Sorry to end this on a cliffhanger, but I’ll be picking up on Game of Life after November! Christmas and Zombies go great together.
I’m really pumped about NaNoWriMo, so I hope you join me for my trek to 50,000 words.
Part 16 — Home
They had the mansion up and running by the next day. Their neighboring city had plenty of amenities. Jeff knew the drill by now, the cities wiped out early by the outbreaks went relatively untouched. The quarantines turned cities into ghost towns full of rotten food and great salvage.
The grocery stores did have some things of use. Noodles, spices and other non-perishables could hold them until they could get on the Government’s radar. A young, fertile couple could profit these days but children were the last thing on Jeff’s mind.
Harriet picked through the shelves in the electronics store, loading up a shopping cart with the necessities. Wire, Big Screen TV, Playstation 3, Baby Monitor…
Jeff stepped away from the game section and settled in front of her cart. He picked up the pastel-colored box and turned it in his hands. “Something you’re not telling me Harriet?”
She shrugged, smiling her infectious smile. It had been so long since he’d looked at her– really looked at her at least. Her hair had grown out since their last permanent residence and she lost some weight too. Harriet still had a rubenesque air to her of course; no amount of time of running would take that from her.
“You didn’t answer my Question.”
“There’s no baby,” Harriet said. “I just wanted to see your reaction. Besides, I wanted to use it as part of a security system. If people see this, they might overlook the real tech.”
Jeff cleared his throat. “Oh, I knew that.”
She stepped away from her cart and slipped her arms around his waist. “Someone has babies on the brain, huh?”
He squirmed against her. “No. I d-don’t”
“You sure answered that quick. Would you be pissed if it were true?”
“No,” Jeff said. He pushed her away gently. “You said it best, we should make sure we’re good before any hanky-panky. If something happens, we’ll deal.”
“Good answer slugger, now go pick out a laptop.”
Jeff nodded absently and moved to the computer section. He couldn’t help but mope. Harriet always managed to stay two steps ahead of him. Being henpecked wasn’t the problem, more that he wanted to be tougher, stronger and faster to pull his weight.
You can’t protect her.
Jeff jumped, turned around. Nothing and no one. He pulled his rifle off his shoulder and checked the aisles, finding no sign of man or biter.
The voice struck him as familiar, but he couldn’t place it.
“Ice cream,” Jeff muttered. It all came back to him at once, the standing nightmare on the ice cream run. That’s where he heard the voice before.
You are not safe, no matter where you run.
Jeff tightened his hand around his rifle. He shook his head, trying to clear it. When he opened his eyes, four sprinters stood staring at him. It had been so long since he’d seen their pale blank faces. All four wore suits, dingy but otherwise intact.
He swallowed hard. Even if they were real, sprinters didn’t bite. They lured biters to them, instilling bloodlust into the masses. Zombie middle management.
“Sort of busy, what is it?”
“This is more important. I promise.”
The sprinters tilted their head in unified appraisal. Four sets of voices echoed in his head. Still you hide behind her. You are a mouse, not a man.
“Harriet, please,” Jeff said.
She rounded the corner and gaped at him, raising her arms.
“Whoa! What the hell?”
“You see it too? You see them right?”
Harriet shook her head. “I just see one crazy guy pointing a gun at me.”
Jeff winced. He swallowed back the lump in his throat and lowered his gun. He took one careful step, then another and broke through the image of the Sprinter before him. He glanced back, and the four figures remain.
“What’s gotten into you?” Harriet hurried to him, taking his arm.
“I don’t know.”
The sprinters only stared.
“I see four of them. I think I’m going crazy.”
“Four? Of what?”
“Sprinters. I saw them back home, our last home… when I was getting you icecream.”
Harriet furrowed her brow and looked towards them, through them. She really did see nothing.
Jeff brought a hand to his temple. He knew, he knew what it meant. Dementia was a known early sign of turning. It happened to all the early cases, back when the world was intact.
