The first thing I did when I woke was hear the knocking, so I assumed that was what had woken me in the first place. But then I saw the light shining through the large glass window, and knew I’d have woken soon after. But back to the knocking.
The second thing I did when I woke up was reach for the pistol beside the bed. I loaded it and aimed it at the door, although I knew it was locked. I waited there, leaning back on one elbow, but still lying down on the bed. The knocking stopped, so I thought it had just been my imagination, but then it started up again. And when that happened, I realized it wasn’t coming from the bedroom door, on the landing. It was quieter and further away. It was coming from downstairs, more specifically, the front door.
And then the three burst knocks made me realize something else: a Turned couldn’t be making that noise. Not with that amount of even force in each knock, not to mention the obvious pattern it. So it had to be an Unturned, making the threat just as dangerous. Then a voice started saying something, yelling really, but I couldn’t make it out. I got up quickly, setting the pistol down. There was no way in hell was I letting this stranger fight me in a silk gown.
I stripped it off and ran back over to the dresser, still in my old sports bra and panties. I couldn’t just replace my old clothes, although they were the ones I felt most comfortable in. They were torn and dirty, so I figured I’d just throw them out later. So I started throwing the clothes out of the dresser until I found something that could pass me as having lived here.
Finally, I found something suitable, a pair of expensive looking skinny jeans and a button down red and black flannel. I slipped it on and buttoned the front down. From there, I slid my belt through the loops and adjusted the pistol into its holster. This all took less than a minute, and at that point, I was sure the stranger downstairs was about ready to bust down the door. I had yet to figure out who he was and what he wanted here. Then I finally noticed Zombie still lying on the bed, passed out. She must have been really tired, I assumed.
I decided to leave her in the master bedroom as I unlocked the door and left, although I didn’t close the door all the way, in case she needed to leave. Or I needed her to.
I seemed to fly down the stairs, while still maintaining stealth. I didn’t know if I wanted the stranger to know if someone was here. I realized the banging on the door had stopped, so I assumed maybe he had left, but instead, I saw movement around the corner of the house, through the window. He was on the porch, looking inside. I crept around to the front door and loaded my pistol. I made a big show of opening the front door, making it squeak loudly. I looked outside for the man and saw as he straightened up from looking in one of the far windows. He backed up and looked at me. I didn’t make eye contact, but he didn’t seem to want to fight me.
As he walked towards me, I saw the relief flood his face, like he was ecstatic to see me. Like he had missed me, or worried about my well-being. And as he got closer and closer, I noticed how large of a man he was. He seemed like a giant teddy bear, though, without much muscle, but with lots of meat. He seemed a bit older than I, maybe twenty-something. The man was wearing a large white T-shirt, with some type of logo with gears on it. And he wore worn out jeans covered in grease stains from motor oil. He seemed to wait for me to greet him, but when I didn’t, he wasn’t offended. No, instead he reached his hands out to me. I backed up, before realizing my mistake. The man obviously thought I was someone else, so I played along, just to keep a protective cover. I let him hold me for a brief second, which seemed to be all he needed from me. He smelled of oil.
He spoke. “He’s inside, right?” he asked me. I continued with the charade, nodding. He walked straight into the house, and I followed closely behind him to keep him in check. He looked into the mirror to the left and made eye contact with me through it. “You know,” he started. “I was starting to think you two weren’t here. I was worried you hadn’t made it out of the city before it was hit. You know I had to wait for a while, with the whole mass panic and everything. I’ve been on the road for a few weeks.” I wasn’t really listening because at that moment, I remembered the fallen table and the broken chairs. It was too late. For him.
I looked at his face, as it seemed to dawn on him that something was off. But when he turned to me, all he saw was the barrel of my pistol. His hands came up in a surrendering motion. He swallowed. “Who are you?” I asked him. “And what are you doing here?”
