We arrived in the next town as dusk crested the sky. I finally breathed a sigh of a relief at seeing people, live people, going about their evening. There were no signs of panic or anything unusual happening. That moment was the last time I would have a sense of relief and the feeling that everything was going to be alright, and that what had happened in the previous 48 hours was an isolated and tragic event. Hope is a foolhardy feeling as I discovered over the next 6 months.
I watched the town pass by not thinking about where Holly was going or if we would stay here. Exhaustion overwhelmed my body and all I wanted to do was find a hotel, clean up and sleep for the next 2 days. I turned to Holly and became confused by the look of determination on her face like she was searching for something. My sense of unease prickled to the surface again and turned to panic when I asked Holly to find a hotel and she said no. I knew the night was not going to end with a hot shower and a firm mattress.
“We need to find the police station and report what happened.” Holly tried to explain her motivations. “With all of the commotion near the cabin it’s only a matter of time before they find the bodies. The cabin’s title is in my name.”
I understood what Holly was saying but she was a mass of emotions that were about to become liabilities to my well-being. It was as if she had forgotten what happened on the highway and I told her as much but she wouldn’t listen. She was intent on taking responsibility for our actions and respecting the family of the people we had killed – in self-defense.
“Holly I don’t want to spend the night in a jail cell. We should gather our thoughts, get some rest and go to the police station in the morning when we both have clearer heads.”
“If we explain what happened the police will understand, they have to.”
“Let’s stop for a minute and talk this over.” I was trying to be reasonable and calm.
Sure I felt guilt but there was no rational way to explain the events at the cabin, in the village or on the highway without getting locked up either in a prison or padded cell. Who in their right mind would believe that a zombie outbreak had happened? Holly stopped at an intersection, her hands nervously tapping the steering wheel, her eyes darting up and down the streets. A car honked behind us but she didn’t move, her indecision evident. The car finally got tired of waiting and passed by, the driver giving us a “welcome to town” flip-off as he went.
Holly finally made a choice or saw what she looking for and drove on. We came to the police station, a small concrete building on the other side of the town bordered by forest and the highway. I would have to decide whether to stay with her or flee into the woods; neither prospect appealed to me as dusk had turned to night.
“There’s a diner beside the cop shop. Let’s talk about what we are going to do.” Holly pulled into the parking lot and I took the compromise, still hopeful she would side with me.
By this time I had gone over 24 hours without rest or food and was more than a little ripe from blood and sweat. Holly wanted to sit at the counter but I yanked her arm, pulling her to a booth in the back, opening the flannel jacket enough to show the dirt and bloodstains but not the gun. A look of dawning realization came into her eyes, like she was finally starting to understand my reluctance to go to the police. The waitress brought our menus, eyeing me carefully and speaking directly to Holly. I guess when I grabbed Holly’s arm it looked like I was being cruel. I didn’t offer a smile or try to make light of the situation, just ordered and went to the men’s room to try to get some of the grim off of my hands.
I locked the door and stood against it trying to gather my increasingly scattered thoughts. Looking into the mirror I saw a man I barely recognized. Dirty from head to toe, pale and more drawn than usual, shadows swept under my eyes and in the hollows of my cheeks. The army issued white shirt had turned grey and was dotted with splotches of dried brown blood. The waitress was completely justified in her judgement. I must have spent a good 10 minutes scrubbing away the dirt and blood and did look better when I finished but I couldn’t wash away the haunted look in my eyes. Nothing would remove that.
When I came back to the table the food was already there. I sat down feeling mostly human again and dug into the burger, eating it ravenously and not caring about the mess the sloppy food made.
“The waitress thinks you’re up to no good. She asked if I was ok and if I needed help.” Holly picked at her fries saying this nonchalantly. “I said we were hunting and you fell and didn’t want to disturb the other patrons with your…appearance.”
I finished chewing and thanked her for her discretion; she seemed to be realizing the enormity of the situation. I asked her if she still wanted to go to the police, if she felt going to them now was a good idea. She said yes.
“I can stop you, you know that Holly.” I let it hang in the air. She had obviously left her shotgun hidden in the truck but she knew I still had my sidearm. “But I won’t and I won’t go with you.”
We finished our meals in silence, Holly paid the bill and went to the truck; the time for indecision had passed. I started to grab my pack waiting, maybe even wanting Holly to tell me to stop, to tell me she agreed with me about not going to the police. She didn’t say anything just stood there tapping a furious beat on the hood of the truck.
“Excuse me, Miss, Sir, can you please step over here for a moment.” A cop, another bloody cop, wanted to speak with us.
