A while back, several years to be exact, I wrote a short about what the zombie apocalypse would look like to a group of partying teens. The short was a written to answer a question I had after a vivid dream. The story was called Welcome to the New World and was written in a fast, choppy, train-of-thought style that I enjoy while working in first person.
Well, this morning I was looking to distract my mind from some questions I have in the AG3 plot and I pulled a rough draft of a follow-up short. My plan is to present this in four parts over the next several days. It is still only a draft, so bear with me.
If you haven’t read the preceding story, I would recommend it to give you a feel for the characters.
The car roared down the highway, careening through the misty darkness like a ghost ship. Sleep evaded me. I rested my head against the window, even as Tammy kept her foot soldered to the floor, a petite Ahab guiding our craft along the unknown currents of the blacktop ocean.
Corrine and Sean sprawled in the back seat, deep asleep.
My eye throbbed, pulsing to the rhythm of my heart. Pain laced the strain as I stared along the beams of the headlights as they cut through the solid wall of night.
“Any idea where we’re headed?” I asked Tam without taking my eyes from the night.
“Wherever the road goes,” she shrugged.
“It’s where my sister is.”
“Want me to take over?”
I broke away from the hypnotic tick of the mile markers fluttering by and glanced over. Tam wore a smile bordering on psychotic as she caressed the wheel to ease the car around a long curve. In the light of the dash I watched her bloodshot eyes straining against the darkness. Those emerald eyes fought to see what couldn’t be seen, to see what lurked around the next corner, just beyond the knowledge of the high beams.
“Need a drink?” I reached into a brown paper bag at my feet and pulled out a tall can of Mtn Dew, cracked it, and held it out.
She shrugged, so I stole a slug before passing it her way.
Without taking her eyes from the road, she tipped her head back and pounded down the drink. A ladylike belch erupted from her gut. She grinned and tossed the can out the window.
I dropped my head back to the window with a thud and resumed my post.
Then, just as I nodded off, Tam tapped the brakes and fishtailed into a controlled drift, kicking dirt, dust, and pebble shrapnel as easily as a snowing skater. My eyes tried to pop out of my head as I snapped awake.
“Pit stop,” she declared, screeching the GTO into the gravel parking lot of a 24-hour diner.
It was the first sign of life in hours.
“What time is it?” Sean asked through a bleary haze as he pulled himself off the floor and poked his head up enough to take in our surroundings. “Don’t tell me, after dark and before dawn? I guess I could eat.”
I waited for Corrine and Sean to fall out of the back seat before I turned to Tam. “You really think she’s still there?”
Tammy shrugged, her knuckles white as she still strained against the wheel.
“Come on,” I said as I reached over and pulled the key. “Let’s take this break. If she’s there, she’ll still be there a couple hours from now. If she decided to wait, she’ll be there when we roll in to pick her up. Remember, we won’t do her any good if we don’t make it there in one piece.”
I put a gentle hand on her shoulder and dragged her away from the wheel, pulling her to my chest. For a moment she resisted.
“Come on,” I repeated in a whisper. “It’ll work out.”
She melted into my embrace. Tension leached from her muscles as she closed her eyes and buried her face in my shoulder. Nothing about Tammy is weak, but I knew this moment of silent closeness gave her a chance to collect herself.
I took in the sweet scent of her hair and closed my eyes, leaning into the embrace.
“I’m good,” she muffled, wiping her face on my t-shirt.
She pulled back and when I opened my eyes, I found her gazing into the darkness, over my shoulder. She stared north. I knew that even as she composed herself, the longing for her sister hadn’t diminished. Instead, she burned with a focused energy.
Tammy’s sister, Amy, was in her second year at Keene State College. Unfortunately, even though the world had turned on a summer night, Amy had been attending a student writer’s conference on campus for a couple weeks. Despite the jam of cell services, Tammy had managed to slip a call through, and although no meaningful information passed, the sisters knew that they were both alive.
Two weeks passed before Tammy had thrown out the idea of heading north to pick up her sister.
For those two weeks our crew had enjoyed the freedom of summer behind our walls of safety. We lived off my parents’ well-stocked pantry and aside from a few trips to the neighboring houses, we just swam and enjoyed ourselves.
I can’t exactly explain why we jumped at Tammy’s proposed sally from our fortress, but the thought that Amy might be alive and trapped weighed heavily on our minds as we sat on the deck one evening, watching the sun set over the valley.
A few fires burned with lazy fury on the far hill, but for the most part the city remained quiet and peaceful.
News lasted the first week and then fell silent. The internet still worked, but it remined me of my parents’ tales of the dark ages of dial-up and very little new content popped up anywhere. Phones worked, but good luck getting someone to answer.
The world as I had known it had died on that midsummer eve.
Tammy and I hopped out of the car and hefted our weapons of mass destruction over our shoulders as we sauntered over to join Corrin and Sean. In any other world we would have cut a strange picture, medieval weaponry under the halogen lights of a diner parking lot. I preferred a light warhammer that I could swing for days, while Tammy still toted the Dane axe around like an old friend.
“What took you guys so long?” Sean asked.