He stuttered before answering weakly. “D-D-Diane, it’s me,” he claimed, thinking that would mean something to me. He was looking between me and the weapon that stood in the way of the rest of his life. His eyes lingered on it a little longer, though, with his eyebrows furrowed. “Where’s your ring, Di-“ he stopped, seeming to realize his mistake. A bit too late for that.
“You’re not Diane, are you?” he asked me. I shook my head, although I think he knew how I’d answer. I remembered the girl in the front of the house, the one who had Turned. She had a ring; she was the wife of the man who had hung himself. This guy standing in front of me had to have known the man in the pantry. If he had known Sophia, he would have realized that I wasn’t her. And he wouldn’t be in this current situation.
We both seemed to know that he held the bigger and stronger advantage, but I had the gun in his face matched with cat-like reflexes. He wasn’t getting anywhere. We both seemed to know that, too. I waved the gun in a circular motion. “Turn around,” I said to him. He opened his mouth to try to argue, but he seemed to think better of it. He did as I said. “Now come over here and walk up the stairs,” I commanded. This time, he really did look like he was going to argue, but to silence him, I lowered the hammer on the weapon. He really shut up this time, realizing I was seriously considering killing him. Twice.
So he started walking up the stairs, and I followed him. At the top, I spotted Zombie sitting on the landing, by the master bedroom door. She growled at the man. “Zombie,” I called her off. She stopped, but still kept her cautious stance. I heard the man in front of me scoff as we came to the landing. I squinted, although he couldn’t see me do it. “What?” I asked. “What are you laughing at me for?” I saw as he shook his head from behind.
“Nothing,” he claimed. “It’s just…you named your dog ‘Zombie’?” he said. “Isn’t that a bit ironic after what’s all happened?”
I didn’t answer him. Instead, I walked him down the corridor, until we came to the furthest door at the end. He reached for the handle, but I pushed the barrel of the pistol to the back of his head. He stopped and let it go. I saw him swallow.
“What’s your name?” I asked him, after a few seconds.
He answered, “My name is Al.” I nodded. The name fit him. If I had tried to imagine an Al, I’d have pictured this kind of guy.
“Well,” I said, pulling the gun back. “Sorry, then, Al.” I swung the pistol forward towards his head with enough force for him to drop to the ground. He didn’t even hold his head where I had hit it. He just dropped…like he was dead. I backed up to avoid him clipping my feet. Although I knew he wasn’t dead, since I had done that move before, I still began to think of if he turned out to be dead. If he Turned, there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d be able to fend him off. So, to make sure, I stepped forward and bent down. I hovered my fingers right above his neck and found the pulse. It was slow, but steady. At least it was there. I heard a quiet click-click behind me and turned to see Zombie trotting over to where I was. She was panting, and she nudged Al’s crumpled body below her.
“No,” I said. “Zombie, back.” She whined and backed off. She got behind me and lay back down. I hadn’t realized just how tired she was. I knew she wanted to sleep, but she also wanted to be with me at all times to know what I was doing. I rolled my eyes. “Go,” I told her. She got up, like we were both going somewhere, but I pointed to the far door. “Go,” I said again. This time, she went, but sulkily like she thought I was mad at her. She crept back into the master bedroom, leaving me to deal with this Al guy by myself.
I straightened up and moved to open the far door next to us. I had to step over his arm, which freaked me out, since the little paranoid part of my mind was convinced he would come back and grab me. I did it quickly.
I reached for the door handle, which was dustier than any of the others, leading me to think it hadn’t been used even when people were still living here. But I grabbed it anyway and twisted it. The door swung inward with a loud creak. It was a dark room, without much light. Out of instinct though, I reached to the wall next to me and my hand found the light switch. I flicked it and, to my surprise, a light bulb was struck to life, hanging from a thin chain in the middle of the room.
I jumped back and blinked in surprise.
