“Driving without a windshield; that was brilliant.” said Stewart shivering.
“I can’t believe how cold it is!” Max answered, nodding his head. Bill was driving and Max and Stewart were on the front bench seat beside him.
Bill had made them press on, instead of finding a place to hold up for the night. After three hours, when they were nearing the outskirts of Knoxville, he finally pulled off of the main highway onto a side road that he said would allow them to skirt the main city and reconnect with 75 further south west.
“I don’t like it either.” Bill said, “But the road is clear and we might as well put as much distance between them and us as we can. I’m just happy the truck lasted this long.”
The truck hadn’t given them any problems at all. Aside from the shot out windows it was still working fine.
“Besides, who is tired? It’s only about eleven now. We’ve made good time.”
“Okay, I will give you that, but I think we need to find another vehicle. Or two. Traveling like this sucks.” Stewart grumbled.
“Where are we?” asked Max.
“Sign at the exit said ‘Heiskell’.” Bill answered.
“RV park up on the left!” Stewart said.
“I see it, do we stop there or go on further? I think the town is still ahead of us.”
“Stop here! We might be able to get a truck and crash in a camper trailer.”
“Stewart, why on earth would you prefer a camper over a house?” asked Max.
“Well, we could pull it with us.”
“No!” both men answered at once. They spoke loud enough to wake Javier and Ruben in the back seat.
“What?” grumbled Ruben, whose gun had thrust out the window as he shook off sleep.
“We are stopping.” Answered Bill.
Ruben glanced at the sign as they pulled into the park, “At an RV park?”
No one said anything, they all just watched as the headlights of the truck illuminated the park as they drove in.
“Kinda sparse.” Max said.
“No shit. It’s summer, why isn’t the place full?” asked Stewart, “Pull up to that building there.”
“The shitter?” asked Bill.
“Yeah, there is a fifth wheel and camper there and we can use the facilities. My bladder is about to burst.”
“Fine. Max? Any zombies around?”
Max took a moment and said, “No. It looks empty. That is weird. I thought the place would be crawling….”
Bill pulled into the empty slot beside the bathrooms and the light from the truck showed them that the door to the camper was open. A long dark streak of brown stained the side of the trailer, starting at the door and ending near the front, where the large pickup was parked.
“They’ve been here at least. Everyone keep your eyes peeled, just in case.” Bill said.
Max shook his head, but didn’t say anything, knowing the place was empty of both humans and zombies.
They piled out of the truck and checked the bathroom. There was a light switch by the door and Max tried it, nothing happened. He hadn’t expected there to be power, none of the lights were on in this part of the country now.
Everyone had flashlights ready, both to mount on their guns and portable lights as well. All of them had opted to turn their gun lights on and searched by waving the barrels around.
“Whoever came up with gun lights was a genius.” Max said as he verified that the men’s room was empty.
“Yeah, yeah, but I think night vision equipment would be better. It wouldn’t be as noticeable from a distance. So try not to keep waving your gun around.” Ruben said pushing past Max to get into a stall. “And find me some paper for the shitter, this stall is empty.”
“Yes sir!” Max said.
“Don’t call me ‘sir’ idjit!” the old man said with some warmth.
“Yeah, I know, you work for a living.”
“The oldest clichés are the best. Anyway, I’m retired.”
Max broke into a locked storage closet that was situated between the ladies and men’s restrooms. Inside he found several cases of toilet paper.
“Who needs toilet paper?” he called out as he went inside the bathroom again.
Stewart had opted to use the men’s room and came out of her stall and looked towards the showers. “I don’t feel dirty enough yet to need a shower. Definitely not dirty enough for a cold shower in the dark.”
“Suit yourself.” Max said, washing his face with the cold water from the sink.
“Let’s go check the camper, see if we can use it.” Bill said to them after everyone had finished. “Javier, you and Max each take an end of the trailer. Ruben I want you to keep an eye on our truck and watch our backs. Stewart you get the job of going inside and seeing how bad it is. I will check the truck in front and see if I can find keys.”
