“Well, don’t let them,” Jaime continued, “always be a step ahead. I knew an old woman in a town back south, met her a few dozen times. Sold her magazines for her dead husbands old Glock Twenty-Three that I knew she couldn’t use without the local authorities stepping in and confiscating it. Well, she turned out to be infected; never even showed signs of any kind of issue, though she always did have poor eyesight in the time I knew her.”
“So, you’re saying hide it? Claim the scar is a dog bite?” Kale asked.
Jaime nodded. “Lying is normally bad, but in this case, it can be overlooked. If your life is in danger, you should lie to protect it. That’s the only thing you have left out here in the wastes, after all. Just one life to live, and in your case, you haven’t really even experienced it yet.”
“Grandpa used to say the same thing to me,” Kale said, “that I should experience life outside of Lincoln Grove, away from all the rules and control. I was always afraid to leave, but no him. He just wanted me to be happy.”
“Sounds like he was a smart man,” Jaime said.
Kale sniffled, but didn’t cry. They stood in silence for a few minutes, Jaime allowing Kale to regain her composure so that they could move on with the girl maintaining a clear head.
She’d be just like Amy or Jessica if we left right now, Jaime thought during the reprieve, useless in a crisis and more of a danger to themselves than the fucking zombies are.
After a while, Kale seemed to have calmed down and Jaime cleared her throat. “You good?”
“Yeah,” Kale said in a small voice, “I’m fine.”
“Yeah,” Jaime said, “good. Let’s get going then.”
They started jogging down the road towards Lincoln Grove, Jaime prodding Kale with questions about the community. The young girl revealed that the community was run by two older men, both of whom were former military. Together, they had their extended family act as the police for the community, keeping a rigid control over roughly two-hundred people using swords and steel. Guns were forbidden due to the noise they made, and crossbows were too difficult to fabricate en masse, so the citizens were stuck in a pseudo-medieval society where they all served as serfs to the elite.
“It sounds horrible,” Jaime said.
“It kind of was,” Kale said, jumping over some roots that’d grown up and out of the road from a tree that’d broken through the sidewalk and into an old paint store, “we had to get food by growing it ourselves, but the police took most of it as taxes. They’d always leave us with a note saying what we’d owe, and grandpa would swear about them later when he thought I was sleeping.”
“Just another day in the apocalypse, huh?” Jaime asked.
“I’ve never had any other kind,” Kale replied.
They continued in silence, the far-off clicks keeping their attention as they jogged past old buildings and traffic stops, through piled up rusted vehicles, and over crumbling concrete partially overgrown by weeds.
Lincoln’s Grove was a far quieter seaside section of town, the open air shops and bistros gutted from fires long since burnt out. The entire region looked like a fire had claimed a large section, cutting a swath through the area to pull down several buildings and scorch the pavement outside the inset sign bearing the name of the section of town. The sun was still rising in the east, approaching noon with haste; Jaime knew she’d have to hurry if she wanted to get her work done and return to the others before nightfall.
“Okay Kale, you got it?” Jamie asked, checking with the young girl.
Kale gave her an odd look. “I still don’t understand this plan,” she said, “won’t everyone want to hurt me like they did yesterday?”
“Not after they listen to what I say,” Jaime said.
“Okay… well that first guard post is up ahead, maybe a hundred yards. A guy with an old rifle uses the scope to watch for zombies and uses an old bird whistle when he spots things coming through this entry point.”
“So, we should hear him any minute now,” Jaime said, “let’s continue walking down the middle of the road, make ourselves nice and visible.”
The cracked pavement slowly gave way to trodden dirt, the large pieces of concrete having been pulled away while the flora had been burned. Charred remains could be seen, jagged stems of bushes ending in blackened ends.
Guess they didn’t want the zombies sneaking up on them, Jaime thought.
The chirping of a bird was the first indication that there was life, a trigger that prompted Jaime to pull her bow out.