I stood for a second in shock, staring at the bright light bulb. Well, it wasn’t really bright, but dim, and compared to the natural light I had been seeing for the past few months, it was really bright. My step stuttered as I walked towards it. If they had power…
My thoughts trailed off. Instead, I got an idea. I spun and jumped back over Al’s body. I practically sprinted through the hallway until I came back to the master bedroom. I threw the door open the rest of the way and bounded through the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Zombie’s head pop up from where she was lying down on the bed. I then burst through the door that led to the washroom. I stopped there and tried to lower my hopes. I knew how let down I’d be if it didn’t work. But I had to try it.
I walked the rest of the way to the first faucet. I let my hand rest on the handle for a second before I couldn’t take it anymore. I twisted it.
There was an awful clunking noise at first, and I considered turning it off in case something was horribly wrong. But after a few seconds of staring at it, a steady stream of some kind of brown, chunky liquid began to pour out. I wrinkled my face and stepped back, disgusted.
I was actually about to turn it off for real when it started to clear up. The water became clearer, and the stream became thinner, but it was still there. I waited there and let it run. After I was sure it was going to stay clear, I moved toward it and pushed my hands under it. It wasn’t cold, but it would have to do. I then cupped my hands and let them fill up.
Once the water was flowing over the top, I brought it up to my face and drenched it. I swear I could feel my soul being cleansed by this. Well, maybe not, but I did feel as the dirt fell off of my face, along with the blood from the Turned yesterday. I rubbed the water into my face and scrubbed. When I felt that was satisfactory and became slightly worried of it running out, I moved onto my arms. I actually took off the flannel and brought the water all the way up to the shoulders. I don’t know how long it had been since I had actually felt running water from a faucet. The sitting water in the coal cart hadn’t been very refreshing.
As I thought about it, I began to worry about how long any of this would last. They probably had some kind of generator out in the yard, or maybe in the basement, if they had one. And the water was still running, probably because their water ran on a well, and not the city’s water system. Even if that were the case, the water probably wouldn’t last much longer, if it had been dormant for more than just a few months. I splashed my face one more time, then turned it off. I used the flannel to dry my face, picking it up from its crumpled position on the tiled floor. Then I looked in the mirror. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed when I saw again that it was covered in shit. Not literally.
I opened the two drawers in front of me and looked through them. The regular toiletries were here; toothbrushes, paste, bar soaps, the man’s shaving cream and razor. Then I knelt down to the cupboard beneath the sinks and opened them. There were bottles of soaps with stupidly elegant names that only rich people would buy. There were other things, too.; ladies’ products, loofas, other razors. I grabbed a box of something because I couldn’t see what it was. They were pregnancy tests. I took the box and set in on the counter above me. I pushed everything else aside and finally found what I was looking for: a simple washcloth. I grabbed it and stood back up. I folded it twice and bent over the counter to the mirror. I did one swipe across it, making a single clear arch.
In that arch, I saw him standing behind me. Al.
He didn’t give me any time to react or explain. He grabbed my hair in a single hand, and I dropped the washcloth. My hands flew up to where he held me, but he pushed my head forward into the mirror in front of us, and I screamed. I felt more than heard the glass shatter from the impact, and I swear something in my head shattered, too. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered that I was shirtless, and I couldn’t help but feel the embarrassment that burned my cheeks.
I gave up on trying to grab his hand, but instead reached for my belt where both the knife and pistol were. I grabbed the knife first, figuring he might stand down, but still not wanting to fatally harm him. I wanted to know what he was doing here. And he came from the city. He knew how to get back.
The knife turned out to be a bad idea. It didn’t take him long to knock it out of my grip, although, to be fair, I didn’t have much of a grip on it in the first place. It flew across the bathroom and landed in the second sink three feet away. He still had his hand in my hair, so I turned around, although it hurt to do that, and tried to spin him around. That didn’t really work out. I grabbed at the counter for either some kind of grip or something to throw at him. My hand landed on one of the drawers’ handles. I remembered back to when I was with Christina, when I had pulled one of her dresser drawers out and threw it out of the window. I used the same method. I pulled the wooden drawer out and swung it towards his stomach. It made its target.