Everyone split up and headed to their positions, with Stewart pausing by the open door of the camper.
“Empty, right Max?”
“Empty.” He confirmed.
Easing inside the open doorway, Stewart turned on her flashlight and shielded the lens partly with one hand to keep the light dim. The kitchen was in disarray, there were bowls and open boxes of food strewn on every part of the floor. The bloody streak from outside began at the doorway and did not lead inside. There were only two ways to proceed, toward the main bedroom or down the galley where there was a door set between a table and a built in bench seat. Stewart opted for the bedroom frist.
The queen sized bed filled the room almost to capacity and the small shower and toilet area attached to it was empty and looked untouched. The covers and sheets on the bed were ruffled, as if someone had been sleeping there only moments before. Cautiously Stewart put her hand down on the bed, it was cold. Feeling along it further she could not detect any warmth. Breathing a quick sigh of relief she gave the room a cursory glance and spotted a key ring hanging from a coat rack, along with a heavy black leather belt.
Stewart grabbed the keys and turned to check the back end of the camper. It ended in a doorway, just beyond the kitchen table. The floor creaked as she moved along it and just as she was about to twist open the door handle, she heard Bill whisper to her form the doorway.
Straightening, Stewart said, “Clear so far, I’m going to check the back, it looks like there is another room here.” She turned the knob and pulled the door open. The room beyond was filled with boxes and equipment. Almost buried under the detritus was a motorcycle with knobby tires. Stewart poked around among the boxes, to make sure nothing was hiding behind them, and didn’t find any zombies.
“All clear here Bill. The only blood is at the entrance there.” She walked towards him and held out her hand, “And I found the keys, I bet they go to the truck out front.”
Bill took the keys, “A good bet. Whoever owned this rig had a key saver under the bumper too.” Bill held up a small rectangular box with one hand, he slid it open to reveal a key, which he matched up to one on the key ring.
“So do we hide out here until the morning?”
Bill nodded, “Yeah, I’ll go get the others and then we’ll set a watch. I want two people up at all times.”
“We need two of Max.” Stewart muttered.
“That would be nice, yeah. So…I spoke to Trish before we left.” Bill said, mentioning his wife.
“She said, well, she said you and Max were involved.”
“He’s like a brother to me. I don’t want him to get hurt.” Bill said.
“Are you shitting me? Is now the best time for this?”
“It’s the first time I’ve been able to bring it up. I’ll leave your personal stuff to you and him. I just want to know if you’re fine for this….” Bill waved his hand around.
“This? You mean this mission?” Stewart started laughing.
Still laughing, she said, “A little goddamn late now, isn’t it? I mean, unless you are planning to leave me here or something?”
Bill turned his head sideways and looked at her in the dark for a moment, then let out a soft laugh of his own, “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“I mean what would you have done if I had said, ‘no’?”
“I didn’t think you would.”
“Then why ask?”
Frustration crept into Bill’s voice, “I don’t know. I just feel responsible somehow…”
“How is that possible?”
“No, I mean as your officer and all.”
“Oh. Now I get it. No fraternization among squad mates.”
“No, not that.” Bill said, voice rising, “That’s not what I meant…”
“Geez, Bill, you’re easier to get all flustered than Max. We are fine, me and Max. Me and you. You and Max though, that could use some work.”
“What do you mean?”
“You. You’re all coming down giving us orders like we aren’t friends. In our case it is true. And I am used to having a commanding officer. So is Ruben. Maybe even Javier. But Max? He thinks you’re still his buddy. I don’t think he gets the whole ‘tell me what to do’ stuff.”
“Have I been that bad? I mean I am just trying to keep everyone alive. If I don’t bring Max home I would never forgive myself. And if I don’t come home, well Trisha will kill anyone who does.”
“So we all stick together, one way or the other.”
“Yes.” Bill replied.
“Fair enough. But you might want to explain that to Max, when you have a moment alone with him. If you can get one.”
“I think I can arrange that.”
