If you’re new, here’s chapter 1:
As I lit my first cigarette for, what I assumed was the night, I thought of how I’d spend my next eight or so hours. I’d probably do the usual: read through that bad book of poetry I found last month; spin the radio dial for a while, just curious to see if Minnesota was broadcasting IRB yet, but only because they played bad jazz after midnight; and then start the heavy drinking, when my brain finally cleared up enough to focus on Marcy.
No, not yet. I reached for the bottle to calm myself when I heard something from outside that made me reach even faster. There were only so many noises a zombie could make, and none of them sounded like the scream that came through the wall. It was a woman’s cry, loud and scared. But something seemed off. Anyone with any experience fighting knew that sound only attracted more zombies. And some girl couldn’t have made it all the way up here without running into her fair share. Something didn’t seem right about this, and for a second, I thought about minding my own damn business and drowning out that memory with some scotch. I’ll regret it every day I live, but I got off that lumpy futon for the last time and walked out the door.
She stood in the freshly fallen snow, surrounded by three lurching zombies. Just over the moans, I could hear the “click, click, click” as she kept pressing the trigger of her empty rifle. I tried to steady myself, connect my sights with the heads. My hands were shaky, I hadn’t fired my gun since my last grocery trip, just over three months ago. I thought to myself how i should have taken that drink; my hands wouldn’t be shaking like the useless limbs that they knew they were. I planted my feet firmly in the ground and pulled the trigger. Three bangs later, and the zombies lay on the ground, bowing in semidarkness to this stranger. I lowered my rifle and got a good look at the woman who had just ended my career as the selfish man i thought I was.
From the moment I had time to drink in the view, I knew that she sure was the trouble I had guessed she was. Even in her bulky parka, I could just see the faint outlines of her figure, daring anybody to just imagine what else was under there. Down from the bottom of her parka, I could see those legs shooting down into the snow. She wasn’t wearing the IRB pants that I’ve seen desexualizing so many attractive women. No, she was wearing skintight leggings that made a man take a second breath and be glad to be alive. I was certainly impressed, but thats not what made me nervous. Her long black hair was draped over her shoulder. Just peeking out from the shadows it cast across her face were those dark eyes of hers. The trepidation was clear in them; but from the way those eyelashes framed those black marbles, I knew they held some secrets that I would have rather died not knowing. That darkness that gave me the creeps. I should have turned around then, having saved her this once. But I swallowed that sense of foreboding that she carried around and curiosity got the best of me.
The woman gave a sigh and from what little light there was, I saw a few small glistening teardrops fall from her chin and smack into the snow near her feet. My heart grew soft for a second and I wondered if I had judged too soon. She brushed the hair from her face, only for it to fall exactly where it had been.
She gave me a sheepish smile and said, “thank you so much, sir. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here…” Her voice trailed off as I nodded in return. No girl like this would leave with just a thank you, I thought and was interrupted with just what I was expecting.
“May I p-p-please come in?” she stammered. I grunted sure and showed her inside.
“Sorry toots, I guess I wasn’t exactly expecting company today,” I said as she noticed ashtrays stuffed with grime and the empty bottles scattering the floor like a forgotten train set. I pulled an old wooden chair out from the closet and offered it to her. I lit myself another cigarette and paced around her. She gave me that pout I’ve seen from so many girls who were too pretty to buy their own cigarettes. I pulled out a second and lit it for her. I took one last drag while trying to understand what that secret was behind those dark eyes.
“Thanks again for saving me back there…”
“Don’t play that damsel in distress act.” I interrupted. “I’ve been fooled by too many gals looking like you with that kind of attitude. I’ve been held up in here for 18 months, and you’re the only woman with a heartbeat who has traveled through. Theres no safety north of Chicago. If, of course, Chicago is still standing. Don’t be coy with me, why’s a thing like you all the way up here to talk to me?”
She seemed to realize I was more perceptive than I looked, and she loosened up. Her cigarette held more gingerly between her fingers and her mouth looked like it wanted to curl into a smile.
