The Girl With All The Gifts (2016)

gifts

SurvivorsSennia Nanua (Melanie); Gemma Arterton (Helen Justineau); Glenn Close (Dr. Caroline Caldwell); Paddy Considine (Sgt. Eddie Parks); Fisayo Akinade (Kieran Gallagher)

SPOILERS

After a fungal based plague plunges the human race into a dystopian world ravaged by rage like zombies (hungrys as they are called in the book and movie), a group of soldiers, doctors and a teacher whole up in a somewhat secure base where they are housing not only themselves but also a group of school age children who are more deadly then they appear. The children were born or emerged after their mothers were infected with the fungus making them hybrids. They are completely normal children but will go all chompy if they smell any sort of human scent. The survivors use a blocker to keep them from smelling delicious to the savage little beasts. Something goes horribly wrong and the base is overrun by the hungrys and what’s left of the humans scatter.

gifts

The movie centres on one of the children Melanie, an intelligent and inquisitive hungry who has become attached to Helen Justineau, the children’s teacher. Justineau knows the children aren’t just kids in her class but the line between innocent and monster becomes blurred as she in turn becomes attached to Melanie. By far Justineau is the only one on the base who seems to have some compassion for the kids. On the side of only seeing the kids as monsters and specimens is Sgt. Parks, the hardened military man and Dr. Caldwell the butcher who is trying to find a cure and will dissect the children to get. This makes up the main players and they must try to find help out in the world that is ravaged by hungrys, fighting the monsters and each other.

I read the book and liked it. I watch the movie and also liked it but as is common with movies made from books there seems to be holes in the story. That comes from someone who has read the book and notices things missing and it seems like things are unexplained. I could be wrong and that didn’t change my enjoyment of the flick. The casting was good, not how I pictured the characters but great acting by all and since Mike Carey wrote the screenplay from the book he wrote, it was well done. The hungrys were gross and the premise of a fungal zombie infection reminded me of The Last of Us.

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-movie

Final Thoughts: I enjoyed this movie even with the condensed story line which led to a fast paced flick and kept the story from dragging. The relationships among the characters were straight forward and not weighed down by too much drama. While Melanie is the focus of the movie it felt like she was missing something whereas in the book she is much more developed character. But the best part was the end. I’m sucker for a hopeless ending. Well, hopeless for some but a new beginning for others. 3.5 children out of 5.

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

 

 

A Good Soldier: Parting and Sorrow and All That (Ch. 44)

DSCN0269

I slept for a couple of hours before my brain decided that if I didn’t wake up I would miss my opportunity to get out of here. Before heading to bed I had given myself one luxury that the camp offered, a warm shower and clean fatigues which I slept in. I was more than willing to part with the clothes I had worn since this nightmare began but the one thing I wouldn’t part with, the jacket that I been wearing since my time with Holly. I had kept it on top of my pack at the foot the cot to make it easier to leave without disturbing anyone. I gave myself a couple of minutes to wake then slipped out of the tent with my gear and looked at the sky.

Dawn was approaching but it was still a bit too dark to quietly venture through the unknown camp without running into anything. For an instant I wanted to risk it and just go alone. I didn’t want to be without my best friend but I knew I would worry about Parker as we made our way out into the hostile world. Before I could think about it any further Parker came out of the tent and pushed aside my desire to be without him. Going out there alone with nothing but the monsters and god knows what else, would surely drive me crazy or to the point of suicide. Parker was my saviour now. We sat in silence watching the sky slowly brighten to a point that I felt was good enough as the anticipation I felt started to make me ancy. There was enough light to see shapes and we could make it to the exit without making any noise or running into anything. I nodded to Parker and started to get up but stopped when he didn’t move.

“Parker, are you ok?” I crouched in front of him and whispered.

Even in the dim morning light I could see the trepidation across his face. I didn’t know what to think other than he had changed his mind. I told him I understood, gave him a reassuring hug and started to leave. It seemed like such an impersonal good-bye but I couldn’t prolong it without it tearing me apart. His hand darted out and he grabbed my wrist stopping me. The hesitation was still there but he got up, let go of my arm and pulled his backpack on, nodding that he was ready to go.

Walking through the near stillness of the camp, my eyes caught glimpses of movement here and there inside the tents but no one was outside yet. The buses where the soldiers camped were also quiet. We moved carefully and quietly to the gap, my heart thudding so loud in my ears I was sure it could wake the dead. We reached the opening and found only one guard who appeared to be sleeping on his watch. I approached and his hand shot up. The soldier didn’t say anything or get up and only brought his forefinger to lips to gesture for us to be quiet. He put his head back down like he hadn’t even seen us. I turned to the opening and saw that a board, something like plywood, had been placed across the barrier on the outside. I stopped and tried to think of what to do and how to get by it without making any noise. Parker went forward and moved to the board, reaching to the right and managing to get a hold of the edge and pull it aside. His arms were longer and thinner than mine making this task easy for him. He did his best to be silent and only scraped it on the ground once. We were fortunate that the noise didn’t alert the soldiers in the buses we were standing between. We headed through the gap and worked together to put the board back silently.

I took a moment to wonder why such a simple and seemingly ineffectual tool had been used as a barrier. The noise would surely arouse attention when it was moved. It just seemed sloppy. But at the moment I could only take it as something positive to aid our escape. With the board back in place, I scanned the barricade to see if anyone had spotted us yet. Nothing. Why could we stand in the growing morning light and have no one be alerted to movement so near a place that was housing hundreds of people to protect them from zombies. The thought bounced through my mind, nagging at the core of my paranoia. It just seemed strange that the soldiers were paying no mind to the outside of the barricade. All that made sense was that they were frightened like everyone else and just wanted to hide behind the steel of the buses and the protection of their weapons. I hesitated thinking about that. Leaving Marla and the others with such protection made me pause. But I knew her and the others well enough to know that they had their guns and they were strong enough to save themselves if something went wrong. I had to let them go now and concentrate on protecting Parker and myself.

Turning away from the eyes that weren’t watching, I looked at the nearby landscape and had a better idea of why there may be such relaxed security. The bodies. So many corpses littered the surrounding area to the point where it was 4 or 5 bodies high and they were laid head to foot to form a disgusting wall, one which hadn’t been there when we first arrived. Now it wouldn’t simply be a matter of stepping around the corpses, we would have to push them out-of-the-way, touching the filth to get through this second barricade of decaying and diseased flesh.

We did our best to maneuver through the body wall in a straight line to minimize how much we had to touch the corpses. It wasn’t the difficulty of the task that was unsettling, it was having to traverse through more blood and gore with that ever-present thought that these were once people like me. I hesitated this time feeling sick looking at those corpses in various states of death and human filth. Parker ripped part of his shirt off and made a mask from it then started to move ahead of me through the flesh barricade. I followed suit, tearing at my fresh undershirt to create a makeshift mask and dampen the smell of human waste.

I kept the RV in sight to focus on our goal and keep me motivated and not get sick from the sights and smells. It took longer to get past the bodies than I thought it would and by the time dawn had arrived we were still not at the RV. Looking back at the camp I saw movement in the buses as the soldiers started to stir. We moved quicker and when we finally reached the RV I took care to open the side door as quietly as possible. We were again fortunate, this time because the RV was parked so that the side door was not facing the camp. I still didn’t know what to expect from the soldiers but it was Martens that concerned me more. I really didn’t think he would be alright with me leaving, given that he wanted to discuss the fire and the last time I left a military camp unannounced. We got inside, locked the door and took a few minutes  to get up the courage for what we had to do next – drive over those bloated corpses we had just stepped on and pushed through like they were merely debris and hadn’t once been living breathing people; mothers, fathers children. Parker moved about making sure everything was closed up and that we couldn’t be seen through the windows. I merely sat on the floor, leaning against the bench trying to regain the nerve to face a dying world with only the two of us and a recreational vehicle.

“Where do we go from here Louis?” Parker grabbed a towel and wiped away blood and gore from his feet and legs, his face not showing any of the emotion he surely felt except for in his haunted eyes.

“I don’t know Parker.” I closed my eyes trying to think without thinking about what was to come. “We just go as quick and as far as we can from here. Getting off the main road would be good start.”

“And if they follow?” Parker handed me the towel.

“I have a feeling that we aren’t as important as keeping that camp safe and secure.” I hoped I was right and that they wouldn’t jeopardize their safety just to arrest us.

Which was why I wanted to leave when we did. I believed that if we left during the day they would stop us before we even got to the RV but leaving when no on was watching wouldn’t be an issue, and it hadn’t be so far. I may have been a deserter and left my fellow soldiers to die but given the current circumstances of our world, punishing me was a pretty insignificant thing in the grand scheme of things. Reflecting on how I had run away during the fire and the outbreak, I realized that if I had stayed during then I would be just as dead or undead, as all of those soldiers I had called comrades.

Holly might be still be alive but there was no guarantee she would have lived past the encounter with the father and son in her cabin. Then there was Marla and Hunter. Thinking about all we had survived together and our reliance upon each other I didn’t feel quite so insignificant. My life may or may not matter at all to the army but I believed that it did to the 6 people I had just walked through hell with and the one I would stand with now as I chose to embark on another perilous journey.

“Are you ready Louis?” Parker still whispered even though we were in the relative safety of the motorhome.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m ready.”