I felt his hand leave my hair and groaned. I was sure he ripped some of it out. He groaned too, though, from the pain. He doubled over, and I then kicked his side. He was big and clumsy, so he actually stumbled back a few feet and fell into the white tub. He hit his head during the fall, and he lay still. There was blood dripping from the faucet, where his head had hit it. I swallowed and held my head, where his hand had ripped my hair. I felt my eyes water.
This wasn’t at all what I had planned. I grabbed the flannel from where I had dropped it on the counter and slipped it on quickly. I buttoned it and stopped breathing; I thought I heard something. Then I focused on the sound-- it was Zombie behind the door. She was whining and I knew why she hadn’t come and helped me with Al.
That bastard had locked the door, knowing she would have tried to help me.
I went to the door and unlocked it. I pulled it open and knelt down to Zombie, where she came to me and sat with me. She was begging for attention, and I felt bad for telling her to leave a few minutes ago.
I stood back up to deal with Al for a final time, and she stood with me. I walked out into the main room. I started looking around for something to tie Al up with. Nothing was in sight, so I went the dresser to look for a belt or something. That’s actually exactly what I found. It was brown and leather. I brought it back to where Al lay in the tub. I didn’t want to check if he was dead, but I still tied both of his hands to the faucet so he couldn’t escape, even if he came back.
If he did, as a Turned, his brain would be affected, and he wouldn’t be able to figure out how to get out. If he just woke up, he still wouldn’t be able to free himself.
When I finished, I came back to the counter and grabbed the knife from the sink. I replaced it in my belt and left the bathroom. Zombie followed behind me, and I locked the door from the inside, and then closed the door.
I turned and leaned against the door, sliding down into a sitting position. I felt like crying, but knew that wouldn’t get me anywhere. So I sucked it up and made my way to the other room at the end of the hallway. I switched the light off and closed the door. I walked down the stairs to the kitchen, where I took the chair away. I set it aside an entered the room. I opened the other door to the pantry and grabbed some things to make some food, a simple PB & J. I sat on the island counter, eating in small bites at a time. I thought about what would happen when, or if, Al came back Unturned.
I wanted to ask if he’d take me to Chicago, but after what he did, I wasn’t sure I would be able to trust him. I needed someone else to get me there.
We were back on the road again in the RV. Zeke was driving now, and Lynn was sleeping in the back. Frankly, I wasn’t sure where Eric was. I was pretty sure we hadn’t left him at the farm, though. Pretty sure.
Uriah and I were at the table, where I was interrogating him. My mind had been full of that girl with the blonde hair and blue eyes since she had escaped. The truth was, and I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but I wasn’t quite sure if she had gotten away or if I let her go. I didn’t want to think this was true because of what happened to Uri, but a small part of me knew it was. I convinced myself that that smaller part was a liar.
And even more than that, I had been looking forward to meeting her. When Zeke and Lynn had returned to the farmhouse, I hadn’t been there. Eric and I had been in the actual house, clearing it out of any Hunters or other threats. They had left on one of the tractors from the farm, and came back with an unconscious girl between them. They had brought her up into the trailer and had lay her beside Uriah.
From there, Zeke had come to tell me, very reluctantly. He had made it seem like it was Lynn’s fault by hurting her and taking her with them, but then his for shooting her boyfriend.
It was unreasonable, I knew, but the thought of her having a boyfriend in this world made me jealous. I wasn’t sure if it was her specifically, or the simple fact that she had someone to love. I hadn’t even had that before the disease.
But when he told me that there was a girl in the trailer, I got all excited. I wasn’t sure why, though. I had never even met the girl, and yet I wanted to know all there was to know about her.
So I was sitting on one of the cushioned benches, waiting for Uriah to take a seat across from me, but he was preoccupied with pouring himself a cup of juice. They were paper cups, and the juice was from squeezing an orange that wasn’t even ripened. I wasn’t sure what the appeal was. I was trying to ask him about the girl that got away. He was the only one to really speak to her. I knew that even though this was true, she had been threatening him. And, you know, kicking his ass.
But I didn’t say that to his face.