“Mr Roberts, I need your help.”
Help. If there’s one thing in post apocalyptic America that was in short supply, other than ammo, it was charity. When widespread disaster had hit, you only survived if you made sure not to stick out your neck, for nobody. But curiosity was getting the best of me. When you haven’t seen humanity in months, the sight of a beautiful woman with smoke rising through her maze of hair, further obscuring those mysterious eyes, well, that sight makes a man pause for even his most basic instincts. She seemed to sense my hesitation and resumed her plea.
“My brother had so much to say about you in his letters. How you were the top soldier in his battalion and how you’d never lose your cool when dealing with hoards of undead. When he told me how you were getting tossed, I thought at first that it’d be good for you, having time to relax now and all. But then I remembered how he had said zombie killing was your life. No soul can just quit from that and just take solace in a bottle. Now I see that I’m more right than I’d thought.”
“Strange things, what war does to a guy.” I responded. I didn’t have to defend myself. Any other gal off the street wouldn’t have had the stones to kick a washed up soldier when he’s down. But this one did, and I couldn’t deny my guilt. “Enough about my sorry state of being, why are you of any concern to me?” I asked, already regretting the words as they tumbled out of my mouth, sure that they would get me tangled in whatever she was involved with.
“Well when Brian last wrote me…”
“Jennings?” I asked with just a little too much excitement in my voice. Oh she sensed it and I knew I’d be paying for showing that moment of weakness. She smiled for the first time and I felt those shivers up my spine.
“Your brother was one hell of a man. He saved my life more times than I care to count.” I recalled. On so many late night patrols, a zombie had seemed to appear from nowhere, and Brian had saved us both. I used to be a damn good soldier in those days, but Brian had that ability to just sense whenever an undead was near.
“My brother is one hell of a man,” she sternly corrected me with a look that would’ve sent any other guy into the binge that I was already on.
“Or, so I’m hoping…” she trailed off as doubt and sadness rose in her voice.
“See, every week he would send me a letter, assuring me that he was doing fine, but it’s been three months since I’ve heard anything from him. I… I don’t know what to do.”
She paused and glanced through those bangs and right into my soul. I didn’t want to give her too much hope. When the world has more undead than dead on it, a missing man is most likely to be found covered in bite marks, trying to get you to join his ranks. I tried to keep my mind off the image of such a good friend helping what we had dedicated our lives to stamping out.
“Well, if he ain’t writing letters anymore, I imagine its because he’s too busy out there on the front lines. Sometimes that happens, you know? We’d be trying to reclaim a city and they’d just keep coming and coming. I’m sure you’ll get his post soon enough.” I don’t know why I tried even feeding her that lie. With a bat of her eyelashes, she dismissed it, and gave me a glare that told me I didn’t have to sugarcoat this for her.
“I know damn well what this should mean” she said coldly. “But I called my local barracks a month ago for confirmation, and there was no answer. And when I came in person to check, it was closed down. Not a person in sight. You explain that one to me.” Damn. The only purpose of the US’s martial law was to protect established cities and be ready to strike if an attack was needed. I had never heard of a barrack not answering their phone, let alone not having guards stationed on base.
“Well, I guess things aren’t going so well for Uncle Sam, then. What does this have to do with me?”
“I want you to help me find Brian. He always said that you were a great fighter, and I could use your help finding him.” I don’t even know why she bothered asking. I had already left my hibernation to save her once. And when a girl with mysterious eyes asks a broken down man for help, he’s putty in her hands.
“I don’t know about this. I’ve got a pretty decent living situation up here. I don’t have to keep my brain sharp any longer. A pretty little thing can’t just uproot a drunkard and make him fight.” I lied through my cigarette. She knew what I was doing. She complied and gave me that one ounce of respect and dignity that I was clinging to.
“Please, I have no other options. I need you.” Ah there it was.
“Sure sure.” I relented and she breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently I wasn’t as easy to read as I thought, or maybe she just wanted me to think that.
“You can call me Lauren.”