I handed Parker the keys and he took the helm while I grabbed a bag with extra ammo and my guns. Parker would take on the difficult task of somehow driving us out of here and I would be the defender. Neither of us had an easy job ahead. I gave the barricade a final look and saw more movement, some heads turned in our direction. It was time to go. Parker started the motorhome and didn’t waste any time ramping up the acceleration, putting the gas pedal to floor to help propel the RV over the bodies. As we picked up speed the zombies started appearing from wherever they had waited for something to get their attention and reignite their blood lust.

I looked forward, done with looking behind. One day I believed this horror would be finished and the world would return to its normal state of human disorder rather than zombie apocalypse disorder. And on that day Parker and I would see Marla, Hunter, Marco, Heidi and Cal again. One day I would forget that I had been a good soldier and accept that I had become a good man.

The End

quill

© 2016, Denise Pasutti

Upcoming: The Zone – Tales from A Good Soldier

 

A Good Soldier: Settled, Unsettled (Ch. 43)

Trees

“What is this place?” I tried to divert the conversation from what I had done and to buy time to think of a way out.

“We are considering it a refugee camp.” Martens didn’t sound pleased, saying the words as if they left a bad taste in his mouth.

“It’s good that it’s here. It’s shelter until these people can return to their lives.” I knew that would get a reaction and hopefully answer a question I was avoiding asking – how bad had civilization fallen.

“This thing is spreading faster and wider than we can contain it. It could be weeks, months before the spread is stopped and then, well it will be months of rebuilding and recovery.” Martens’ tiredness was clear and what he said weighed heavily upon him. “But we hope this place will be temporary and we will be able to move to a more permanent shelter in the days ahead.”

Martens got up and motioned for us to head to the door effectively ending any further discussion at this point. I was relieved there would be no more questions and to know a bit more about what was happening. It sounded like everywhere was screwed and Martens had appeared distracted enough to not question why I left my fellow soldiers to die. He surely wouldn’t forget about it but I hoped delaying further discussion would give us the opportunity we needed to get away. And soon. We had locked up the RV but I didn’t doubt that Martens would want to retrieve the supplies left behind. Losing my freedom would be the end of me. Losing the RV and the supplies before I could escape would be just as bad. Escape. There was nothing to indicate that we were being held captive however, I felt like this man wasn’t going to let me go of my own free will while there were still questions about my survival.

As we headed, out Martens ordered one of the soldiers standing guard to take us to our friends. His parting words were that we would talk again in the morning and go over the details of the fire in the camp. The clock was ticking. I could feel Parker was anxious to say something as we walked but he kept quiet knowing the soldier was listening and would likely report back to Martens anything suspicious. As we headed to the tent, my eyes darted over the camp taking in as much of it as I could and looking for a way out. By the time we reached the our destination I had some ideas of possible routes out.

Tent 16. Our new home contained 8 cots and a table with a wash basin and camp stove surrounded by 4 chairs. It was depressing. It did however have four walls, a roof and the flap leading inside that could be closed and tied shut. It would work to hopefully give us the privacy needed to discuss our next steps.

The whole group was in the tent including Heidi easing some of the worry that had flitted through my anxious mind. She slept on one of the cots and had changed from her bloody and dirty clothes into teal scrubs. A blanket covered her lower body and I could see bright white bandages over her neck and upper chest. Her hair was wet. The thought of a shower was nearly enough to make me reconsider leaving. Almost but not quite. Marla cradled Hunter as he dozed while Cal and Marco both slept in cots side by side. Marco had become attached to Cal and Heidi and I figured that was a good thing considering what he had been through. Peace had descended upon my friends, leaving them calm enough to relax, to sleep, to feel safe. Parker went to the wash basin and splashed water on his face. He smiled and I understood how a simple thing like clean water on a dirty face had become a luxury. I sat in one of the chairs ignoring the hard plastic and looked over everyone feeling a pang of sadness knowing that I would be leaving them very soon.

I couldn’t expect or ask them to come with me. Not even Parker. The choice had been mine to run away and turn my back on the army and it was my choice to leave now. Maybe I was leaving to avoid punishment, maybe it was to avoid being pulled back into the military or perhaps it was the thought of being trapped in this cramped camp where it was possible that anyone could become infected or come in infected and attack and kill everyone. But I couldn’t leave quite yet. Martens wouldn’t be calling for me until morning and I had to use this short amount of time to ease some stress and rejuvenate.

Marla woke me up about an hour later, apologized but said she wanted to talk while everyone was distracted doing other things. I could see a sliver of light through the tent door and was glad it wasn’t dark yet. I told Marla it was fine and headed to the table away from the others to talk. I was actually relieved she had woken me as sleeping any longer would only eat up more time that I needed to prepare to leave. I also needed to think about how to discuss the next steps with the others.

“Louis, when are you leaving?”

“I’m not sure. Martens said he wants to see me again tomorrow morning.” I wiped a hand over my tired face. “I want to walk the grounds before it gets any darker and then I plan to head out right at dawn.”

Marla nodded, her face drawn in concern. She looked at me and said what I knew was coming. She didn’t think she and Hunter could go, not so soon after getting here and maybe not at all. It was Hunter that she had to think of now that they had found somewhere offering safety.

“If it wasn’t for Hunter….I don’t know. I just can’t keep running. I’m sorry.” Tears traced down her cheeks.

“You don’t need to apologize. I understand. All I want is for you both to be safe. I couldn’t take it if anything happened to you guys.”

Marla hugged me. I tensed then relaxed and hugged her back. This was going to be harder than I anticipated. I had really started to care about her and Hunter. We had helped each other, saved one another and the attachment between us had grown without me even realizing it. All the more reason for me to leave and to leave alone. I pulled away and started to get ready to head outside and scout out the camp. Hunter and Marco were sitting together playing with a deck of cards while Cal checked out Heidi’s wounds. Parker asked if we were going to walk the camp. I wanted to tell him to stay but I knew he wouldn’t listen and simply nodded.

As soon as we stepped outside I felt better about my chances of leaving without detection before Martens summoned me. The camp was hectic with so many people aimlessly wandering. It was just as it had been when we entered: people scared and unsure what to do or where to go. The soldiers didn’t seem interested in the civilians nor did they seem to be focused on anything in particular, not even the makeshift entryways. The poor bastards were just as lost as the rest of us. That would work to my advantage. We headed to the main entrance that was on the opposite side from where we had entered and appeared to be more than just a gap between the barriers. There was a 3 foot length of chain link fence fastened to two semi cabs. I couldn’t see how this was good protection on its own but with a dozen guards – 6 on either side – it made it more secure. We went to the entrance we had come through and it was as it had been a few hours earlier. I could see through the gap and saw only 2 guards there now. I told Parker we would come back after dark and check the area once more but this looked like the best way out. Adding to the seemingly ease of exiting was the fact that I could see the RV from this entrance making the escape even quicker.

As we walked back to our tent one thing struck me as odd. There was a heavy presence of soldiers with high-powered weapons offering protection which was good but I couldn’t figure out why the zombies weren’t swarming the shelter. It certainly wasn’t quiet inside the camp. All I could think was that the creatures didn’t want to tread on their own dead that had been killed to save us. That seemed strange however, it also seemed like that was the one thing that may be a deterrent as I remembered the corpses littering the ground around the barricades. All of those bodies might pose an issue getting back to the RV but if I had to walk over them and feel the blood and flesh under my feet, I would. The other potential challenge was that there was no way to tell if leaving would garner the attention of the soldiers and if it did, what would they do, if anything. We returned to the tent with my plan in place. Now all I had to do was tell the others and see where the chips fell.

I gathered everyone together making sure the tent flap was closed and that we were sitting in the middle of room away from any possible openings, then I laid it out. At dawn, as soon the sky became even slightly bright, I (we Parker corrected me) would head to the opening we had entered and make haste to the RV . What if there soldiers were there and they tried to stop us? At no point were we made to feel like prisoners or told we couldn’t leave when we wanted. If resistance was encountered I could only hope that there were one or two guards that could be subdued. Hell, they might not even care. It was a chance I would have to take. Now came the hard part.

“My intention is to go alone.” I held up my hand to stop Parker before he could say anything. “I can’t stop anyone from coming if that is what they want but I won’t ask any of you to come. I’ve made my choice and don’t expect anyone else to follow out of obligation.”

Parker spoke up first to say he would be going with me. There was no question for him. Marla was next to declare that her and Hunter would be staying and Marco spoke up to say he wanted to stay with Hunter. I was relieved that both of the kids would be staying. Even if I wasn’t convinced that the camp was 100% safe, it was better for them here and admittedly better for Parker and me. Cal looked at me. He said he knew this had been my plan, he just didn’t think it would so soon after we arrived.

“I know. I did want to stick around for a couple of days at least. Clean up and rest but Martens…I think he has plans for me that don’t include just being a refugee. I think it would be better for everyone if I leave sooner than later.” I bowed my head for a moment. “I don’t want to leave any of you but I don’t want to put you in any danger or in the bad graces of this Colonel. We’ll figure out a way to connect though, right?”

“Of course Louis. We will exchange our contact info.” Marla chuckled a little as she proposed this. “It’s like we’re simply planning to get together for a reunion not like we are going to be separated by an apocalypse overrun with the undead.”

