Slinking around the village while all the undead were awake and roaming was difficult, to say the least, but the man seemed to know what he was doing. He stopped a few times to fish out a handful of pennies, one coin at a time from a sack he had hanging off his belt. Whenever the ghouls seemed to be getting close, he threw the handful behind them while holding a finger to his lips.
After the third batch of ghouls, moss covered with strands of coiled vine in place of muscle, Jamie thought about adopting the strategy for herself for when she was next alone. It thre the hungering dead off their trail, and would clear paths to what turned out to be the largest building in town.
An old brick building that had a moss-covered sign bearing faded letters.
“James Madison High School?” She whispered, looking at her rescuer with a raised eyebrow.
“Hey,” he said with a smile, “this used to be one of the prison schools, a detention center for bad kids. Windows are barred, doors are made to take a beating… perfect to hold off a siege.”
“Know from experience?” Jaime said with a grin.
The man returned it. “Every time someone comes into town and riles up the dead like you did, yeah.”
Jaime winced at that. “Sorry, I didn’t think…”
“No,” the man agreed as he walked up the steps to the plate glass doors, “you really didn’t. Will take weeks for them to calm down and find new places to settle.”
“I’ve never seen zombies act this way,” Jaime said, watching as the man unlocked a set of chains looped around the handles, “normally they just rove in packs.”
“You’re traveling north I take it, to Washington?” The man asked, running a hand through his hair as he opened the door.
“Yeah, supposedly a colony of survivors there,” Jaime said, as if it were a stupid question.
“There is, we trade with them from time to time,” the man said, holding the door open for Jaime, “after you…”
“The name’s Jaime,” she said, stepping into the darkened school lobby. She didn’t get his name as he slammed the door shut behind her, locking the chains to seal the exit. She turned and hurled herself against the glass, pounding her fist in anger. “Hey! What’re you doing?”
The man shook his head and pointed up in the corner of the room, where she noticed a surveillance camera with a flashing red light. The room had numerous chairs that’d been knocked over, along with several rooms that had once been administrator offices. Running towards one, she found it to be a furnished bedroom. A lone cot with blanket and numerous pillows. Along with several water bottles and a bucket clearly used for “waste” if the stains were any indication. It made her think of her hidden nest in the old bookstore back in San Antonio… god, she missed those times. She missed being a merchant in the dead wastes, selling expired medication and looted ammunition to the various towns around the ruins of the former city. She’d been wealthy, with credit in every village and lovers in one that she could let her guard down around.
That was before she led them on a march through the wastes to most of their deaths, something she still held herself accountable for. It wasn’t the fault of the zombies, or the Preacher that showed up stirring trouble; the others had counted on her, and they’d ended up being food for cannibalistic undead instead of free citizens of a new town.
Picking up a faded magazine dated back to when she was seven years old, she tossed it onto the cot. Turning, she walked into the main lobby and looked at the camera.
“Can you hear me?” She asked, clearly enunciating her words in case they could only read her lips.
The intercom overhead crackled to life, and a low voice spoke in calming tones. “Yes, we can. The man who rescued you was Derek, and he brought you here to be processed. That means keeping you in quarantine for twenty-four hours to see if you were bitten or exposed. You stay human, we admit you into the halls of our little slice of heaven here in this backwater town.”
“So, I just have to wait a day and then I get to meet new people?” She asked. “What about my stuff I left out on the outskirts of town? I wasn’t planning on leaving it out overnight.”
“We’ll retrieve your belongings and make sure everything is for when you emerge. Just try to relax, and enjoy the peace for now. Once we find out if you are safe to be around, we’ll be talking to you about joining our community.”
“I plan on just passing through, truth be told,” Jaime said, noth bothering to look away from the camera.
The voice chuckled. “Well, then consider this a toll. We rarely get survivors who stir up as much trouble as you have, so we might need you to help us with some foraging before you leave.”
“And if I refuse?” Jaime asked, crossing her arms.
The voice fell silent for a moment. “You won’t,” it finally said before crackling and sputtering as it turned off.
Jaime was left alone in the dark of the lobby, the low clicks of the dead echoing in the distance. Jaime walked back into the administrator office and dropped down onto the cot, pulling the magazine. Lying back she folded an arm behind her head as she began reading the article on corporate politics that seemed to be written by a man far too impressed with his own voice.
“Huh,” Jaime said after a moment of silence, “guy never mentioned what he’d want me to scrounge up. Hopefully they don’t pillage my bike for the goods I have.”
And with that Jaime lost herself in the article before dozing off top the sounds of clicking and crickets in the salty night air.
To be continued...