New chapter (sorry it’s a day late) I’ve been having some word processor issues. As I mentioned before, the days may be irregular, but I’ll be keeping to the story quota. 3 more stories till November / NaNoWriMo — Enjoy
Part 20 — Pit Stop
The visions returned in a few hours, surfacing as sprinters along the roadside. Road trip hypnotism didn’t make it any easier. With the highways in patchy condition and no other cars on the road, driving was one hell of a trial. At first, the visions were faceless souls lost to the apocalypse. It didn’t take long for that to change.
Each one was a grim reminder of those lost, taking the shape of people he knew—people that weren’t people anymore. Two standing together resembled his parents, wearing their familiar disappointed expressions. He glanced over at Harriet and somehow knew she faced her own ghosts.
If not for Karen’s cryptic words, he would have found the unlimited strength to face the false images of the lost. Now, however, he knew they warned him of a deliberate attempt to control him. Dark circles formed under Harriet’s eyes and she stared out the window.
“You should get some sleep.”
“I’m afraid to sleep.”
Jeff couldn’t argue with that. It was one of the reasons he opted to drive. “You’ll have to sleep eventually. I‘ll shake you awake if you start chanting ‘brains’.”
“Don’t even joke about it.”
“Well, how about an alternative?” Jeff nodded to the glove compartment. “There’s a pair of cuffs in there. That way, even if something happens, you won’t be in any position to hurt me.”
“Even in handcuffs, I can still kick your ass.”
Jeff chuckled. “If you put your hands behind your head, that’s a tough sell. Besides I see you fall asleep like that all the time, it shouldn’t be that uncomfortable.”
She watched him in silence, let out a long sigh and opened the glove compartment. Fiddling with the handcuffs, she snapped them shut and opened them with the single silver key. “Fine. I’ll try to get some sleep.”
Jeff resisted the urge to ogle. It was too easy to let his mind slip to the gutter. She clacked the cuffs on one wrist, handed over the keys and raised her arms. He stole a glimpse at her breasts straining against her shirt.
“I swear to God,” Harriet said. “If you crash because of this shit, I’ll haunt you.”
He realized then he’d been staring. He snapped his eyes forward and straightened the Humvee onto the road. If it were a movie, it’d be the perfect time for a zombie to wander into the road and send them to a wreck. This was no movie. Instead, he slow the Humvee and pulled over.
No point in taking pointless risks.
Jeff put the Humvee into park and reached over to secure her cuff. She grabbed his wrist instead.
“No funny ideas. I wouldn’t let anyone do this unless I really, really trusted them.”
“Of course… but now that you mention it, you sure you wouldn’t be into it, considering you do trust me?”
Harriet chuckled and let go of him. “Yeah, but the whole point of this is to let me sleep. Misbehave now and you really shoot your chances of this in the future down.”
“Good point.” Jeff clicked the cuff secure, but not too restrictive.
“I’ll manage.” She leaned back and closed her eyes. The tension left her face in seconds.
She really must have been exhausted.
Jeff shifted the Humvee into gear and pushed on. They’d probably have to forage soon and the old turnpike stops were likely prime locations to find something edible.
He kept his eyes forward for the first half hour, but the gentle flow of Harriet’s breathing lured him to peek. She didn’t snore, but hearing someone else breathe in sleep was incredibly comforting to Jeff. Spending so much time with the dead really helped him marvel at life.
A crooked road sign caught his eye, ‘Last stop for thirty miles’. They had plenty of fuel, but he needed caffeine bad. Now as good a time as any to rekindle his love for energy drinks.
The foam ’barrier’ branched out enough to cover the rest stop. Karen thought of everything I guess. He pulled off and took a spot far away from the building.
Harriet stirred when he brought the car to a stop, but stayed asleep.
Jeff kissed her, a quick peck just to reassure her. She smiled in response and sagged back into comfortable slumber.
“I won’t be long,” Jeff said. He readied his assault rifle and stepped out, covering the basics Harriet drilled into his head. No reason to be sloppy. Zombies or no.
There were no signs of life on the outside, all the windows stayed intact with no signs of fortification either. That only means it was unlocked when everything went down. No blood on the cement, no vomit or other dubious body fluids let Jeff know Zombies hadn’t been around.
Better make this fast.
Jeff left the cuff keys on the driver seat, loaded a full sized clip into his gun and locked the doors. Harriet was resourceful enough to free herself in a pinch as long as she wasn’t a zombie anyway. The consideration sent a chill down his spine. Maybe I shouldn’t be stealing kisses while she sleeps after all.
He hurried across the parking lot, scanning for signs of life. He found none.
Inside, he found the plaza completely spotless, free of dust and letting off a pleasant scent of lemon.
“Cleaner? Someone’s been taking care of this place?”
A loud metallic clank echoed through the building and row by row the lights sprung to life. Jeff raised a hand against them, fighting back the oppressive glare of indoor lighting. Music started up—shitty muzak he hadn’t heard in years. It left him with a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.
With all the business signs lit up, memories of road trips with his family assaulted him. It was too surreal to be true. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
An uneasy moment passed and he caught a glimpse of movement out the corner of his eye at the burger stand.
An impeccable young man with short brown hair sprung up at the nearest counter. A simple blue uniform covered his average build, complete an well cared for apron and hat. “Of course, we’re at your service! I’ll have to ask you to put away your gun sir, this is a respectable family friendly establishment.”
Jeff tensed, but lowered his weapon and let it sag against the carry strap. A name tag– ‘Gary’—sat pinned on his apron. “A survivor? Wait no, you say you’re keeping this place running?”
“Mmm Hmm,” Gary said, nodding. “What can I get for you?”
Jeff pressed his lips together. “Well, I could use some food but first I need some caffeine, do you have any energy drinks?”
“I have soda, take your time looking at the selection. If you need energy drinks check the gift shop across the way.”
Jeff approached the tap and bumped the ‘Dew’ lever. A torrent of lime green liquid poured out. It works? And… He took a taste and nearly melted with euphoria. “Oh, my god, this must be heaven.”
He hurried over to the gift shop to find rows of cheap souvenirs, the coolers lining the walls were jam packed with a well-stocked supply of bottled beverages. He opened it, getting a face full of cool air.
This must be heaven.
Movement caught his attention, the same guy popped up at the register, this time wearing a baseball cap and an overshirt. The name on his tag read “Frank”.
He gave a polite wave. “Hi! Would you like to buy something? We’re always ready to serve.”
Jeff lost his smile and took hold of his gun. Something was very wrong with this guy.