She was right and we did it, even Cal and Heidi who hadn’t declared their intentions yet. We sat in silence for a few minutes as everything that had been said began to sink in. There was something between Heidi and Cal that had been there before we met and it seemed like their decision was up for debate. Cal finally spoke up and said he was staying, he didn’t want to leave Marco. The boy’s face lit up, pleased that his new friends, Hunter and Cal, weren’t leaving him. Heidi looked at Cal, her face was pained with the pressure to decide. I hated this. I didn’t want anyone to have to turn away from one another. I almost said as much but before I could Heidi took Cal’s hand and said she would stay too. Her brush with the zombie the day before had put a new fear into her and she wasn’t ready to face the monsters that closely again.

It was done. Parker would come with me and the others would do what was best for them and the kids. Just as I had wanted. I would have been grateful if even one of them was coming with us safety in numbers – but I was happy that they would be sticking together and watching out for one another in this uncertain new environment. All that was left to do now was spend the rest of the night together one last time and for Parker and I take a moonlight walk and make sure our escape plan would not fail.

We gathered around the table, the adults taking the chairs except for Cal who sat with the kids on one of the cots. Marla, Parker and I had gone to the mess tent and grabbed food, simple canned stuff like we had in the RV and headed back, wanting our last meal together to be just the 7 of us. No one noticed or cared. We actually spent some time simply talking about nothing in particular and for once since we had come together, not about how to survive. After dinner and couple of hours of good conversation, Parker and I headed out into the rapidly darkening night.

The camp had settled with only a few civilians still wandering but most of the soldiers had retreated to the buses or tents near Martens’ trailer. The exception was by the main entrance where 6 soldiers remained on guard. We went in the opposite direction and saw the two soldiers at the gap entrance had moved inside the enclosure. Neither of them looked particularly interested in what was happening outside and gave us a quick look before going back to smoking and staring at the blooming stars. Parker and I headed back to the tent.

This was going to work.

quill

© 2016, Denise Pasutti

A Good Soldier: Through the Masses (Ch.41)

zombie dawn

And here we were. Again. Waiting for the sun to rise so we could begin our final trek toward something we hoped would be salvation. Our days had become filled with roadblocks perpetuated by fear, exhaustion and not knowing what was happening in the world outside of our little group. I didn’t know how today would end and I didn’t care about myself. As long as these people I had taken care of either found safety with others or died quickly and permanently, I could die in peace or go my own way without worry. I couldn’t handle killing any of them if they turned but if I had to do it, it would be the end of my humanity; especially if it was Heidi.

Heidi. All night all I could do was worry about her and wait to hear the screams from the kids as she succumbed to the zombie virus and attacked us. We still didn’t know if she was tainted by it but when she came out of the backroom in the morning she was just as pale as the night before and it didn’t look like she had slept at all. Marla on her heels had the same tiredness stamped all over her. As I looked at the others, I knew I looked just as exhausted without having to check in the mirror.

Cal pulled down the towels from the front windows (our makeshift blackout curtains) and what I saw was actually quite beautiful: a calm bright morning. The sun was up, the sky was clear and beyond the shimmer of stalled chrome, I saw the vibrant green of the forest and the jewel blue of the morning sky. Most striking though – no zombies in sight. Parker and I ventured out to check around and make sure the quiet was not a feint and to check the road leading back up the hill to see if it was still clear. We walked in silence sticking together and watching each other’s backs while scanning the area. There was nothing to see. I stopped at the back of the RV and took a moment to breathe in the clean morning air. Parker joined me and I was relieved to see calm in his eyes and the shadow of fear that had been present since he had joined us was gone.

“Are you ready for this Parker?” It wasn’t that I didn’t think he couldn’t handle it, it was the fact that what we were about to do was going to be challenging for all of us, myself included.

“Am I ready? Not really but I’ll do my best.” He smiled nervous but confident. “I don’t know if I can be as effective as you or the others but I’ll try and I’ll do whatever I can to help and to protect everyone.”

“You’ll be fine. Whatever happens, we’re in this together and we will face what awaits us as a team.”

I hugged Parker having trouble believing my own words. He thanked me for believing in him, then pulled away looking up the hill. I watched his face waiting to see if he would relent to his fear but I only saw determined resolution. I was proud to watch him stand up and face the fear that he was doing everything in his power to mask. We headed back inside to let everyone know the area was clear and that were good to get moving.

Hunter and Marco grabbed a couple of pillows and headed into the bathroom locking the door. I felt a rush of anticipation as the lock clicked and I thought here we go. Cal and Heidi had the blinds up and the windows open as they positioned themselves on their respective beds. Parker collapsed the small dining table and loaded his gun, ensuring the spare bullets were easily within reach. Marla sat in the driver’s seat and secured a gun in the side pocket of the door ready to pull it if necessary. I took a moment and looked at her reflection in the windshield able to see marks of anxiety in her face. Marla was our best hope for getting out of here and getting to safety and she knew it. She had to lead us now using the motorhome and her driving ability to keep moving no matter what.

Everyone was ready but there was one more thing to do. I went to Parker and drew him into a hug. Years of separation and regret for how I had dismissed him rolled over me but here we were, reunited and closer than before because of our circumstances. There was a chance this would be the end of our very short reunion and that’s where the pang of sadness stabbed me the most. Until he showed up on that dark night I had barely been holding on to my sanity and humanity. I was trying to use the others as an anchor to keep it together but the tenuous grip had been loosening. But Parker was here now and I had to survive for him and he had to survive to keep me whole. Maybe one day we could be as we had been in the past but right now we had to get through this hell and we had to do it together. I let him go and went to the passenger seat and got my personal arsenal ready to go.

The motorhome was slowly chugging along and struggling to get up the hill when the first zombie appeared. The one thing we hadn’t prepared for or considered was that there may be some difficulty getting back up. The RV had been parked right at the base of it and Marla had just turned around to start our ascent. We couldn’t get any real speed or momentum and it was becoming a real danger. Not even a quarter of the way I finally told her to turn back and get the speed up. She didn’t say anything and acted quickly. The delay would surely cause more noise and garner more attention from the zombies but we had to do something to get moving. Marla moved the RV with grace and ease like she was driving a Mini not a full-sized travelling home. The motorhome built enough speed going back down that when she turned, slowing only slightly, she was able to keep the momentum going to get us up the hill.

As predicated the zombies were fully aware of us now and they crawled, walked and even ran from the surrounding areas. Marla gripped the wheel keeping her eyes forward with blind resolve. She never wavered, not even the first time she had to plow through of group of 4 monsters in the middle of the road trying to find the source of the noise. The impact was hard but the speed was enough not to slow our progress. As we rolled over the bodies the vehicle rocked hard from side to side and I pictured the kids slamming into their pillows frightened but out of harm’s way.

A blast from the backroom snapped me into action as shots rang out from Cal and Heidi followed by the closer bangs from Parker. I turned my attention to the front and knew I had to get my shit together or Marla wouldn’t be able to keep going forward at the pace she had set once we began encountering an increased concentration of the zombies.  I powered down the window leaned out and went double-handed, firing aimlessly at first then forgoing the action movie attempt at two guns. Using my dominant hand, I focused the shots to make a quick, final kill and end the suffering of the creatures instead of adding to their tormented existence and useless pursuit.

I couldn’t tell where we were but I did notice Marla turned left at one point and put us back on the road that we had ventured from the day before. I left Marla to navigate on her own and concentrated on continuing to help clear the path, switching out my guns and reloading quicker than I thought possible. The rattle and bang of gunfire reverberated inside the cabin as ceaselessly as the never-ending lines zombies. I didn’t know how much longer we could fight them off or how far we were from the sanctuary or if it even was such a thing now. Finally a clear path came into view as we rounded a corner and seconds later Marla stomped on the brakes stopping us before a mob of about zombies gathered in front of the clearing.

It happened quickly and I couldn’t be certain what exactly it was that happened. One minute the RV was stalled before the horde and the mournful wail of the dead was washing over us as they moved forward like one huge wave of decaying flesh. And then there was nothing but the solid thud of heavy machine gun fire deafening all my senses. I ducked back inside and followed Marla to the main room where Cal and Heidi had joined Parker and the boys. I listened to rap of gunfire fearing that a stray bullet would pass through the motorhome and someone would get hit. Marla sheltered Hunter and Cal had his arms around Heidi and Marco while Parker crouched beside them head down. A couple of bullets did punch through the metal walls of the RV but luckily none of them were near us. The rapid shots went on and then all at once stopped. My ears rang as they adjusted to the sudden quiet. Even the thrum of the dead was just as gone as the gunfire.

Looking around, I saw that we were alright for the most part but Heidi’s pallor had gotten worse. I decided to gamble and try to look out the window hoping that my silhouette wouldn’t trigger a fresh round of shots. Parker grabbed my arm knowing the risk and not wanting me to take it. I nodded that it would be okay and gently removed his hand. Part of me knew what I would see before even looking. I expected the remains of zombies in various states of mutilation from the onslaught of bullets and I also expected to see the source of the spent ammo – soldiers. As I slowly stood and peered over the bottom of the window, I found I was right on both counts. Fortunately the soldiers were busy killing any zombies still moving and not looking at the RV and didn’t see me.

