s disembodied voice felt like it was nowhere at all. It felt like it just was. What disturbed Shannon was Greene’s continued push to get to the truck even though the danger had passed. She didn’t like the new scent. It was too young, fresh, and familiar.
“Stay right there,” Shannon ordered as she passed Deidre. “Don’t move.”
“What do you mean, don’t move?”
“Stay,” commanded Shannon, hand held out like a canine trainer. She felt the urge to follow it with, “good girl,” but didn’t. A new reality had presented them personally not with a shit sandwich and a steaming glass of Ovaltine flavored diarrhea, but a shit salad smorgasbord with all you can guzzle green apple splatter cider.
And that new reality had now presented her and Deidre with Rance’s head perched precariously on the steering wheel. Lumpy fecal matter was smeared on his upper lip and chin in a parody of a mustache and goatee. On the windshield interior was the shit scribed message, written in Drexler’s elegant hand, “I tried to care for him, but you know how it is with livestock. They’re so hard to keep alive. Plus, pigs live in shit. You live with pigs, ergo you live in shit as well. Miss you much. D”
(C) Jason G. McKinney All rights reserved.