A Good Soldier: New Nightmares, Old Friends (Ch.36)

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We retreated in the RV, locking everything up then covering the windows with towels and pulling the blinds down tightly. We didn’t use the electric lights opting for the dimmer glow of candles. We all felt a sense of paranoia about any light being seen from outside and drawing attention to us. It felt like it took hours to secure the motorhome but finally, after so much time out in the elements, I sat at a table and ate food on a plate with utensils.  We had warm apple juice and tinned corn and tuna. It sounded unappealing at first but I was so hungry I devoured it without really tasting it and not minding the warm tuna and sweet watery corn kernels. Not even an hour after eating I started nodding off and decided it was time to call it a night. Cal and Marco set-up in the back room; the kid clearly felt more comfortable around Cal and it would be best to keep him with an armed adult. While Hunter had been adept with a weapon it seemed obvious that Marco hadn’t had the same exposure and couldn’t defend himself if the need arose. I left the two of them getting settled in and quickly took the table down and spread out on the small barely twin size bed made from the dining bench. At my height it was a tight fit but it didn’t matter and I quickly fell asleep wrapped in a blanket with my head on a pillow. Pure bliss.

Bad dreams came again but they were a different kind of nightmare. Confined spaces and I never got along and in the dream I was crammed into the tiny RV bathroom, the crinkly paper-thin plastic accordion door shivered but held as something clawed at it trying to get in. I felt panic blanket me closing off my throat and nose so I couldn’t breathe. I was trapped in a small windowless room and a monster was coming to get me.

I shot up in bed hyperventilating vaguely aware of small hands gripping my arm and trying to shake me. I opened my eyes and started to slow my breathing, becoming aware of dull light from the back and focused on the frightened face of Marco beside me.  I told him I was OK now, thinking my flailing had woken him but he shook his head and squeezed my arm tightly with his little hands. There was so much fear in his small eyes and I felt the all to familiar thread of panic creep its way through me.

“Someone is talking outside my window.”  Marco whispered in a voice that was small but eerie as he whispered next to my face. “I can’t wake up Cal.”

I didn’t know what to be more worried about – the voices outside or Cal not waking up. A gentle tapping sounded at the side door near us and I decided that my concern about who was outside took precedence. I whispered to Marco to go try waking Cal again, maybe give him a slap on the face, and whether or not he woke up to then go into the bathroom and shut the door. A flash of my dream returned and I almost told him not to but stopped myself and turned my attention to the new threat.

The talking was muffled and louder than I would have dared to speak if I was lurking about in the dark but it was talking and I could hear the odd coherent word here and there. Whoever was out there, they were not zombies. I heard a sharp slap from the back of the RV and Cal cursing before saying OK, and then the sound of the plastic bathroom door sliding closed, trapping Marco.  Cal approached me rubbing a slight red mark on his left check and didn’t speak, just listened. The only light inside the RV was a dull beam from a lantern, turned nearly all the down, in the bedroom. I figured we were still fairly shrouded from anyone seeing the light and knowing we were here.

Cal stood beside me listening, his gun drawn and ready. I slowly moved toward the front end, very glad that we had thought ahead and blacked out the windshield and driver/passenger side ones as well. I heard one of the doors on the other RV open followed by a loud curse and a door slamming shut. Whoever was out there had found the bodies of the two couples. My pulse sped up knowing they would be coming to our sanctuary next. The rattle of the passenger’s side door handle confirmed it.

We had a choice to make – wait for them to pry open the doors, busting the locks or break the windows to get in. The other alternative was to meet them head on. Cal knew what I was thinking and all I had to do was nod. We went to the side door in the centre of the caravan. I motioned for him to open the door and I would jump out and confront the strangers. It seemed a bit hokey, jumping out like that but it would hopefully work to give us the element of surprise. I hoped to hell that we weren’t about to get ourselves and Marco killed.

Cal mouthed 1,2,3 and threw the door open. I pounded down the two steps and planted my feet on the ground, gun in one hand, and flashlight in the other aimed toward the front of the RV. The light illuminated three figures – two average height women and a tall man, almost as tall as me and slimmer. My flashlight bobbed down and caught a fourth figure, waist-high. I almost dropped the gun and light as I stared in shock at the new comers.

“Louis?” The croak of a female voice – Marla.

“Henning.”  The next voice came from the man and it was one that was familiar.

I tried to identify the voice and the man behind it, briefly wondering how he knew my name but my train of thought was disrupted as Hunter plowed into me and started crying. I hugged the kid back momentarily forgetting everything else and just feeling relief that he and Marla, and presumably Heidi, were alright.  Tears clouded my vision as the moment caught up with me.  As I relaxed, my mind flooded with images that I quickly tied to the unknown man’s voice. I knew this man and I couldn’t believe he was here of all places at this time. Boyd Parker, my closest and only friend from high school whom I turned my back on when I joined the army and fell into line with my family’s plan. I had denied who I was and shut Parker out of my life knowing how much it would hurt him and burying the pain it caused me.

I trained my flashlight on him and saw his sharp angular face illuminated.  A light scruff covered his usually clean-shaven face but he still looked the same and I would have recognized him anywhere. I knew without having to ask that his head was shaved under the cover of the hood on his jacket that hung loosely on his 6’2 slender frame. Our bodies had always been similar but with my time in the army I could tell I had gained muscle and seeing him there in baggy clothes, I knew he had only become slimmer and slighter. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, and just stood frozen with Hunter’s arms squeezing me.

“Cal, can I come out?” Marco’s small voice squeaked from the RV’s open door.

Cal said yes from somewhere beside me.  Hunter finally released me and walked over to Cal and Marco, while Heidi and Marla came out from the shadows, each given me a quick hug before going over to the boys. They must have seen the unspoken recognition between Parker and me or perhaps they were aware that we knew each other. Cal however, wasn’t quite as astute in his observations or conscious of the awkwardness in the air.

“Louis, what’s up man? You know this guy?” He asked.

I could sense Cal’s tension in his voice. While our companions had showed up with Parker, Cal didn’t know this new arrival and had no reason to trust him. I found a part of my voice and told Cal that I did know him – Boyd Parker, a friend from before I joined the army. Distantly, I heard Heidi suggest that everyone head into the motorhome and give Parker and me a minute to reacquaint. Cal started to speak but Heidi must have pulled him away before he could get out his objections. The door made a soft click and locked Parker and I alone in the silence of the night.

“So, how about that zombie apocalypse?” Parker’s attempt to break the obvious tension worked and I let out a chuckle of relief.

“It’s a bitch.” I couldn’t get my tone as light but the feeling was there. “How are you here?” It was a question layered with more than curiosity; it was filled with surprise and happiness.

“Video games, movies, books. Add in an unhealthy sense of paranoia mixed with an interest in doomsday prepping and I’m a survivor.”

Underlying Parker’s sarcasm, I heard a mix of anxiety and fear.  I didn’t doubt he had made it this far from all of those things we had learned from pop culture in our formative teen years, and if I was to admit it, I probably owed a lot of my own survival instincts to the same things. Parker… Him being here now was a mind fuck to add to all the other impossibilities that had happened in the past week.  This man that I was closer to than anyone, I think ever in my life, this man who become my confidante and the only person I could talk to and feel like myself around was here in the biggest crisis of our lives and I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say. Parker stepped closer and I could see the fear on face but he smiled none the less and embraced me the way long-lost friends do – without judgement or resentment, just warmth and joy.  I felt whole and knew that the end of the world may be coming but it didn’t seem so empty and lonely anymore.

quill

© 2015, Denise Pasutti

 

 

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