Marla asked me what was going on, her voice barely over a whisper. I moved as close as possible to the group and told them, not surprised that they weren’t relieved to know who our saviours were. Before the crisis had started a military presence would have been a good thing; now after our experiences and the tale I had shared about my camp and the village, trust and protection were no longer words to associate with the army. As much as we dreaded them, they had likely just saved our asses and if we wanted to find this place that promised safety and security we would need to get over the reluctance to trust the army. The problem now however, was how to let them know that we weren’t a threat.

I told everyone to holster their weapons and when the knock came to put their hands up to show that they were empty. The knock came and Marla shouted come in. Three soldiers entered, rifles raised and sweeping over each of us as they gaged who we were and if we should be put down or not. They relaxed after a minute but didn’t fully lower their weapons. The soldiers wore black combat fatigues reminding me more of swat than army. More unnerving were the simple gas masks/respirators they wore. It made it difficult to see their reactions and impressions of us, specifically how they saw me. Under the bulky jacket and layer of dirt my own fatigue pants could be seen but it didn’t appear they were interested me at this point. One of the men stepped forward closing in on Heidi, clearly honing in on her sickly appearance.

“Oh thank god you’re here.” Marla kept her hands up as she intentionally drew the attention of the soldier from Heidi to herself.

“We’re here to help ma’am.” The soldier didn’t turn back to Heidi and instead focused on Marla and Hunter.

I was wary but looking at Marla I could see genuine relief in her face. She had been strong the whole time since we had met on the roadside. Even in confusion, fear and desperation to keep her child safe, she had been strong and unshakable. I couldn’t give her the relief or help to ease the unending fear she surely felt but here with the presence of the soldiers she might be able to find some hope in that she could stop fighting, stop running and be protected instead of having to be protector all the time. I wouldn’t stand in the way of that safety even though everything in me said to leave now, don’t go with them, don’t get trapped behind their walls. But I didn’t. I stayed with my friends.

The soldiers let us keep our weapons not seeing any threat I suppose and besides, if there were more zombies coming our way the more guns the better. Aside from weapons, we took our personal belongings, leaving behind the extra guns, ammo and other supplies including food and water. Marla wordlessly handed me the RV keys after locking the doors. She knew that if I didn’t stay (she probably knew I had no intent on staying) that I would need the vehicle to continue wherever it was I thought I could go. Leaving the food and weapons would also serve my journey alone and prevent the dangerous task of searching out more supplies.

Walking from the RV to wherever the soldiers were leading us was a messed up experience. The blood, gore and body parts covering the ground made each step a horrific guessing game of what slippery bits would be under foot next. I tried not to notice the unavoidable squelch and kept my eyes on the back of the head of the soldier in the lead. The careful trek through the remains of so many humans finally came to an end and there it was: Sanctuary.

quill

© 2016, Denise Pasutti

A Good Soldier: Licking Our Wounds (Ch. 40)

AGS 38

The situation was not as dire as it appeared when I first stepped out of the RV. There were 10 zombies but it seemed like more because Cal and Heidi were panicking, pushing them around and not calmly taking out the creatures which was leading them to get surrounded. All I had was a gun I didn’t want to use for fear of drawing out more attackers and I knew this was the sort of thing that got people killed -hesitation in the face of immediate danger. I said fuck it and pulled my gun but Parker put his hand on mine stopping me from drawing the weapon and quickly moved forward, slamming a machete into the nearest zombie’s head. He staggered back stunned by what he had done. I grabbed the weapon as it started to slip from his grasp and pushed Parker back to the RV then turned to see that one of the zombies had wrestled Heidi to the ground. The monster was on top of her trying to claw her neck with bloody, ragged fingers as it snapped it’s gore filled jaw near her cheek.

Another one searching out flesh crawled in front of me dragging its mangled bone exposed legs behind it and blocking my path to Heidi. I easily took off the top of the head and pushed it aside desperate to help my friend. I tried to grab Heidi’s attacker but failed as the machete got in the way of a good grip. Split second decision – drop the machete and pull the zombie away or cut its head off and risk dropping it on Heidi teeth first. Its head came off smoothly. The blade was sharp enough and I put enough force into it to not get stopped by flesh and bone.

I was quick but the zombie still managed to rake it’s bloodied fingers down Heidi’s chin and throat as it died. We didn’t have time to worry about the consequences (zombie infection or otherwise) as the other 8 beasts came at us. Cal was doing his best but all he could do was push and punch being less than effectual until he managed to get one on the ground and stomp its head and neck furiously. Crying and bleeding didn’t stop Heidi as she flipped her gun around and used the butt of it to hammer at the zombies,each strike fueled by her rage and fear. We finished the job and stopped, covered in gore and breathless as the last one fell. I scanned the woods and the gridlock of cars and couldn’t see anymore zombies moving around. Cal helped Heidi to the motorhome where Marla waited in the doorway. Parker stood near the front of the vehicle looking paler than usual with an immense fear naked across his angular features. I should have been angry that he couldn’t find the courage to help after killing only one beast but I understood what he was feeling; I had felt it the first I went into the field with a loaded weapon and pointed my gun at another human being. And the first time I had killed another human. I had been sickened by the experience and disgusted and more than anything, I wanted to take it back.

I touched his shoulder and saw the fog slip away from his eyes replaced by guilt. I gently told him it was OK, he didn’t need to be killer (I knew that was not true in the current circumstances) he only needed to help in any other way possible. Parker choked back a sob but didn’t cry and nodded. In silent understanding we headed back into the RV with the others. I closed the door doing everything I could to be as quiet as possible still fearing there were zombies who could be alerted by the softest sound. Marla had the kids at the table and was doing what she could to keep them and herself calm. Cal and Heidi were in the back and Parker grabbed a first aid kit from his bag and couple bottles of water and went to help.

I wanted to go and see if there was anything I could do but the space was small and I knew I would only get in the way. Parker knew first aid and Heidi and Cal had both worked in a hospital; I wasn’t needed. I went to the front of the motorhome to check out outside still concerned about another attack. A few zombies milled about on the edge of the highway near the woods but they didn’t seem interested in the stalled RV. Killing the engine helped conceal us from them but I didn’t know how long we could stay hidden and stalled on the road. I was also concerned about Heidi’s wounds. How long before she turned, would she turn and what the hell could we do about it. Or should we do the logical thing and kill her before we found out and prevent a possible catastrophe if she did become a zombie and attacked us. I didn’t know if she would even be a threat. 

Once Cal and Parker were able to wipe away the blood from Heidi’s face and neck, we could see that the wounds were mostly superficial, nothing too deep. Whatever the zombie infection was it didn’t seem to have been transmitted to Heidi through the bloodied fingernails of the zombie. We were nearly certain by this point that she was cleared of the zombie contagion but there was some worry that she could get a bacterial infection from the filth that had been embedded in the creatures ragged claws. Parker’s kit had some low dose antibiotic which would have to suffice to fight off any potential disease.

Parker finished bandaging up Heidi and she moved to the passenger seat allowing Marla to take the kids to the back room after Cal had cleaned up the bloody towels and gauze. I told Marla to bring them back into the main area while we discussed our next move. Everyone looked startled but I didn’t see the point of keeping them out of the discussion about what we were going to do. They were in the thick of this just as much as the rest of us and it didn’t matter that they were children. We couldn’t shelter them from what was happening. We hadn’t been able to shield them from the ravening hordes each time we fled and at this point trying to keep them protected from the horrors was a useless tactic. Marla glared at me but brought them back to join the conversation.

Continuing down this road wasn’t an option and there was no way in hell I would go back into the woods on foot. What had been ahead on that road before recklessly turning away was purely a guessing game and I had thrown us off track and put Heidi’s life in jeopardy without being certain about what I had seen while on the roof.

“So if we can’t go on foot and going through the forest is out, where does that leave us? Stuck here hoping for what, a rescue or that the zombies will just go away?” Heidi’s frustration wasn’t totally directed at me and I completely understood where it was coming from.

Defeat. That’s what it was I was hearing and I couldn’t deny I felt it just as strongly and could tell it was plaguing all of us. We had been here before. That sinking feeling that we were just going in circles and would continue until we finally screwed up or gave up and let the monsters win. I asked them what to do, looking them all over including Marco and Hunter waiting for a solution. It became apparent quickly that no one had anything or any idea about what to do next.

“Fine. We go back and push through them.” I finally said. “Drive through them, don’t stop until we get to the camp or whatever it is and hope help will be there.”

I felt the absurdity of the statement since I had just diverted us from that path, not wanting to barrel through a mob of walking corpses. Confused faces stared back at me but to my surprise they just nodded their heads in agreement; likely from a lack of any other suggestions or simply defeat. No one rebuked me for saying we should backtrack even though I had made the poor decision to divert in the first place. We were at that point where doing nothing would be worse than doing something potentially deadly and stupid.

Cal asked if having two of us up on the roof was possible to shoot the zombies that would be blocking our path and surrounding the motorhome as we moved. I understood what Cal was asking but my mind took a second to process it as I pictured two of us on the roof, rifles in hand like gunslingers on top of a stagecoach in a western movie. I shook off the somewhat humorous image and said yes, we could but that would mean keeping the RV moving at a slow pace so we wouldn’t fall.

“The windows. We can shoot out of them without having to slow down or worry about anyone falling.” Heidi had a point. “And really, we just need to take our chances at this point.”