I tossed my bag back over the bullets on the truck floor, did up my jacket and walked toward where the cop stood under a street light. His right hand rested loosely atop his gun non-threateningly but ready to pull if he felt I was a danger. Yes, me. I could guess what had happened – the waitress didn’t believe Holly and called one of the cops from across the street to check me out. As I walked over, I realized that Holly wasn’t beside me. The cop tensed as she remained still and beckoned her forward with his free hand. I didn’t look back, just kept moving until he held up his hand to stop my advance and keep me from getting too close.
“Miss, are you alright?”
“I’m fine officer.” Holly now stood beside me radiating apprehension.
He clearly didn’t believe her and asked us to join him in the police station. I didn’t know what to do. I still had my gun and obviously this guy wasn’t going to let us just walk away. Holly piped up before I had a chance to protest, telling him that all was well, really. We were just passing through after a long and tiring road trip and wanted to get home. Even I could see through her shaky voice and anxiety.
“I understand that Miss but there has been some commotion in the area recently and we need to speak with anyone who might be able to shed some light on what has occurred.”
“What sort of commotion, where?” I asked doing whatever I could to avoid going into the police station and getting trapped in a cell.
“Sir, you really need to come with me, both of you, so we can discuss this matter.”
This was not good. The situation was starting to escalate and the cop’s hand now gripped the butt of the gun. I took Holly’s hand and squeezed it reassuringly to let her know that I was going to the police station and would support whatever she decided to do; my resolve had worn down in the face of this authority figure. She squeezed back and we moved toward the station, the cop walking beside Holly but no relaxing the hold on his weapon. We entered the police and were overcome by the blinding fluorescent light. I expected to see a few more cops, maybe a receptionist in the office but it was empty, even the holding cells. I looked back at the street, trying to see if there were any police cars parked outside but I didn’t see any other vehicles aside from ours. In fact I didn’t even see any people and the surrounding buildings, except the diner, were dark. I felt a strange tingling of apprehension but pushed it aside. This was a small town and it wouldn’t be unusual that it closes down after dark.
The cop sat at a desk near the holding cells and pointed to the chairs for Holly and I sit in. I had been trying very hard to not appear nervous but that was becoming nearly impossible as the emptiness of the police station and the words of the cop weighed my mind. The commotion from up the road could refer to the village, the fire or the massacre on the highway. I had no idea what he was going to say or for that matter what Holly or I were going to say.
“What do you want to know about what happened up the road Officer Langley?” Holly spoke before either of us could, peering at his name tag before any introductions took place.
I was struck by the open-ended question and the implication that we would have insight into whatever the cop was asking about. The cop, Langley, obviously wasn’t expecting this either as his response came out in a stutter and he asked about the fire in the woods.
“Almost all of my squad went to set up roadblocks and direct traffic this afternoon and I haven’t heard from any of them in 3 hours.” He got a strange look on his face like guilt or shame but I wasn’t certain for what. “I was going to head out but the Chief is at his cabin and someone needs to be here. What can you tell me about what happened out there?”
“What makes you think we know how the fire started or that we came from that direction?” I had totally just implicated that we had but hey, I was already in hell, why not fan those fires a little more.
“Meredith at the diner said she saw your truck come from that way. Look, you’re not in trouble, I need some details on what the situation is before I call one of the other counties for backup.”
Holly remained silent, which surprised me given her earlier eagerness. I didn’t know what I was going to say and I couldn’t stop myself once I started. I told him flat-out that the situation was grave and out of control. It seemed that the fire had been contained somehow and I explained to him that when we passed the roadblocks, there were no signs of any cops or other vehicles around.
“There was suppose to be police personnel with the fire department. I haven’t been able contact any fire and rescue either.” His confidence has slipped completely away and I could see that Officer Langley was far from a seasoned vet.
“Sir, I don’t mean to tell you how to do your job but I highly recommend you contact those other counties, sooner than later.”
“Tell me what you saw? I can tell that there is something you’re not saying.”
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you but I will anyway.” Holly was getting ready to do the full confession and I didn’t know how to stop her.
“It was zombies Officer.” Well that certainly worked.
Holly gasped at my declaration and while Langley looked surprised at first, that quickly slipped away to something more like knowing. The somber look of acknowledgment in his eyes told me that there was something going on in this town that was connected to the virus, the Shamblers and to the police force.
“What do you know?” My tone turned from cooperative to accusatory.
I was determined to get answers from Officer Langley but first we had to deal with a car that had just crashed through the front of the diner.
© 2013, Denise Pasutti