He and Corrine sat close together on a wooden railing that bordered the parking lot. Without waiting for our response, Corrine hopped up, dumped Sean into the bushes with a playful shove, and headed for the diner. Sometimes I wonder if he really knows how she feels about him and just plays along with the longstanding tension crackling between the two of them.
A muffled curse sounded from the bushes.
“I’m hungry,” Corrine called from up the walk.
The diner seemed old-world normal. Pools of light spilled from the windows. A friendly, inviting sense of welcome radiated with the beacon-like open sign that blinked with a steady hum outside the door.
Leaving Tammy to pull Sean back from the dark, I trotted to catch up with Corrine’s broad-shouldered form.
“Hold up, goat-cheese.” I caught her just outside the doors. “We sure this place is safe. You know how we’ve run into trouble a couple places in our times out. I don’t want this to turn into something like that.”
Corrine lifted her head as if scenting the air.
Her eyes narrowed.
“Yup.” She flashed her usual, cocky grin. “Nothin’s right anymore, but we should be ok here. Stumps don’t flash the lights.”
“What about folks looking for a gear snatch?”
Corrine’s shoulders bounced with laughter. “People don’t want what we’ve got.” She stopped and looked back at the sleek, black GTO. “Except that. But honestly, it’s louder than what most people are in the market for these days.
“They don’t want our weapons.” She slapped the heavy gauntlets clipped for her metal studded belt and the trench knife tucked at the small of her back. “Most don’t like getting as close to stumps as we do.”
“Guess you’re right. We’re bassackwards, loud cars and silent weapons.”
“Works for me.” Corrine pulled the door open to a waft of warm pancakes and coffee.
Tiny bells sand and a handful of rough looking customers glared up from their early morning/late night meals like a pack of wolves standing over a fresh kill. The waitress behind the counter thumped a heavy shotgun down on the laminate countertop and levelled a questioning look. Most of the customers along the counter flipped back coats on pistols or lay hands on a rifle at rest beside them.
They made their point abundantly clear.
As I trailed Corrine inside, I held up my hands as well as I could with the warhammer draped across my shoulder.
“Just lookin’ for some eats.” Corrine flashed a warm grin that disarmed the situation. “Plus, I’d say you have us outgunned. Not much we can do with our gear unless any of you care to fight like gentlemen.”
This comment extracted a few chuckles from the tired crowd.
“Oh, dear,” the waitress exclaimed, rushing around the counter as Tammy staggered through the door with her disheveled, half-catatonic shamble. “What happened to you?”
“I wouldn’t let them drive,” Tammy mumbled as she wandered past the waitress to drop into a booth with weary abandon. “Can I have a hot cocoa?” She laid her head down on her arms and closed her eyes with a sigh.
“Of course, sweetie.” The waitress ghosted away on ninja feet.
The rest of us plopped down next to her, happy to be stationary. The trip should have lasted a few hours, but due to traffic jams of abandoned cars and on stump herd, we had bee forced to detour well west of our intended route.
Back roads proved our salvation.
Evidently, road warriors knew this as well. I surveyed the diner’s clientele as the waitress whisked back with Tammy’s cocoa.
“Here you go, honey,” the waitress crooned.
Tammy remained motionless, except for the steady rise and fall of her shoulders accompanying a soft, purring snore.
“Long night,” I said as I wiped my eyes, trying to dredge the grit from their depths. “We’re trying to track down her sister. Last we heard she was holed up in Keene at the university. Student conference caught her at the wrong time.”
“Not far now.” The waitress seemed to relax at the backstory. “What can I get for you?”
“You still take cash?”
“Afraid not, sweets.” She flashed an apologetic smile. “We work on trade for the time being. Couple weeks and the world goes to pot, but the good old barter system holds true.”
“We don’t have much,” Sean chipped in. “What are you trading at the moment?”
“We’ll always trade in food.” She flipped her pad open. “But today we’re looking for batteries, toilet paper, and delivery. Everything else is negotiable, but you’ll get the best trade if it’s on our list.”
I exchanged a quick glance with Sean and Corrine. “We’re traveling light. What’s the delivery option?”
“Just a package.”
“What’s it worth to you?”
“Eight meals, four now and four on delivery confirmed.” The waitress gestured to the menus tucked at the back of the table. “No limits on the meals.”
“Where’s the package need to go? We’re headed to Keene to look for Tam’s sister.” I nodded to the sleeping beauty.
“Not too far out of the way. Just up to Claremont. Couple hours round trip.”
I nodded and processed. “Thirteen meals.”
“You planning to hang around for extra meals?”
“Nope,” I said with a grin. “We’ll take those extra four meals on markers in case we ever happen to be up this way.” I held out my hand. “We have a deal?”
“Four now and five on completion. I’m guessing the extra on the return is for the sister? Always good to be prepped.” The waitress tapped her pencil on her pad and chewed her lip in thought. “And for markers?
“Deal.” She grabbed my hand and shook.
I’ll aim to have part 2 ready to roll tomorrow by lunch time. As this snowstorm threatens to bury New York’s Southern Tier, I hope this gives you something to sink your teeth into.
In the face of the storm hunker down, keep warm, and keep on flying the Black.
Follow this link to The Dark Road pt 2.