“Really, Uri,” I said. “Just take a seat.” I saw him sigh from behind. His shoulders lifted and fell.
“Honestly,” he sighed in a single breath. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I didn’t get a good look at her. You three did. I was sleeping next to her, resting from the injury.” He turned around to face me, but remained at the counter, leaning back. “And I’m also not sure what you want from her. Revenge for hurting me? I’m fine, really. You should just let her go.” He took a sip from his juice and cringed inwardly. He made a hissing sound.
“And let me tell you,” he said and paused, looking over to where his brother faced the open road behind the wheel. “From what she did to me and what you told me about her boyfriend, if she gets her hands on Zeke, she’ll kill him.” I swallowed.
I couldn’t really believe that. She had run when confronted; she hadn’t fought. Although, I don’t think she had been armed. Even then, she hadn’t even tried hand-to-hand combat. And she was tiny and thin. Ultimately, she didn’t pose a threat to me, and certainly not to Zeke. Frankly, I was sure he’d be offended by what his brother had implied. I waved this off.
“Look, it doesn’t matter,” I said to him. I didn’t care about that. “I don’t give a damn about her.” Lie. “I just want to know why she felt so extremely set on getting out of here that she rendered you unconscious. And where the hell the was so concerned about headed.” That wasn’t completely a lie. I did want to know where she had gone, partly so I could find her.
“I don’t know,” he claimed, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s not like she told me her entire battle plan like some evil villain in a cheesy Disney movie.” He laughed at himself. I opened my mouth to ask him some more questions, but the door to the back of the RV opened, and Lynn walked out. Her bare stomach and white bra were exposed to us as she was trying to get her T-shirt back on. Eric came out behind her and I though the most obvious thing had been going on, but didn’t remember any unusual sounds coming from back there. She walked between Uriah and I, finally pulling her shirt down and seeming to talk to Eric, who was till following her.
“Dude,” she said. “I’m not interested. Seriously. You don’t know how uninterested I am,” she exaggerated the word uninterested. Oh. So he had been trying to make a move on her. It was understandable. I was sure he had had lots of sexual frustration pent up since the start of the disease, maybe even before then.
I felt the need to defend Lynn if I felt Eric was coming on to her too strong, but I knew she could handle herself. She’d tell Zeke or Uriah or me if she needed any help with anything else, but that wasn’t going to happen in a while. She had too much pride to ask for help.
She adjusted her belt and stopped when she got to Zeke. She stretched out and announced, “I need to take a piss. Wanna park?” she asked. Zeke knew we were on a tight schedule, but if there was one thing he was more scared of than the Hunters, it was getting in the way of a woman and her womanly needs. He hesitated for a second but quickly pulled over and parked. I stood up and pushed Eric aside gently, but still commandingly, getting off the RV. I looked around where we were.
There were tall trees, with colors of red and orange. Some were brown or yellow. They had changed colors, but they hadn’t fallen yet. From that, I gathered that it was somewhere around the beginning of October. The air was cool, too, but not yet cold. It would be tonight, though, and it was Lynn’s turn with the bed. There were extra blankets inside, but it would still be cold. Unfortunately, it was my turn to drive. I hated driving through the night, but it was necessary to always keep moving.
We hadn’t decided exactly where we were going, but it was in general agreement that we’d head to Chicago, thinking there might be someone or something there that could help us bounce back from this… setback.I breathed in the cool air and regretted it. It really bit back. Lynn had disappeared into the trees to go and Eric was walking down the abandoned road, just stretching out his legs. Zeke was still inside, bending over a map of the state, checking if he had missed any turns. We had been taking back roads as to avoid getting help up by traffic or any hordes of the Hunters. I went to the edge of the tree line to answer nature’s call, and this time really felt the cold. I finished quickly and went back to where the RV was parked. I came back up to where Zeke had been, except now he was outside, too, talking with his brother. I pulled out a jar of peanut butter we had scavenged. I ate some straight out of the jar and sat on the steps of the entrance, wondering where the girl was and what she was doing right now.