I slowly followed the dirt road taking my time as the dark deepened under the overhanging tree branches and the headlights barely penetrated the gloom. I thought Scott would pull open the window to the cab and ask what was happening but he remained wrapped in the blanket ignoring us. The further down the road we went, the more uncertain I became about what Langley was leading us into. I was ready to turn back, willing to fight Langley on the point, when the headlights bounced off a Private Property, Trespassers will be shot sign. I half expected a gate to appear but within 10 feet of the sign a big log cabin came into view and compared to Holly’s place, this was a mansion, probably no more than 10 years old with 2 floors and plenty of windows. A light shone from the main floor and one on the second floor, the rest of the house appeared dark.
“Does this guy live alone?” I asked Langley as we got out of the truck. I wanted to be ready for whomever we would encounter inside.
“Yeah, it’s just him. Let me talk to Keenan alone first. I’ll wave you over once I explain what’s happened and who you are.”
“Fine with me.”
And I meant it. Having Langley talk to Keenan first would give me a chance to reload my gun and make sure Scott was still armed and fully loaded; just in case things went south. Langley headed to the door and I went to talk to Scott. The kid was still huddled in the blanket with a sullen look on his face that turned to dread when I told him who Langley was talking to. It was oddly comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in my misgivings about this pit stop.
“Where’s the gun I gave you at the police station?”
“I don’t know.” He threw off the blanket and frantically felt around the truck bed, finally finding the gun near the tailgate. “It’s here.” He held it up and I cringed at the careless way he handled it.
“Here, let me see it and make sure it’s completely loaded.” I tried to cover my concern with practicality taking the gun from him. “Looks good. Come over here in the light.”
The kid jumped out, stumbling slightly, his hand going directly to his wounded arm. I had mistaken the paleness of his face for fear of Langley and this Sheriff but quickly realized that it was from blood loss. We didn’t think to cover the wound or try to stop the blood flow and it had continued. I showed him how to flick the safety off and on, then sat him down in the passenger’s seat and looked at the cut, washing away the blood with a bottle of water and wiping his arm clean with one of Holly’s shirts, ripping it up to create a bandage; she wasn’t going to be needing it anymore. I told to Scott to drink some water while I looked for a clean sweater for him, then looked back at the house. Langley was still talking to Keenan but I couldn’t tell how the conversation was going, they’re faces turned away from me. It took another 5 minutes before Langley finally waved us over. I instructed Scott to put the gun at his back, tucked into his pants and covered by the sweater, hidden. I figured it was better if Langley didn’t know the kid had a gun; I just had a feeling that this was safer.
Langley and Keenan had gone into the house leaving the door open for us to follow. I was overwhelmed by a wave of heat warming my chilled body as Scott and I followed the faint sound of talking and headed to the only light on the main floor. We found Langley and Keenan in the living room and I immediately thought of it as a real man’s room. There was hardwood from floor to ceiling, a plaid couch and two overstuffed leather chairs in front of a brick fireplace, roaring with heat and flame. The decor of the room was topped off with 3 hunting trophies – a buck, mountain lion and bear framing a fully loaded wood and glass gun cabinet.
I didn’t know what time it was, somewhere between 4am and 5 am but I did know it was too early for the whiskey that Langley and Keenan were drinking. All things considered, it might be a good idea to have a drink if this was the end of the civilized world and if anyone had the inside scoop on that, I was confident Sheriff Keenan would be that man. The pair stood at a sideboard as Keenan’s eyes scraped over us inch by inch, taking in every aspect of our appearances. I didn’t know if it was what Langley had told him, the general situation of a zombie apocalypse or just how dishevelled we looked but the Sheriff measured us with a sneer of distaste.
“Private Louis Henning, sir.” I didn’t move to shake his hand, just stood at attention in the entry way.
“Langley told me who you are. Put your weapon on the coffee table and have a seat.” Keenan looked at Scott. “Is the kid armed Langley?”