She moved to hug him, but he pushed her away. “No. Don’t touch me. There’s something wrong with me. I—I see them they’re RIGHT there.”
For the first time since Jeff had known Harriet, she looked scared. She had no answers, no comforting words to offer. She took a step away from him and struggled to find something, anything to say.
She said nothing.
Jeff turned and fired a shot into the head of the closest sprinter. The bullet passed through, only distorting it’s expressionless face.
You will join us and turn on her. It is the way of man.
Harriet tackled him, wrenching the rifle from his grip and cast it aside. She overpowered him easily, flipped him onto his back and slammed his shoulder onto the floor. “Get a grip Jeff. You’re better than this.”
She slapped him, hard. The stinging prickle of pain shot through his cheek. He pinched his eyes shut took a breath and the sprinters were gone. He glanced around, frantic and panicked. Seeing them may have been terrifying, but not knowing where they lurk was even worse.
“I saw them too, but not today,” Harriet said.
Jeff’s chest tightened. “What?”
“I won’t repeat it. When they knocked me out back in the survivor colony— I saw them too.”
The thought scared him worse than any fate befalling him. I can’t protect her? Tears came to his eyes, blurring Harriet’s stern features. “You’re saying we’re infected?”
“Maybe, but it doesn’t matter. We have an answer to that.” Harriet stood, letting him go.
It came to Jeff all at once. We have a cure.
They took their spoils back to the Humvee, loaded it up and approached the crate full of treatment materials. Harriet pressed some buttons on the panel and one of its many compartment opened wide. She slipped a finger inside, frowned and scowled.
“That’s weird,” she said.
“It’s empty. Maybe we opened the one we gave to Chae on accident. Inventory.”
A mechanical sounding woman’s voice spoke. “Zero treatments remaining.”
Jeff and Harriet turned to each other, eyes wide in horror.
The case’s screen blinked to red text. ‘Incoming Call’ blinked on the panel.
Karen appeared on the screen, except she had close-cropped raven hair and an easy smile. “Hey there, long time no see.”
“You set us up,” Harriet said, clenching her hands into fists.
“Nah, just upping the ante,” she said. “You probably know by now, the predicament you are in? As long as you meet me in Baltimore, you will be fine. I promise. You DO have that present I gave you, right?”
“We do,” Jeff said. “Baltimore is ten hours from us at least. If there’s blockades–”
“There won’t be. I have eyes in the sky. Tell you what, I’ll let you love birds have a honeymoon. As an act of good faith I’ll send you a suppressant. It will give you a good month to get here.”
Harriet grabbed the container. “Fuck you Karen.”
“No. That’s not how this works. In twenty-four hours, you will get a supply drop. Anything you want. Food, sweets, supplies, I can make it happen. In there you’ll find two syringes for each of you.”
“So you can kill us?”
Karen laughed. “If I wanted to kill you, I’d send an airstrike, not a syringe.
“Wait, what’s the other syringe.”
Jeff and Harriet fell silent.
“Hello? Did I lose the connection?”
“You are kidding me, right?”
“Well that one is optional… but since you two are class B immune we want a test subject. You cooperate and—”
“Fuck, no,” Harriet said. “We ain’t your guinea pigs.”
“Well see that’s the problem. We lost all our labels… so refusing one or the other is risky,” Karen grinned. “So any requests for the care package?”
“Your head on a pike?” Harriet said, muttering.
“Don’t be like that. You two will be heroes. Once you get here, we’ll set you up with a cozy penthouse and you can live in comfort while the rest of the free world struggles to survive. Once the pieces get picked up, you’ll be in a great place.”
“Yeah,” Jeff said, “under your thumb.”
“So we’ll be sending the supplies shortly, requests or not?”
“Six pounds of Kobe Beef, French fries, Ketchup— Heinz, not the cheap shit and a Tub of Rocky-fucking-Road.”
“Done.” Karen smirked. “And you Mr. Jeff?”
“Nice doing business with you, Blackbird out.”