And there was that indifference again but it was not as hopeless as it had been before. We agreed to use the windows and drive like hell through the horde. This felt like the final journey for good or bad. Some of us might make it and some might not and to add to that, we weren’t even sure what we were heading into.

“Let’s take the rest of the daylight to get ready and head out tomorrow.” Heidi looked unsettlingly ashen as she voiced the suggestion to wait to continue our journey. “We can enjoy one more decent night of sleep before we possibly lose these luxurious accommodations.”

“Good idea. We can prep, eat and sleep and be ready for whatever comes tomorrow.” I couldn’t help but agree, partly from procrastination and partly out of concern for Heidi. 

We prepped the weapons, cleaning them and doing our best to ensure there would be no jamming. Extra bullets were put in easy reach of where each of us were to be stationed. Heidi and Cal would take the windows in the back, one on each bed and they would watch the back window even though they couldn’t actually open it. Parker would stay in the main area and fire from the only one there. Marla would drive again and I would be in the passenger seat but going wherever they needed me to be. The kids would be an issue though. As much as I thought they should be a part of what was happening, they were going to be in the way and I didn’t want them to get inadvertently hurt. The best solution was either let them sit near Parker or put them in the small bathroom; my nightmare about being trapped there was still in my head even while I suggested it. Marla asked the boys what they wanted to do. At the same time Marco and Hunter said the bathroom. It was settled, they would stay in the bathroom using pillows to cushion against the walls and stay there until one of the adults told them to come out. 

And with that we knew where we would all be and what we would be doing. Parker and I set about blocking out the windows after all the weapons were prepared. Dinner was done by the time the sun set and everyone was exhausted from another tumultuous day and went to sleep almost immediately. Almost everyone. I was anxious and still regretting what I had done; turning us into danger and Heidi’s attack. Over the course of the evening she had slowly started looking more sickly making my guilt and concern worse. I kept thinking we just needed to get to that promised safety zone and Heidi could be helped. She was just suffering from the wounds, blood loss and trauma from being attacked. She couldn’t be infected with the zombie virus. I hoped as I tossed, turned and fell into a restless sleep that, that was true.

quill

© 2016, Denise Pasutti

A Good Soldier: RV’ing (Ch. 39)

DSCN0124

Before leaving, we decided to go to the other RV and give it a good search for more supplies and possibly weapons. We also wanted to make sure the couples were truly dead even though they hadn’t revived when we checked the first time and hadn’t heard any noise from there. I was going to do it but Heidi stopped me and said she and Cal would go. I asked her why and told her she didn’t have to. Cal still had to prove he wasn’t a coward and she simply said she had to go. I left it at that. I don’t know if she was proving something to us or if she just had to face the horror of what we were all living through. Either way, I stepped aside and let them go while the rest of us prepared our motorhome. Marla made sure everything was secured while I decided to try to start the motorhome. It would all be for nothing if the vehicle was dead like its owners. I turned the key and thankfully the RV roared to life with no issue. That was one worry out of the way.

Marla put Hunter and Marco to work, counting the food and water stores in the cupboards and fridge while Parker went outside and siphoned gas from the other vehicle into a spare gas can. After I finished dealing with the mechanics of the motorhome, I walked down the path to the main road to see if there was anything to actually see. There was still nothing and no one in sight except sky and trees with no signs of cars, people or zombies. I dared to think that our luck might hold for a while longer. 

Heidi and Cal spent a good 20 minutes in the other RV while the rest of us finished prepping and waited. They came out, both looking pale but carrying 2 backpacks and a couple of grocery bags. No one asked what else they found or if the couples were dead, dead. Nothing needed to be said. It was beyond time to leave the quiet and isolation of the campsite and everyone silently agreed. We packed ourselves into the motorhome, Cal placing the kitchen knives and hatchet he found in one of the cupboards and locking it while Heidi put the bags of food and water with the rest of the supplies. Marla decided to take the helm with no objections from the rest of us. I headed to the passengers’ seat to act as co-pilot using Parker’s rough map as a navigation tool along with the road atlas and of course, I had gun at the ready. 

At my request Marla stopped at the jeep near the booth at the entrance to the campground. Cal searched the booth and I scouted out the jeep. It was empty but blood covered the steering wheel and front seats. The driver was gone and had clearly suffered either before dying or escaping whatever torment he faced and then died somewhere out of the immediate area. I felt wrong, almost dirty searching this blood stained vehicle knowing that someone had suffered a gruesome death here recently. I made the search quick and came up with a few chocolates bars, a lighter and sunglasses in the glove box. There was nothing in the backseat. Reluctantly, I put my hand under the seats and felt only damp stickiness from the blood. I wiped my hand on the cleanest part of the seat, grabbed the glove box contents and headed to back. 

Cal had better luck  finding a pack with some junk food, flares, a crossword puzzle book, flashlight and a six-pack of beer. I suppose being out in these woods all alone gets lonely and dull. Cal smiled triumphantly at the beer and I almost asked for one knowing it was probably 8am and aware that we were running from zombies and could be attacked at any time. Perhaps it was wrong to want a beer at that moment but we were kind of facing the end of the world and it didn’t seem to matter. I held my tongue and filed away the beer for later. 

“Did you get anything Louis?” Cal asked as he put the 6 pack in a cooler and tossed the backpack under the table.

I shook my head and said there was nothing and no one in the jeep. Marla started up the motorhome again and we slowly continued down the gravel road to the highway. The kids stayed in the back with Heidi and Cal who kept watch out of the windows for anything approaching while Parker did the same from the living area. The noise from the RV should have brought out dozens of zombies immediately but we only spotted a handful of them, most of which were too mutilated to be a threat. I wanted to kill them and end the suffering of those once live humans but we couldn’t stop. It would be too risky and besides, we had bigger problems as we started heading north on a highway littered with abandoned vehicles. 

The road was a maze and it would be slow going to get through the chaos left by panicked people and attacking monsters. There was dread that it would be only a matter of time before we wouldn’t be able to go forward in the RV and be back on foot. I hoped that wouldn’t happen and as we plodded along that hope faded into fear as the zombies finally started showing themselves. They were indeed being drawn out by the sound of the motorhome. The creatures emerged from inside and under vehicles and I wondered how long it been since anyone had been on the highway. There approach was slow but it was enough for us to start feeling the urgency of getting past the tangle of cars and hauling ass out of here. 

“Maybe we should kill them.” Marla’s voice was strained with the pressure of trying to navigate through the metal and chrome and now flesh obstacle course. “They’ll just keep following us. We could take out the ones right behind us.”

“But then we would have to keep shooting because they aren’t going to stop coming.” Parker said.

As much as I wanted to do what Marla suggested, get rid of the immediate threat, they would just keep coming and it would only be a matter of time before we became bogged down or overwhelmed. Stopping and starting over and over would make our attempt to put distance between us and the creatures pointless. Not that we were doing so great anyway. The further we went the more we were drawing out the zombies, not to mention that we had started to slow down to avoid more and more dead vehicles. I was getting anxious just sitting and watching the monsters shamble out from wherever they had fallen and moved as best as they could due to decay, gore and mutilation. For the most part they were slow and that made it all the more frustrating to be doing nothing to stop them. 

I tried to look beyond the immediate surroundings and saw nothing helpful, nothing that promised a break from this meandering that had become our escape. I decided to go to the roof of the RV with the thought that I might be able to see a clear path through. What I didn’t take into account was how I would get up there and once I came up with a plan it wasn’t pretty or nearly as flawless and cool as I had pictured. The air vent in the centre of the RV roof comes off easily enough and I’m thin enough to fit through but I had to get a boost from Parker and Cal and Marla could only keep steady for short spurts. I finally made it up, got stable and wished I hadn’t been so curious. 

The view didn’t improve my optimism about our journey and made my heart sink. I couldn’t see any relief from the endless amounts of vehicles askew and as for the zombies, they were scattered all over the place. Little specks moving in crowds for the most part except for off in the distance where a dense spot of what I guessed to be bodies crowded around something. As I strained to make out what the creatures were drawn to I realized that we were gradually heading in that direction right toward the crowd. A million thoughts went through my head but the predominant one was that the crowd appeared to be at the location of the promised sanctuary. I didn’t know for certain but given my luck since the beginning of this apocalypse that would be the sanctuary and it seemed to be very possible that we may not get in or that it had been overrun.  

I fumbled my way back down the vent falling and twisting my ankle then knocking my head on the table. The blow wasn’t very hard however, with my recent lack of everything that would make me healthy and resilient I became dizzy and couldn’t get up right away. Parker was at my side immediately and I heard Marla asking what was happening, her voice getting higher with panic and fear. The RV swerved and I nearly hit my head again as she struggled to right the big vehicle. Marla was losing focus and I didn’t know if it had anything or everything to do with me being an idiot and falling through a hole in the roof. Parker pulled me up and I shook my head, ignoring the pain spreading up my leg and limped to Marla to tell her to turn as soon as possible.

“Which way!” Her panic increased and she gripped the wheel so tight her hands were turning white.

“Anyway you can, just stop going straight.” My own anxiety was brought on or perhaps augmented by the fear surrounding me. 

