Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Hawthornes

Tammy finished her make-up and examined herself in the mirror, not bad. Long, straight blonde hair, just enough cosmetics to accentuate her facial features, and blouse unbuttoned just enough to hint at cleavage without being blatant. The jeans helped with the perception of full hips and in general a healthy visage of child-bearing ability. Men didn’t realize it was what they were drawn to, but that was okay as long as she knew it. She wasn’t actually looking for a male companion; she was simply practicing until she found a man worth going the extra mile for, just like men tried to practice their sexual skill with her until they realized they actually wanted someone to spend their lives with. Practice makes perfect; however, what they didn’t realize was she was practicing on them and getting free meals in the exchange while they got nothing.
“Tammy?” William, her brother, knocked on the door again. “Come on! I need to get in there!”
Opening the door of the bathroom she smiled at her sibling, if she ever wondered what she would look like if she was male, all she had to do was look at William. Like her, he had blonde hair and blue eyes and an athlete’s build inherited from their parents. The only difference between them was their height, William was slightly taller than Tammy’s five-seven, but he was still growing and she seemed to have reached a plateau. “You know, if you’d pull your nose out of your books on occasion you wouldn’t suddenly discover you needed to take a leak.”
“You’ve been in here for hours!” He said as he tried to squeeze past.
Glancing at her watch she shook her head, “Nope, twenty minutes.”
“Out! Or you get to watch your brother piss.”
“Ewww!” She laughed and stepped out as he closed the door behind her.
“Hey!” She said to the closed door, “I’ll be back by ten o’clock, and I’m going to grab some take-out from the Palace, do you want me to bring you anything?”
“Spicy chicken and noodles!” He shouted back.
“Okay, bye!” Tammy walked through the living room of their apartment; the walls decorated with their matching naginatas and awards for their expertise in Aikido, and then paused for a moment. She needed to remember William and her were supposed to go to Livermore this weekend to visit Mom and Dad before they left for the convention in Vancouver the following week. They were both giving presentations concerning their research in physics and it sounded like it was going to be a big deal, but Tammy and William both had mid-term papers and tests due at Berkley. No vacation in Vancouver this time.
Out front of the apartments she waited for her date to arrive; probably not the best thing to do, but Tammy was consumed with punctuality whereas her date for this evening apparently wasn’t. Henry Sands was a star linebacker for Stanford and was headed for a career in the NFL after his last season’s exploits. He was big, strong, fast, attractive, and a little on the dimwitted side, but you can’t get everything you want until it eventually presents itself. Finally, twenty minutes late and strike one, his Chevy Avalanche pulled over to the curb in front of her.
He gave her a curt wave and then looked at her puzzled as she waited for him to get out and open the door for her. After a moment the passenger side window rolled down, “Are you coming, or not?”
Strike two. Tammy opened the door and climbed in as he pulled out into traffic before she connected her seat belt. Strike three? Maybe two-and-a-half, he was kind of good looking in that rugged kind of way. “So, where are we going?”
“Frat party.” He honked his horn at a car traveling slower than his own excessive speed.
“Really? There’s a showing of “A Beautiful Mind” this evening, I’d love to see it.”
He glanced at her and shook his head. “No way am I going to a chick flick. Tonight it’s going to be party hardy!” He looked at her again, “I thought you were going to dress hot?”
Definitely strike three, “First date, Henry. Maybe if we go out again.” They drove along in silence as he rested his arm on the steering wheel and flexed his muscles to impress her. Tammy rolled her eyes and looked out the window, this was going to be the last time she let someone else set her up with a date. “So you’re a senior at Stanford?”
“Yeah, but I may not finish, I’ve got an agent touching bases with some pro teams.”
“You’re almost done, why not finish?”
“Why? I’m headed for the pros and big money; I don’t need a degree in Phys Ed.”
“That’s your major?” There was nothing wrong with majoring in Physical Education; the department had a pretty stringent course of study and Stanford had one of the highest graduation rates among its football players at 89%, not something to scoff at.
“Yeah, but they have me just to play ball for them.”
“You didn’t enroll at Stanford for the academics?”
“Fuck the academics,” strike four. “When most of those people are making peanuts I’ll be making millions and retire young.”
“I see.” Tammy remembered reading an article about a young football player that was going to the Pros, but his neck was broken in the last game of his college career, so much for millions.
“What college did you say you were going to?”
“U.C. Berkley.”
“Berkley? I thought you were in some junior college.”
She sighed, “Nope.”
“What B.A. are you looking to get?” He reached over and cranked up the rap song that was already too loud to begin with.