“Good. Let’s call the others together, clean this place up and get a little sleep.”
Bill and Stewart stepped outside and called the others over.
“Okay we’ll try and get a few hours’ sleep here. I want guards in shifts. Max, you and I will go first, we’ll wake Stewart up in a couple hours to stand with us. Then we’ll wake the others a couple hours after that and Max and I will go to bed. Finally Stewart will get to turn in and grab a couple more hours at the end of the shift. This way everyone gets four hours sleep in the next eight hours and we have three people up for most of the time. We’ll aim to leave by eight.”
Everyone nodded. Javier and Ruben entered the camper and called out dibs on the large bed at the same time.
“Both of you head up there. Stewart you get the crappy couch across from the table, that way we won’t wake them up when we get you. Max and I will stay outside and pound on the camper wall if anything shows up.” Bill said.
In a short time everyone was bedded down and Max and Bill were left walking around outside the trailer. After doing a complete circuit they paused under the window into the camper’s dining area.
“I don’t really like where we are too much.” Max said after looking the area over. “We can’t see everything without moving around between the building and the camper.”
Bill shrugged in the dim light, “Well, I don’t think they would appreciate it if we hooked up the trailer and moved them.”
“Am I being too heavy handed Max?” Bill asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, ordering you around, like an officer?”
“Not really.” Max answered, “Well, okay, I guess I’m just not used to it. You’ll never be my superior officer. I’ll never be a good soldier.”
“Someone has to be in charge.”
“So we can get things done.”
“Would you follow Draper’s orders?”
Grimacing, Bill said, “I have.”
Max laughed, “Okay, so, don’t give me things to do that you know I won’t do.”
“Ordering me to leave someone behind. Even if they are bitten, I don’t think I could.”
“Trish told me about you and Stewart.”
Max was silent for a moment. “Yeah, I’m not proud of that.”
Bill glanced at the screened window above and behind his friend. “What do you mean?”
“What do you mean? I mean my wife dies and less than a week later I am hooking up with another woman. How does that look?”
“Not so good, normally. But this isn’t exactly a normal situation.”
“I suppose things are different, but I could have been…I don’t know, better?”
“You’re alright. You ain’t going to do anything crazy about Stewart are you?”
“Me? No, I pretty much passed the crazy part of my life a long time ago. I like her. I love parts of her, she is not Sarah.” Max said, referring to his dead wife.
“No, she isn’t.”
“And that’s good. Stewart’s tough, she can do what needs to be done. Can you, even for a minute, imagine Sarah going up against that chick in Chicago?”
“Stewart got her ass kicked on that one.” Bill said. “But I get your point. Sarah wouldn’t have fought at all.”
“When you think about it, Bill, Stewart gets the shit kicked out of her a lot. At my house, in Chicago. But she keeps going back in. I’m not saying Sarah wouldn’t have fought, but she might not have been on board for Chicago after Denver.”
“What now?” asked Max.
“You think what Draper said was true? That it wasn’t a nuke in Denver?”
Shrugging Max answered, “Nice way to change the topic. I don’t have any idea. Let’s do another walk around.”
“You see anything?”
“It’s pretty clear.”
“Pretty clear?” Bill asked, his voice rising slightly.
“I think I am getting some stuff around the edges.”
“West and South. Doesn’t seem to be coming this way, but still, I’d rather use my human eyes to check it out.”
The two walked off quietly and patrolled the perimeter again. Max didn’t see anything heading their way and the rest of their shift was quiet, even after Stewart joined them halfway through it. By four in the morning both men were barely awake and gladly took Javier and Ruben’s place in the bed, falling asleep almost instantly.
It was light out when Max woke up and eerily silent.
“Bill.” Hissed Max. “Wake up!”
“Hm? No, Trisha, I am going to call in sick today.” Bill mumbled, half asleep.
“Bill!” Max said louder, scrambling out of bed and crouching by the window.
“What? Max?” still fuzzy from sleep, Bill shook himself awake, “What is it?”
“They’re all around us Bill!”