Questions started coming from the others asking what the hell was happening, raising the anxiety level in the motorhome even higher. I could hear Marla’s breathing getting faster and louder putting her on the brink of hyperventilating. Ignoring all the chatter I went to her and very quietly told her to stop the RV and let me take over. Her fear was going to cause an accident. She did as I asked, easing off the gas enough to slow down but not come to a complete stop. It was just enough to allow her to move out of the driver’s seat and let me slid in. I scanned the highway desperate to find a way off the path to the mob of zombies. Parker came next to me having heard what I said and pointed to the right. About 2 miles away there was a split in the highway and as we approached a sign indicated the turn off to Bellingham. 

I sped up as much as I could ignoring the thumps and bumps as the motorhome powered through the zombies. We hit a twisting road that took a downward trajectory for a couple of miles making it the perfect time to kill the engine and stop the noise that was drawing the creatures to us. As we coasted I checked the rear view mirror and saw the number of zombies decrease either from losing interest because of the lack of noise or because it was difficult for the mutilated monsters to keep up. While it was positive to be shaking them off the negative effect was that there were still many abandoned vehicles on the highway ahead and now I was the one navigating through the tangle of cars and trucks with a head still foggy from hitting the table on my clumsy descent through the roof. 

“How many are still around us?” I needed to know, desperately wanting to stop as soon as safely possible.

“Looks like about a dozen, maybe less. They’re falling away, can’t keep up.” Heidi came forward as she answered my question.

“Do you think we can take them out if I stop?” I still wanted to end them.

“Yes. Stop and we’ll clear out the ones still trying for us.” Heidi was frightened but in control.

I eased off the gas meaning to slowly break but had to slam down as a pile up of 3 cars appeared out of nowhere ahead of us covering the entire length of the highway and blocking the way forward. Everyone fell forward including me and we were fortunate no one was hurt, just jostled about and bumped around. We didn’t have time to lick our wounds or recover. There were enough zombies around that they had to be dealt with lest their moans and shambling drew more out. 

Cal was out the door and after Heidi shook off the jarring header she took into the wall, she was after him. Marla went to the kids, both sniffling and doing their best not to cry. I got up ignoring the renewed pain in my head and ankle along with the new ache in my wrist and headed toward the side door to help Cal and Heidi. Parker grabbed my shoulder and I saw that he didn’t want me to go and he sure as hell didn’t want to walk into a group of cannibalistic monsters and start killing. He had made it to me in the middle of nowhere through a zombie apocalypse but as I looked at him not showing any signs of releasing me, I realized for the first time – he hadn’t actually killed any of them this whole time. I had only a moment as that dawned on me before I had to get outside and help the others; I couldn’t dwell too heavily on what Parker was and wasn’t capable of doing.

I jumped out the door and surprisingly he did follow staying close at my heels. Cal and Heidi were struggling to kill the zombies without using their firearms. I didn’t have time to figure out how about a dozen zombies turned into what looked like 30. I had to help Cal and Heidi and keep them alive and unscathed. 

quill

© 2016, Denise Pasutti

 

A Good Soldier: Morning Haze (Ch. 38)

DSCN0269

Parker and I stayed outside for an hour or so more before heading into the RV and spreading out on the floor, too tired to care where we lay our heads. The kids and ladies were in the back room and Cal had taken over the bench bed. It didn’t matter. I was content to have the warmth of Parker by my side and fell quickly asleep into blissfully forgetful dreams. I awoke to muted chatter and a shiver of cold passing over me as a dim light shone through an uncovered window.  I struggled to open my eyes, my head feeling heavy with sleep and road weariness. It took a few minutes to feel awake, rolling on my back and enjoying the stillness that came from being in a shelter away from the constant movement of nature and decided to remain lying down for a while longer and think about the day ahead. I pictured a leisurely drive out of the woods and into the throngs of zombies that were surely on the highway waiting for something to get their attention. My wandering mind hearkened back to the videos and images Parker had seen on the blog.

The coincidence of his presence here nagged at me and I had a wild thought that perhaps he had recognized the highway in the video and seen me in the images and had decided to head out into the zombie infested woods to find me. I shook my head banishing the absurd thought. It was too early and I was still too tired to be having deep thoughts about Parker’s motivations and apparent ability to blindly locate me. The whispering returned from the back of the RV followed by the light foot falls of Marla and Heidi I guessed.  The sharp snap of the door made me jump as it broke through the morning stillness. I tossed the blanket on Parker who seemed to still be asleep, glanced at Cal’s back rising and falling slowly, then headed out after the ladies.

The morning seemed dull even though dawn had passed leaving grey and whites clouds littering the sky, drifting past and intermittently blocking out sunlight. Standing a good 10 feet away from the motor home, Heidi and Marla huddled close together appearing to be in deep conversation and not aware of anything around them. I didn’t stand on courtesy and walked to join them making my footfalls heavy so as not to alarm them.  Somewhere along the way they had acquired cigarettes and as they puffed in the dim morning light, the embers glowed across their strained faces.

“Hey Louis, sleep well?” Heidi asked between puffs.

“Considering it was on the floor of a motor home, I actually did.”

“Beats a rocky cave floor eh?” Marla stomped out her smoke. “So we were talking about getting out here today but we’re not sure, you know, where to go. Hearing what Parker said about the roads and cities and stuff, it sounds like things are pretty bad in the civilized world.”

I flat out told them that I didn’t know what to do and how it seemed like at every turn it seemed like we were being pushed back into this forest. I mentioned what Parker has said about the state of the world outside this wooded purgatory; chaos being the only world I could use to convey the vagueness of what he had told me. Maybe we would just have to gamble and hope it wasn’t as bad as that word implied.  What I thought of with words like apocalypse and chaos were marauders and pirates creating havoc and terrorizing citizens already in fear for their lives from the zombies.

“Louis, are you alright, you seem to be drifting?” Heidi nudged me from my thoughts of devastation.

“Yeah, just thinking about our next move should be and what’s waiting for us out there.”

Marla and Heidi looked at each other like there was something they wanted to say but were hesitant to share. I said what, my voice more tired than annoyed about this beating around the bush. They told me they weren’t sure about the plan to continue north. Marla said they had made it back to the road after we were separated there was nothing but abandoned vehicles, blood, bodies and walking corpses. Not even that many of the latter but there also hadn’t been any live people or anyone you would expect to be present during a state of emergency.

“There were no signs of police, fire or ambulances. I told Heidi and Parker I would even have been happy to see the military.” The way Marla said it I understood her meaning and it reminded me that my brothers in arms were the last protection that she thought of as saviours.

“I’m not sure the military is what any of us wants to see especially since you’re travelling with a deserter.” I felt dread at the very thought of the words I said. “Aside from that, what are you two thinking our next move should be if not heading north? I’m open to what anyone else thinks is the best option at this point.”

“We should continue north Louis. Trust me.”  Parker had silently walked up to us at some point during our conversation.

“Why?” Marla couldn’t keep the incredulousness from her voice.

“You don’t know me and I’m sure I haven’t done much to assure you that I’m on the level.” Parker paused and turned to Cal who had also joined us. “I haven’t seen Louis in 3 or 4 years so trust may have faltered between us but I know there is a safe place if we keep going north.”

Parker pulled out his cell phone and I stared mesmerized at the familiar device just now realizing that I hadn’t seen one in days. Something that was almost always present in people’s hands had become an absent object in light of the crisis. And why wouldn’t it? There was likely no signal in the places I had been and there was really no one to contact. By the way Parker told it the truth of what was happening wasn’t in the media either or least hadn’t been when came out here. But for none of us to have even pulled out a phone over the past couple of days, was odd but spoke to our states of mind. I thought for a moment about my own cell and wasn’t sure if it was still in my foot locker (burnt to cinder by now) or if I had absently added it to my pack when I raced out of camp. I looked at the others and saw Cal and Heidi absently reached into their pockets and come up empty-handed. I wasn’t the only one who had thought about the device that our society had become so dependent upon.

Parker turned the phone to us, tapping the screen to show a photo of something that looked like a couple of school buses draped with a banner reading: Refuge Here. He swiped the photo to a map with red circle around a nondescript spot just past the border and the word Safe written beside it. Parker told us that he had connections with a network of hyper paranoid friends who would be among the first groups to find safety behind the defenses of others. One of them had texted the photos before he lost cell coverage and he was able to get a general idea of how far past the border it even though the map was blurred in the picture. He figured it to be 50 miles northwest of the marked border crossing that I had passed before finding Marla and Hunter. I asked why he hadn’t just headed that way instead of coming out here.

“Zombies man. The roads were and probably still are a mess. I couldn’t have made it on my own but now with you and the others and this RV I, we have a better chance.”

“That’s all well and good but putting up a sign and the Safe or Refuge doesn’t mean it truly was or still is either of those things. If this was taken what 2 or 3 days ago, who knows what state that shelter is in now.” Cal was right as he pointed out the obvious.

I looked over my 4 companions then focused on Parker wanting to accept his claims as fact since he seemed so sure that this was the place to go. I wanted to tell him that but I also wanted to tell him the truth, that I couldn’t take his word for it and that we may be putting ourselves in greater danger. Before I could decide which sentiment to convey he played a video.  The shaky cam showed that the makeshift shelter was real and much to my dismay guarded by military personnel. There was no audio just the camera sweeping over the heavily armed soldiers, some on the ground others on top of the barricade of buses or semi-trucks. Considering it had only been about a week, whoever was in charge had set-up a pretty good wall even if it did look only temporary. There were noticeable gaps where more soldiers gathered and I wondered if that’s all it would be – a temporary sanctuary or if people would put down roots and live under military guard if that became necessary.

