“Hey mister, are you a soldier or something?” The boy repeated when I didn’t respond.
The kid looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and boredom on his pudgy little face. There were streaks of chocolate around his mouth and his hands bore the remnants of a candy bar that had melted, leaving slimy and sickly brown smears on his pale skin. It’s not that I don’t like kids; I just have no experience with them, at least not since I was one. Being covered in dirt and blood and having killed several monsters that looked like ordinary people, more or less, in the last 48 hours, certainly attributed to me being a little stand-offish with the little man.
“Or something.” I muttered and walked past him toward the washroom to clean up.
I avoided eye contact with everyone else in the parking lot as I headed into the bathroom and straight to a stall, so it wasn’t until I came out that I noticed the kid had followed me and was just standing there, waiting. Startled, very gingerly stepped around him and started to try to wash the grime and blood from my hands and arms. The task was challenging as I had pump out small blots of soap from a hand dispenser and keep pushing down the tap to get water out in 35 second spurts, all while the kid watched.
“Hunter? Hello in there, I’m looking for my son. Is he there?”
A woman’s voice shouted from just outside the door. I was guessing the kid was Hunter and his mother was looking for him. I looked at him but he just remained standing beside me, not acknowledging his Mother’s call. I looked around the dingy washroom to make sure that no one else was in the cold tile and cement room.
“He’s in here Ma’am. You can come in, there’s no one else here.” I was hoping she would just grab the kid and be on her way. I should have known better.
“Oh thank goodness.”
She walked in glanced at Hunter then turned her gaze my way, looking me up and down and smiling, of all things. I could only imagine how I looked and if I were in her shoes, I would have dragged my kid as far away from some disheveled stranger in dirty roadside men’s room, as quickly as possible. I barely noticed anything about her in that moment as my eyes wouldn’t let my brain acknowledge anything about her appearance and tried to keep her in the perspective of just another stranger.
“I’m sorry about Hunter. He likes to wonder and is curious about new people. My name is Marla.” She held out her left hand clearly displaying a bare ring finger.
“Hi.” I lifted my hands that were dripping soap and filth and didn’t offer her my name as I turned back to the sink trying my best to ignore them, hoping they would just go away.
“So, where you headed?”
“He’s not a soldier Mommy, he’s something.”
I quickly pulled off about 20 tiny sheets of paper towel to dry my hands that were mostly clean as long as you didn’t look too close. I nodded to Marla and Hunter and started for the door.
“I’m sorry to bother you but do you know anything about cars? We may have a flat tire and I was wondering if you could have a look.”
“I’m sorry Ma’am I don’t and I really do need to be leaving. Now.” I stopped at the door and turned to them, wondering if I should do or say something to warn her. “Get your tire fixed and get to where you’re going. Quickly.”
My tone and words didn’t seem to faze her and she just continued to smile. I didn’t know if she had a flat or any real car trouble but there were enough people around who could help. I wasn’t going to bring anyone else into what I was facing or be responsible for strangers again. If the Shamblers came, I wanted, no needed, to be on my own. I was being dismissive and rude but I couldn’t stick around knowing there was potential danger all around and this woman clearly was looking for more than just automotive assistance.
I did my best to ignore them as they followed me back through the parking lot. My efforts were wasted as Marla continued to go on about her car being ‘just over there’ and maybe if I just had a look I might be able to help. I kept walking, not looking anywhere but at my truck as my need to get away from this situation was making me feel and act like a total dick to this woman and her kid. I walked briskly, gritting my teeth and forcing myself not to stop and tell her to fuck off. I was nearly to my truck and the end of my patience when her inane rambling was replaced by a curious question not really directed at me.
“What is that woman doing walking down the middle of the highway?”
I didn’t turn to look at what she was referring to, just took the last 4 steps to the truck and reached for the handle then stopped as a small hand tugged at my pant leg. Marla had turned to gawk at the woman on the road, like the other people at the rest stop but Hunter had continued to follow me. I glanced at his face feeling annoyed, then looked where everyone else was staring. A man walked toward the woman who moved slowly with her head dipping up and down. He called out to her and didn’t receive a response or any kind of acknowledgement, at first. As he reached her, still trying to talk to her, she turned sluggishly finally following the sound of his voice.
Even from a good distance away, I could see blood covering her chin and running down her neck before becoming obscured on her black t-shirt. The man stopped as he finally got a good look at her and started yelling at everyone to call 911. I made my move to get into the truck, knowing what was about to happen, knowing that I could stop it even though everyone would think I was a murderer, but I wasn’t going to do it.
Perhaps my intervention could have prevented an attack but I knew if there was one Shambler on the road more had to be in the area. It was time to be leaving except I had forgotten about Hunter who now gripped my pants into a ball in his small hand. He was just a kid, somewhat obnoxious but a kid none the less and his Mother didn’t really seem to have much of an attention span where he was concerned but what did I know about kids or raising them. I pulled Hunter’s hand away and told him to go to his Mom just as the screaming started. Hunter dropped his hand and turned to the noise, looking from the horror that was unfolding to his Mother who screamed, than back to me before slowly moving toward Marla. I knew what would happen and regretted not leaving sooner and deep down, not doing something to avert it. I actually did stop for a moment, not thinking about myself for once and turned to assess the situation, thinking it might not be too late.
The man, the Good Samaritan, had blood all over his face and it appeared that the woman had bitten off his nose but I couldn’t be sure because of the seemingly endless fount of blood pouring down his face. He must have fought back as she chewed his face because the zombie now lay twisted among brambles in the ditch, struggling to get free and get back to her meal. The man stumbled back down to the rest stop and into the arms of a crying woman who tried to cover the wound and stop the bleeding.
Hell had followed me here and the flames were beginning to lap at my heels. Hunter was near his Mother’s side but was staring at me with his dark eyes full of fear and begging to be protected. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t take him with me or save him and I hated myself for that even as I turned my back on the frightened child and opened the truck door.
© 2014, Denise Pasutti