“B.S.!” she shouted.
“Science! I’m starting Graduate School next semester!”
“What? Culinary? What’s that?”
She shook her head, she was no longer counting strikes, he was out, “I want to manage a hamburger stand someday! You know, flip burgers!”
He bobbed his head to the beat as he replied, “Cool!”
Jesus, okay, put up with the crap for a couple of hours and then have him drive her home if he wasn’t drunk. If he was drunk, she had money for a cab. She sat quietly staring out the window until he pulled into a row of upper income homes and parked on the street.
“I thought you said this was a frat party?”
“It is, but we can have more fun off campus than on, and the sponsor wants the guys on the team to have some relaxation.” Tammy didn’t like the sound of that.
“What kind of relaxation is he offering?”
Henry climbed out of the truck and started walking to the front of the house. “The kind guys with high levels of testosterone expect.” Twenty feet from the truck, he stopped and looked back at Tammy still sitting in the passenger seat, “Are you coming? You’re going to have a good time, I guarantee it.”
Without waiting for an answer he walked to the house and entered the front door. Tammy sat there a few moments and then climbed out and headed for the house herself. She would take a look inside and then decide whether to stay or leave, but as she approached the door it opened and a young man stepped out and began to walk past her as he nodded. Not as big as Hank, but definitely well-muscled and his face looked intelligent and alert. He had dark wavy hair and the hint of a possible mustache; he looked Hispanic.
“Excuse me,” She asked. “Could you give me a little information about tonight’s party?”
The man stopped and looked at Tammy for a moment, and then, “You don’t look like the usual entertainment, are you meeting someone here?”
“Well, I came with Henry Sands, sort of, but he neglected to tell me we were going to a frat party off campus.”
“Hank the Skank, huh? You don’t look like his kind of date.” He looked puzzled.
“What does his kind of date normally look like?”
“You’ve never been to one of these parties?”
“Did he tell you he wanted you to get hot babe?”
“Yeah, I assumed he wanted me to dress in a provocative manner and I don’t do that on first dates.” She watched his eyes as thoughts skipped back and forth in his mind.
“Do you know what get hot babe stands for?”
“I made an assumption, but I’m beginning to think perhaps I don’t.”
“Get hot babe, GHB, know what it is?” His expression was slowly changing.
A chill went down her back and arms, “GHB is a date rape drug.”
“So it is, but it’s not date rape if the girl takes it knowingly. The girls in there tonight,” he pointed over his shoulder. “They want a guy that might make it to the pros and they’re willing to do what it takes to get there with them.”
Tammy stepped back from the man, “Why would any woman knowingly take a drug like that?”
“Under the influence they have an excuse to be used, it’s not that uncommon; some do it out of desperation, some just because they want to fit in and be popular, shit I don’t know.”
“Is that why you’re here, to use someone?” She spoke through her clenched teeth.
He laughed and started to walk past her, “I work for the homeowner as a gardener and I’m just here to pick up my pay. To be honest I was invited once, but I didn’t stay long, it’s not to my tastes.” He stopped and turned back to Tammy, “You going in?”
“No.” She looked around the neighborhood for an address so she could call a cab.
“I’m glad, need a lift?”
He pulled a paper from his pocket and a pen from another, scribbling quickly, he handed the paper to her, “That’s the address here at the house; do you have money for a cab?”
“Yes, I do.” She squeezed the small purse in her hand. “And I have a cell also.”
“Okay, do yourself a favor and don’t hang out in front of the house, some of those guys may decide you just need a little encouragement to join the party.” With that he crossed the street and sat down in an older model Honda Civic and started the motor.
Tammy glanced back at the house, to her cellphone in her hand, and back to the young man preparing to pull out from the curb, “Hey!”
She ran across and leaned over as he rolled down his window, “That offer still open, for a ride?”
At first he didn’t say anything, but then he smiled, “Sure, where are you going?”

William threw his textbook across the room and leaned back against the couch. “Boring!” Most of the information was outdated and the author had no concept of how to make black holes interesting, as a result the entire class was boring because the professor who wrote the text and taught the class was boring. William rubbed his eyes and grunted, he struggled to stay awake in Capon’s class and the man even wrote in a monotone, how can a person write in a monotone? There was a light tapping at his door, so he looked at the clock on the wall, 8:30; it wasn’t Tammy. He rose from the carpet and looked out the peephole in the door. His neighbor Melissa was standing there staring at the numbers on his door.
He opened it, “Hi, Melissa.” She was in two of his classes and he knew she was struggling with both courses.