I turned away shaking my head. How could this even be an option, a consideration, making a home in a place surrounded by the military to protect us from zombies? For a hundredth time I tried to accept that the impossible and fantastical was our new reality. Would any of us ever be able to return to our real homes or was part of the new reality living under armed protectors while the beasts chomped at us from behind barricades.

“Louis? Where are you?” Marla touched my shoulder and I realized that I had been doing that a lot, drifting and forgetting the others were waiting for my input.

“I’m just trying to come to grips with the possibility of somewhere like that becoming home.” I turned away again knowing that’s not what I really wanted to say but not able to get out anything else. “I think we should go there. I’ll help get us to that sanctuary safely but I’ll be honest Marla, I don’t think I can stay there.”

Cal, Heidi and Parker looked stricken by my declaration but Marla seemed to understand as sadness clouded her face and she nodded. I didn’t know if she truly understood or if she just accepted that I would leave her and Hunter. Cal asked with anger in his voice why? Why wouldn’t I go to some place that could offer a guarded shelter at least until we knew how bad the situation was or how the government and military were going to contain the zombies, if they hadn’t already. I admitted being in a safe and secure environment for at least a little while would do wonders for my aching body and maybe even ease the strain and stress on my fatigued mind but it was the military offering that security that gave me pause and doubt about being surround by them once more.

I wasn’t a totally self-absorbed and believed that I was somehow one of their most wanted deserters but still, it was possible that I would know some of the soldiers and even under these dire circumstances, I feared they would still court-martial me or worse – recruit me and I would be back under the thumb of the army.

“Louis are you sure that you want to keep moving even after we reach this place?” Parker’s words had an edge of nervousness causing me to turn toward him.

“If it is what it seems to be yes, I will go on to someplace else.” I wanted to have conviction in my words but I just sounded tired at the prospect of making any decision and at the thought of not stopping.

I finished my thoughts, concluding the conversation by pointing out that it was all a moot point until we knew what was happening out in the world beyond the woods. For all we knew the outbreak was contained and the zombie threat might be over and it wouldn’t be necessary to go there. I looked at the sky as it tried brighten behind a shroud of clouds hanging over the morning light.

“We should get ready and head out soon.”  Marla stopped me from my depressing talk and made the effort to move us forward.

No one else said anything and we started the task of preparing to head into the unknown like too many time before this moment.

quill

© 2015, Denise Pasutti

 

A Good Soldier: The Not So Lonesome Night (Ch.37)

AGS 38

I stepped away from Parker, wrestling with the wash of emotions that being with my old friend stirred up. The night was silent except for the soft voices of the others talking in the RV. The darkness and quiet didn’t press in on me and for once I wasn’t afraid of being out in the open, exposed to the world. Walking to the front of the motor home I sat on the rocky gravel ignoring the sharp points and leaned back against the cool metal of the grill. Parker joined me and quietly, without any prompting, started to tell me about his experience with the zombie apocalypse.

Parker knew something wasn’t right when mainstream media didn’t cover the fire that had destroyed the village that my unit, that I, had eradicated. He heard about it when one of his online “friends” showed him footage of the incident. He or she had somehow gone unnoticed by us (or perhaps it had been one of my own people) and had taken cell phone pictures of the aftermath, of the fire and apparently had even caught the source of the blaze – the pile of bodies before it became just flames and nothing discernible. The person posted the images on an underground doomsday blog Parker subscribed to. He tried to dismiss the first post with the blurry images, taken at a distance and lacking detail but there was a follow-up post the next night with a video that looked like something out of a bad found footage horror film, making what he watched that much worse. The video was shot on a highway, on the highway that Holly and I had emerged onto after leaving her cabin. I didn’t interrupt Parker as he spoke because I wasn’t ready to tell him that I had been at both events.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It couldn’t possibly be real. The footage was shitty, shaky cam and the sound was muffled and filled with so much noise that I didn’t want to believe that what I was hearing could be screams. Regardless, you got the gist of what was happening pretty quickly. It was the blood everywhere that made the situation clear.” Parker turned away from me for a moment before continuing, his voice quavering and unsteady.

In the few steady images of the video he was able to see the horror of people tearing one another apart as smoke billowed from the forest beyond the asphalt. Parker watched the video several times, the images getting clearer after each viewing, and then he turned to mainstream media thinking something had been on the news. There were so many people in the video and there had been fire trucks, police and ambulances present. All of these things plus the fire surely would not have gone unnoticed by the public and should have been reported somewhere. It wasn’t and the only news Parker found was of a fire in the forest and road blocks on the highway to the border crossing to keep people away from the spreading flames. Not surprisingly, there was nothing about people attacking and eating one another and leaving blood and body parts sprayed across the asphalt. The panic didn’t start at this news for the general public but Parker knew that it was the beginning something much worse and more threatening than a forest fire and traffic jam.

“I just knew something bad was happening and it would get worse. But part of me couldn’t believe it was actually zombies; at least not until I left my apartment.” I felt Parker shutter and heard the sharp inhaling of his breath as he tried to calm down.

“What happened when you left? You said the panic hadn’t spread yet, what was it like out there?”

“Have you been out in the woods this whole time?”

Of course Parker wouldn’t have known that I had been at both locations he saw on the blog. If I hadn’t been hesitating about telling him my part in the village fire, I may have stopped to question the remarkable coincidence of me being in videos and photos he was shown. But I had worked up the nerve to tell him the truth of my involvement, still fearing it would damn our rekindled friendship, and let the coincidence fall to the back of my mind.

“I’ve been out in the woods since, I guess, about a day before the outbreak. I don’t know for sure. I can’t seem to keep track of time. I was at base camp, we went on a mission, then returned and all hell broke loose a few hours later.” I considered, and then continued. “I think I was on the highway that was in the video you watched.”

I couldn’t see Parker’s expression clearly in the dark, just the outline of his sharp features but what I heard told me he was probably shocked; the sharp intake of his breath and barely whispered – you were there – stung me with guilt and remembrance of what I had done.  I didn’t know if he was putting together that I meant not only the highway but also the village and I didn’t offer anything further in way of an explanation. I didn’t want to say more than he wanted to know.

“In that village, with the body bonfire, I thought I saw blurry images of soldiers in the pictures.” He paused, I couldn’t breathe. “I thought it was my old notions of conspiracy theories acting up again. It wasn’t though was it, you were there too?”

I thought I could hear a queasiness in this voice as he realized that I had been a part of the massacre of that village. I sensed his shock and the bubbling up of questions he wanted to ask. I couldn’t stop myself; no matter how much I wanted to be quiet I told him the sickening truth.

“I was there.” I didn’t want to justify my participation but I tried to anyway. “I didn’t know what we were going to do. We were just soldiers following the orders we were given by god knows who.” I stopped. It was becoming real again, the killing of those people because regardless of what they had become, they were still people. “I didn’t refuse. I didn’t want to do it Parker but I didn’t know how to disobey. Not until the world collapsed around me in blood and fire. And it was too late to save anyone except myself by then.”

I wiped away tears, a little surprised that I had even cried in the first place. Since this started I don’t recall having shed tears for my lost platoon, for the village, for Holly or anyone else I had come across and gotten killed. Less than an hour with Parker and I let myself have emotions again and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I said I was sorry to Parker and we both knew what I meant as he put an arm around my shoulders to comfort me.

“I can’t imagine what that was like for you, any of it. The guilt must be tremendous but I guess that’s your burden to carry. I don’t hold it against you, what happened. The fire and all. You really are a survivor Louis.”

We sat in silence; me stewing in my guilt and Parker, oddly, humming and fidgeting. I needed a distraction from the memories of all the death that surrounded us. I asked Parker how he got out of the city and made it out to this area, why here in the first place? Shining the flashlight down the gravel path leading to the campsite, I saw no sign of a vehicle. It occurred to me that he hadn’t actually said what happened when he left his apartment.

“We walked from the highway. My car broke down about 10 miles from the turn off down here. About 20 minutes after it stalled and after a dozen or so zoms had surrounded me they just suddenly left. I couldn’t hear anything but some sort of noise must have gotten their attention. They were well out of sight heading one way and out of the bush in the opposite direction came Marla and the others. And why here? I came out here last fall and remember how peaceful and secluded it was. Meeting up with them and you, it’s like fate or something.”

“If you had said that a week ago I would have laughed and called you a fool or something but now…it seems too impossible for it to be a mere coincidence.” I paused not really sure what I was getting at. “Anyway, I guess all that doesn’t matter. With you and your survival skills adding to ours, I think we have a good shot of getting somewhere safe. We just need to make sure we don’t get separated again.”

“What happened anyway? Heidi mentioned something about getting split up from their group but they didn’t get to tell me anything else because we ended up here.” Parker squeezed my shoulder and moved closer. “They did mention they had been with a soldier though.”

Parker’s closeness was making me uncomfortable. I didn’t usually let people touch me. Not from any real reason, I just wasn’t use to it and it made me jumpy. I squeezed his hand before removing it from my shoulder and stood up to tell my tale. I didn’t know what time it was and I didn’t care. I was wired, so I decided to start at the beginning even as shameful and painful as that was, I needed to give my full confessional.  Pacing back and forth keeping my voice low, I told Parker the story starting from the orders to get in the truck that rainy morning so long ago, then about the field and the bodies on the pyre, then the village.

