Slow Breeders: Part 1

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A little old school zombie piece as fall approaches.

Slow Breeders (Part 1 of 3)

Your lost friends are not dead, but gone before, advanced a stage or two upon that road which you must travel…

                                                                                                   -Aristophanes

1.

She hit the ground ass first. The step, the damn step to the garage tripped her as she stumbled out of the house. The fall smacked her spine with pain and it was all she could do not to drop the rifle as she kicked at the door. Kicked it and watched it slam shut just as fingers were reaching through the gap for her.

Her breath came out in a raspy pant. They hadn’t figured out how to open doors yet, but still she watched it. Waited for the frame to make the shiver of movement that meant it was opening. One second, then another, and another – until there was no sign that they were coming through.

The Jeep’s grill was less than an inch from her head and she grabbed onto it and pulled herself to her feet. There was nothing left to do for the ones behind the door or for their slow, solemn keening. A bullet was the only salvation, but she didn’t have the empathy left to go back inside and administer it. The only choice, the only chance, she had was to get in the car and go on without them.

Only once she was inside the Jeep with the doors locked and the shotgun perched on the seat next to her, did she close her eyes. What she should have been thinking about was whether they’d managed to pack everything before Kim and her little sister had turned. But there wasn’t anything once the light vanished and there was only numb darkness, just a momentary regret that she couldn’t stay there forever.

The keys were in her pocket but it took a long time for her to remember them and slide them into the ignition. With the first turn, the engine roared, loud and guttural inside the confines of the garage. For the briefest of moments, her eyes burned with tears but she closed it up and turned her back on it, bottled the grief up with the rest of the horror that lurked in her heart. There was no time for it. Giving in to the truth was just reliving what happened in the house she’d just left, and she’d already been there.

The garage door was slow to rise and she tapped impatiently at the wheel until it was all the way up. The Jeep slid easily into gear and she backed it out. Habit made her turn to check behind, but she still didn’t see the man until he was close – too close. She didn’t hesitate. Shotgun up, foot just above the gas pedal, and her finger already clenched against the trigger.

“Stop!” He shouted through the glass.

The man was, or had been, a policeman. His uniform was crusted with blood and torn. He was carrying a pistol but held it at his side. Rebecca didn’t lower the shotgun. There were too many times when she’d had to shoot, to pick out targets who reminded her of all the people they used to be; mothers, friends, children.

“Wait.” He croaked and took a step closer to the door.

“Get back.” She ordered. “Don’t come any closer.”

“I’m not infected.”

“That’s what everyone says.” She snarled and her finger tightened. She didn’t want to shoot, not because of him, but because it would compromise the vehicle. A blown out passenger window was begging for an infected to reach right in. Exhaustion made the decision for her, the days and days of fatigue were burning through her biceps and she wouldn’t be able to hold the shotgun on him much longer. So she lowered it slightly.

“I’m a cop.” He used the title like it meant something. “Please, I’m out of ammo. My partner is dead. Some idiots torched my car yesterday and I just need a lift out of here. I heard… I heard your car from where I was hiding.”

“No.” Rebecca wasn’t sure who’d answered. It felt like she was watching the interaction through a stranger’s eyes.

The cop looked confused. He was a tall man, bald with warm brown skin, although it looked as green as hers from exhaustion and fear. “I just told you I’m out of ammo. Where’s your decency? I’m not infected.”

They weren’t a stranger’s eyes, they were hers, jaded from everything she’d seen. It made her feel dirty somehow to realize that. “I don’t trust anyone. Least of all…”

Glass crashed behind them.

“Please.”

Bodies pushed through the opening, unaware of the jagged glass that ripped and rent through their flesh. There was no feeling left in them. Only the need, the hunger for what she and the cop represented.

“Oh, fuck.” She hissed and hit the auto unlock. Every door on the Jeep clicked open. He didn’t wait for anymore of an invitation. He was still getting in as Rebecca gunned it for the road. The door caught against the sudden wind of their departure and he fought with it as she spun the wheel furiously and pointed them down the street.

It didn’t take long for them to outdistance their pursuers, but she drove for almost ten minutes before there was any noise except for the sound of their breathing and the constant hum of tires against pavement. The roads weren’t empty. But Rebecca didn’t let them get trapped amid the wreckage with their windows stained red and shattered glass painted around them like chalk lines demarcated bodies at crime scenes. Infected moved through it all, slow motion figures that turned their faces towards the Jeep but no longer understood what it was.

“Thank you,” the cop said finally.

“Yeah,” she kept her eyes on the road. “I didn’t feel like arguing all day.”

“So you weren’t going to shoot me?”

“I didn’t say that.” Rebecca handed him the shotgun from where it rested against her leg. “I’m out. There’s shells in the blue bag behind you.”

He broke the shotgun open and looked into the barrel. It lay across his lap as he twisted into the back seat and found the bag. It was placed prominently on top of several other boxes and bags that were tossed inside as though someone had placed them there with the intent to return and repack them later.

It only took a second to reload and he handed it back to her. “You’re not going to shoot me now, are you?”

This time she looked over at him, her dark eyes intent. If she meant her words to be funny, her tone betrayed it. “That’d be a waste of a good bullet.” Somehow, he didn’t find it funny either.

“My name’s Chase.” He said, as though an introduction would fill the sudden silence. “And I mean it, thank you.”

“Rebecca.” She said it grudgingly.

“Where are we headed?” Then as though he thought that was presumptuous. “Where are you headed?”

“Canada.” The word held such promise. “I’m going to Canada.”

“The border held?” He asked.

The statement made her stiffen. Had the border held? She didn’t know. TV and radio had been off the air for two weeks. Word-of-mouth was unreliable and dangerous, not just from the infected, but from the idiots who though the end of the world was a good time to load up on electronics, money, and women for their own mini-empires. Had the border held? Kim had thought so before her little sister chewed through the soft flesh of her trachea and she’d died screaming bubbles into her own blood. The others had all thought so, all five she’d left back in the house, but none of them had known.

There was a chance that Canada had been successful when Mexico failed. Refugees streaming across the border back to their country of origin and taking the infection with them, refuting their adopted country when she’d proved toxic.

Her hand crawled toward the shotgun unconsciously and Chase raised his palms in supplication.

“I’m sorry.”

It took a moment to refocus and clear her mind of the images that ran riot over each other. Canada, it was a steadying thought. Steel reinforced gates was how she imagined it and Mounties who abandoned their horses for machine gun mounts.

“The last thing I heard was that they’d held.” She didn’t mention who hadn’t, that answer was still eating away at her. “We stopped to resupply, that was our mistake. So I have to keep heading north. That’s the only way I’ll make it. You… you can come if that’s where you’re headed.”

“You have enough supplies to get us there?”

She remembered a house full of supplies. And a house empty of life, just trails of long blood stains past the cans of Hormel and water bottles that had been tipped into them. “The two boxes at the very back should have clothes in them. There should be something that will fit you.”

A look entered his eyes, almost pity. “How many did you lose?”

It took her a long time to answer. There was so much she could say, and yet nothing would ever touch upon the magnitude of what had happened.

“Everyone,” she whispered. “I’ve lost everyone.”

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