“No. He lost his gun when we were running to the truck back in town.” I didn’t know if Langley really believed this or just didn’t want to admit to his superior that he didn’t know.
I avoided eye contact with Scott and didn’t question Keenan even though I wanted to know why he wanted me disarmed; I followed the order and hoped Scott wouldn’t give away that he did in fact have a gun. The kid walked to the couch and sat down with me following suit and putting the gun on the table. Those feelings that I had had since deciding to come to this house, mistrust and fear, intensified now that I didn’t have my weapon and observed that Langley still had his and that there was a small pistol beside Keenan’s whiskey glass. He saw me looking at the gun and smiled in acknowledgement.
“Not for you Private. For the….creatures out there.” He waved his hands at the windows to explain.
Langley drained his drink, filled the glass and settled into one of the leather chairs beside the couch. I could see exhaustion emphasized by the booze, lining his weathered face. I was tired too and the warmth, comfort and safety of the house brought my own fatigue to the surface. I reclined, letting the cushy sofa swallow me then looked at Scott and snapped out of it; I couldn’t allow myself to feel that comfort and let it help me forget what was happening all around us and why we were here in the first place. Scott’s face had taken on a worrisome shade of white and his eyes bugged out as he focused on Keenan. The look in those eyes told me that he didn’t trust Keenan and his fear was born not just from zombies but also from this imposing man. I felt it too, the nagging sense that something wasn’t right with this guy. Maybe it was because I knew he was involved with this virus somehow and had knowledge of its origins or maybe it was the thought that he might do anything to keep the knowledge of that involvement within these walls.
Keenan joined us taking a seat in the leather chair opposite Langley after bringing drinks for Scott and me. Scott didn’t move to take the glass and left it on the table. I took the whiskey but didn’t drink the warm amber liquid. As much as I wanted to slip into alcohol oblivion, to feel the warm liquid burn down my throat and settle in my gullet I resisted, not wanting to dull my senses. I didn’t feel safe and booze would only help blur those lines of caution.
“Langley tells me he ran into you and your woman in town just before all hell broke loose. Want to explain what a disheveled army man and civilian women were doing to bring chaos to my town, Private.” He emphasized the last word, clearly blaming me or my brethren for the outbreak.
“Holly wasn’t my woman. I was at her cabin when a fire broke out in the woods north of us. We headed for the highway right into the chaos of panicked people and Shamblers.” I didn’t need to explain that this was what I called the zombies, they got it. “The outbreak in town happened at least an hour after we arrived and were shut up in the police station.” I eyed Langley. “And I had never seen those women that crashed into the diner before the accident.”
“But the car with those zombie chicks came from the same direction as you.” Langley remained slumped in the chair, his words coming out sluggishly as he pointed the finger at me and covered his tracks for possibly not giving Keenan the full story.
“We didn’t cause or bring that shit storm to your town if that is what you’re implying Sheriff.” I kept my tone polite and respectful even though I was becoming angry with these allegations.
“You were at the army camp before it burned. What happened?” Keenan’s tone was not polite.
It was one word that made me stop and backtrack to why we were here. He had said The camp, not a camp but The army camp. All politeness aside, I wanted to get down to business and get answers.
“Sir, we came here in good faith hoping to find out why the world has gone mad and why we are suddenly living in a horror movie. Holly-” I paused for effect and a moment of silent respect. “-Scott and I didn’t bring this upon ourselves and we sure as hell don’t want any part of it but we are and I want to know what it is. I’ll tell you what I know, which isn’t much, after you tell me what this is, why it is here, how an outbreak could happen and what can or is being done to contain it.”
Langley gaped at my audacity but Keenan smiled, appreciating the candour. A man like him didn’t respect meekness in men but did respect a fellow hard ass.
“Alright Henning, I’m good with a little give and take. I’ll start with the giving.”
© 2013, Denise Pasutti