When Kale looked at her with concern, Jaime gave her a look.
“Birds have so far been silent, despite the presence of free food,” Jaime said, thinking of the bugs that seemed to ooze from the corners of the town, “if I was a scout, or a guard, I’d use bird calls to let others know I saw something.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Kale said, “I was raised to work in the gardens, and Grandpa helped with inventory. We never met with guards.”
“Well I have a feeling we’re about to,” Jaime said.
Within the next thirty seconds, Jaime heard the snapping of twigs coming from a copse of trees further ahead, where two men wearing camouflage emerged. One was bald, wearing a poncho that was deep green and brown in color. The other was a teenager, a large crossbow slung over his shoulder. Both were frowning, eyes darting between Jaime and Kale.
“What do you want?” The old man called out, glaring at Jaime, “we chased her out just the other day with her grandfather, I can’t imagine the old man is thick enough to think we’d take him back after he stole from us.”
Jaime frowned, looking down at Kale. Kale rubbed her arm, giving Jaime a sheepish look.
“When we ran, Grandpa said he took some things,” Kale said.
“Great,” Jaime muttered before raising her voice, “her grandfather is dead, killed by zombies. I’ve come to try and barter for some information you have, while returning the girl to you.”
“Yeah well, we don’t want what you’re offering!” The older man called back, “so just turn around and march on outta here.”
“The girl needs a home, somewhere safe!” Jaime declared.
The teenager snorted. “Well, we need to be safe from her. She tell you she got bit?”
“So? She lived through the infection, means she isn’t a threat anymore,” Jaime said, knowing that the words were a slight embellishment, “she’s scared, and needs her home to be open to her again.”
“And you need information?” The old man asked, stepping in front of the teenager, “what kind of information?”
“Kale told me that you have a library,” Jaime said, “I’m looking for a few books, some specific subjects. I’m willing to trade services for them. I can gather supplies.”
“So can we,” the old man replied, “you’ll have to offer something better than that.”
Jaime frowned. She was about to respond when she heard it.
Coming on the ocean wind like a demonic lullaby, a distant sound that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.
Giggling… Jaime thought, straining her ears, it caught our scent, it’s following us!
Kale didn’t move, so Jaime assumed she hadn’t heard it.
“How about I kill the Giggler for you?” Jaime asked, annoyed at being forced into the situation, “he’s on his way, if you take Kale and leave me here to ambush it, I’ll kill it.”
“Shit!” The teenager cursed, looking around with wild eyes.
The old man sneered, “you’re bluffing. I don’t hear it.”
“Just fall back to a building with Kale and watch,” Jaime said, “we don’t have time for theatrics here, just give me a chance!”
The old man seemed to think for a moment. “Alright,” he said, “you got thirty minutes for the monster to show. If it doesn’t, we kill the girl, then you.”
Kale let out a slight sound at this but Jaime laid a hand to rest on her shoulder. “Deal,” Jaime called back.
“Jaime, I don’t want to go with them!” Kale exclaimed.
“You have to,” Jaime said, “the Giggler is coming, I heard him. He must have come back and caught our scent.”
“And you’re going to try and kill him? Alone?” Kale asked.
Jaime shrugged. “Playing it by ear, but yeah. I think I can handle it. I think I have a good seven or eight minutes before he crawls over to us, so hurry up and go!”
Kale hugged Jaime, whimpering into her stomach, “please don’t die. If you do, then those two will kill me!”
Jaime ran her hand over Kale’s red hair. “I promise I won’t die.”
Kale sniffled, but turned with Jaime’s urging and jogged off towards the men. “Alright, give me some space!”
“You got it lady,” the teenager yelled, the old man waiting for Kale to grow close. Once she was within arm’s reach, he grabbed her and ran off towards a dilapidated office supply store.
Jaime turned, and looked at the path they’d just come from, “I only have so long. Better make the best of it.”