I faltered but continued and told him about the outbreak in the camp and meeting Holly. I didn’t gloss over any detail and explained that we had killed a father and his son before going to the highway. I told him I killed Holly, I told him about Marla’s brother Langley and the sheriff. I couldn’t stop talking and he didn’t interrupt. Heidi, Cal, and the others who died in that house because of Cal’s cowardice. Sadly, I couldn’t even remember their names now. They were just bodies. Forgotten. The cave. More bodies forgotten as we continued the struggle to survive.

“And here we are.” I sat back down, hanging my head, reeling from the memory of what my life had become. Death, so much death.

“I love you Louis. We will get through this one way or another.”

I believed that he still loved me despite me leaving him years earlier and I wanted to believe there was safety if we continued going north. I threw out my ideas of what to expect. We would get in the RV and we would drive. We would fight and we would kill if we had to. But for what little night we had left, I would let Parker comfort me and try to just let the fear wash away with my tears in the darkness and the embrace of my dearest friend.

quill

© 2015, Denise Pasutti

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

DSCN0269

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

 

 

A Good Soldier: Glamping (Ch. 35)

 

Glamping

Cal told Marco it was time to go. I thought the kid was going to stay put but he climbed over the seats out of the car and took Cal’s hand. Marco looked sullen and there were dark circles under his eyes that didn’t belong there. I let it go and started walking, taking it slow so that I could scan the trees along either side of the road as we walked. We went along for a couple of hours before the trees started to thin out and I saw what looked like 2 turn offs with roads leading into the trees about 5 miles to the right. We carefully approached the first one and saw a short road leading to a single campsite with electrical hook-ups. It wasn’t a large space, just enough room for a small trailer or tent and it sat vacant.

The next turn off was about 20 feet away and was separated from the first one by dense forest. It was like both of the spots have been carved from the woods. Before I reached the turn to what I guessed must be another campsite, I spotted a small building further down the road at a junction. The front of the little shack – it reminded of one of those little huts that people sit in at toll booths or at the border crossing – faced another road leading to a highway; I could see the black asphalt shimmering many miles in the distance. Parked off the side off the road sat a jeep that didn’t look like it had been there for very long but from a distance it was hard to tell.

I noted the booth and jeep in my mind as a reminder to inspect them after we checked out the campsite, and then turned to the driveway looking down the trail at a larger, double capacity campsite. I continued slowly walking toward two large RV’s sitting side by side like ominously silent witnesses; the front windows dark hollows watching our approach. I motioned for Cal to stay behind and went between the two vehicles stopping mid-way and getting down on the ground, to check underneath for anything that may be lying in wait to attack.

In my life before this apocalypse (if it truly was one) I had loved horror movies and my best friend in high school,Parker and I devoured them no matter what they were about – the gorier the better. That’s why my mind went to a scare tactic lying in wait, a monster hidden under the RV ready to attack. I was damn near disappointed to find nothing under either vehicle except for dirt and clumps of grass sodden with something that looked like oil. I finally made my way around both RV’s and back to the front where Cal and Marco were anxiously waiting. I shrugged and shook my head to confirm there was nothing and that again struck me as being very odd. Two large recreational vehicles, obviously not here long and no signs of human or otherwise activity in the area.

“Well, which one do you want to check out first?” Cal almost looked excited at the prospect.

I had to admit, but not out loud, I was just as anxious to have a look inside. Even with my limited camping experience, I knew people stocked up before heading out into the middle of nowhere and if the RV’s were empty of people, we might have a way out this damned forest in a heavy-duty vehicle that would provide a comfortable and safe sleeping environment. The thought of a bed, even in a motor home, floated through me with the beautiful possibility of sleep bringing my near crippling weariness to the forefront of my mind and making the urgency of examining the RV’s more important.

I tried the passenger side door handle, surprised that it hadn’t been locked but concerned that, that might mean it wasn’t empty or abandoned either. Opening the door a waft of musty air washed over me but there didn’t seem to be any scent of decay or death accompanying it. I nodded to Cal then pulled one of my guns and stepped on the first of two steps leading into the cavernous maw of the motorhome. I hadn’t been in anything this modern before and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light I looked into the interior of the cabin seeing a microwave, a flat screen TV mounted on a swivel against the wall and stacks of DVD’s and books strewn about. Homey. Standing between the passenger and driver’s seat, I focused on the body of the vehicle and then rapped my knuckles on the roof disturbing the silence.  Nothing moved. It appeared to be more or less safe and I felt ok to turn away from the interior and search the front end for what may well be our salvation – the keys.

I dared to hope they had been left in the ignition, just to make everything easier but of course they were not there.  I checked the visor on the driver’s side, found nothing, dropped the visor on passenger’s side and came up with nothing again. Opening the glove box a map of what I assumed to be the area fell out, which I gave to Cal, followed by a pack of melted gum, a flashlight that went into my pocket, a pair of cracked aviator style sunglasses and lastly the vehicle registration -Kurt Helms was the owner – but still not what I wanted.

“No keys? Maybe they’re in the back somewhere.”  Cal had stepped up the first step to watch.

The light in the body of the RV was dull, defused by slat blinds and the trees surrounding us.  I used my newly acquired flashlight and headed into the kitchen/living area and rifled through cabinets, checked under the seat cushions and looked under the mess of books and movies. Nothing.  Searching the small bathroom revealed shampoo, toothpaste and toilet paper; items that seemed so lavish at this point, but nothing else.  Finally, I headed to bedroom at the very rear of the motorhome. Modest clothes hung in the closet that could either be male or female, and finally I lighted on an oasis – two twin beds with rumpled bedding. It took every ounce of willpower not to curl up in one of the piles of warmth and comfort and just go to sleep for a few days.

“Anything Louis?”  Cal and Marco had come into the motorhome and sat at the kitchen table looking exhausted and filthy.

“No sign of the keys. There’s food in the cupboards but I didn’t check the fridge.”

Cal got up and did a quick survey finding warm bottled water, pop and a can of ground coffee in the fridge. No meat or fruit except for tinned stuff in the cupboards along with other non-perishables.  There was probably enough food for two people for at least a week.  We could definitely make it last long enough until we got back to civilization. Hell, we could probably even make a feast out of it.

“We should check the other RV.” I wanted to eat and sleep but I couldn’t quite bring myself to relax not knowing where the keys were and hoped they might be over there. “It looks identical to this one, might have more food and the keys.”

I gave the motorhome one last paranoid check to make sure I hadn’t missed something hiding in the small space and then ensured all the doors were locked before taking Cal and leaving Marco safe inside. I told him to lock the door after we left and stay at the driver’s side window and when we came back to let us in. The kid nodded as he drank a bottle of apple of juice and munched on crackers. I figured 10, maybe 15 more minutes and I could go back and join him before sleeping.

We approached the second RV the same way, me taking the lead at the passenger side. We were both surprised once more when the door swung open however, this time the air wasn’t stale, it was putrid. This smell was much worse than that of burning bodies and I could feel it seeping into my clothes and skin. There is no good way to describe the scent of rotting bodies but it is a smell I will never forget because of its horrid distinctness.  I had to back out, coughing and gagging.  Cal had already moved away, covering his mouth and coughing. Marco moved to open the door but I signaled not to, giving him the OK sign.

Cal tied a handkerchief around his face and tossed me another one. I looked at him quizzically and he just shrugged. Before I tied it on I saw the name Cal monogrammed in the corner in green and couldn’t hide a smirk. The thin material barely blocked the smell but it was better with it than without. The front seats were empty but I sadly found that the rest of the RV was not as my flashlight illuminated the living room.  Four bodies, what appeared to be two men and two women, older judging by brittle white and grey hair, were slumped around the laminate table where a pitcher and four glasses stood, tiny bits of liquid left in each of them. Other than the natural decay the bodies looked to be unharmed.  Suicide had probably been the cause of death but I couldn’t see why. Maybe they thought the apocalypse had come and there was no hope, no point in fighting to live a world of zombies. I didn’t know and it didn’t really seem to matter at this point.

I heard Cal cursing or maybe praying behind me. I told him to check the front end while I simply stared at the bodies and hoped the keys were not among them. Cal came up empty so I headed into the back to search, taking shallow breaths as I went. Pushing aside one of the limp, discoloured hands on the table I gave a slight yelp as a set keys slide out onto the table covered in a thin-film of God’s knows what. These could be keys for either vehicle and while I wanted the RV’s to be the same make and model, I couldn’t rely on these keys working for both. We needed both sets.

“Louis, look there.” I followed Cal’s finger pointing at the body on the end of the bench and saw a glint of metal protruding from the pants pocket.

Taking the makeshift mask off my face, trying to hold my breath and gagging, I pulled the keys out of the pocket then grabbed the other set with the handkerchief as well. I briefly looked around at the open cupboards full of supplies but the food would be saturated with the stench of decaying flesh and ruined. Fuck it, I left it and followed Cal outside, puking once and trying desperately to get the smell out of my lungs and nose. I closed door and tried one of the slime covered keys in it to see if it worked and it did. I locked the remaining doors and placed the keys on top of the hood sealing the suicide club away in their luxurious RV tomb forever.

quill

© 2015, Denise Pasutti