“Hi Willy,” He hated it when people called him Willy.
“What’s up?”
She shifted her bare feet on the carpet of the hall and he watched her toes curl and then uncurl beneath the hem of the pajama bottoms she was wearing; oddly, she had rings on every toe. He had always admired Melissa’s physical attributes, she was almost his height, breasts that were neither large, or too small, proportionately sized hips, all in all pleasing to look at even if her hair was cut a little too boyish.
“I was wondering, you probably know I’m not doing well in Capon’s class and I thought maybe we might study together tonight?”
“Uh, I was getting ready to finish my term paper,” she pouted and lowered the notebook she held in front of her to her waist exposing the translucent tank top she was wearing. “But, yeah I suppose I could give you a hand for a while.” His eyes were transfixed on her nipples which were pierced with studs.
She smiled and pushed by him into the living room. “Funny, I thought you and your sister would have nicer furniture, what with who your parents are and all.”
William closed the door and stared at her back. The thin see-through fabric did nothing to hide what was beneath it and he could see two columns of rings piercing her back with some sort of thread, or thong lacing them together like a bodice. “Uh, my parents insisted that Tammy and I earn at least half the money we needed for school. Furniture isn’t needed to be nice, just functional.”
She looked at him over her shoulder, “I thought you and your sister had full scholarships?”
“We do, but Tammy and I pay for our apartment, food, clothes, car, gas…everything, I mean half of everything.”
“My parents pay for me to get my meals on campus because it’s cheaper there and I have to pay for my apartment, so I have a part-time job; it makes it hard to study and stay with the program, you know?”
“I guess.” She was lying and William knew it, he had over-heard her talking with one of her friends and knew her parents paid for everything, including her apartment.
“Did you say you were finishing your Mid-term paper?”
“No, the Final.”
She cocked her head and looked at him, “You’ve already written your Mid-term and now you’re writing your Final? It’s not due for eight weeks.”
“Why wait?”
“Did Capon okay your subject already?”
William nodded as his eyes were drawn back to the rings in her back.
Tossing her notebook on the couch she faced him and placed her hands on her hips. “People say you’re really smart, is that right?”
Through the transparent fabric he could see the wrinkles in her erect nipples, “Uh, what?”
She laughed, “Willy, how old are you? My friends and I have been trying to figure it out.”
She was at least 21, maybe 22. “Seventeen.”
“So I guess you’re one of those child prodigies?” He frowned and she quickly amended her question, “Sorry, that came out wrong; there have been college students younger than you and seventeen doesn’t make you a child.”
“My parents didn’t want my sister and I to leave home until we were sixteen, so we both had to wait three or four years before they would let us take the SATs.” He walked to the couch, picked up her notebook and moved it to the coffee table.”
“Whose smarter, you, or your sister?”
He looked at her askance, “Why?”
“Maybe it would be better if I asked her for help?”
“If you apply a strict point value, then we are probably the same, but if I told you the points you would feel intimidated and inadequate.” He walked to the door and opened it, “Perhaps you might feel more comfortable with someone closer to your intellect to study with?”
“Hey, I didn’t mean to…”
“Yes you did, you came in here with the promise of sex all over you. Pajama bottoms, see-through blouse, erect nipples, body piercings, sensual walk, and pouty lips. I don’t know if this is some kind of a prank, or a bet, but I’m not interested.”
Snatching her notebook from the table she began to stomp out the door, but she slowed to a stop beside him. “Look, okay I came on too strong, I just need help. I’m not stupid, not at all, but I spent the semester partying instead of studying and now I’m running out of time. If I flunk out, or get put on academic probation my folks will freak and the money train will come to screeching halt. It’s my fault and I know it, but shit! Just a little help, okay? Please?”
He stared at her for a moment before closing the door, “Alright, but one word of advice, I may drool over your body, and I may not be able to control where my eyes are pulled to, but don’t try to play me.”
She nodded, “I’ll go change into something else.”
William cleared his throat, “Well, you don’t have to do that, I want you to be comfortable while we study.” He forced his eyes back up to her face; his face red as he realized he had been talking to her chest.
“Willy, have you ever…”
“There’s a lot of tension in here, maybe it will be better if we relieve some of it. When will your sister be home?”
“Ten o:clock.”
Melissa smiled and stepped close to him as she slid her arm around his neck, “Then we have plenty of time.”

Tammy unconsciously raised her hips from the seat as the Honda eased over a speed bump in the parking lot. Being used to the Ford Explorer she normally drove, she felt uncomfortable in the low slung car.
“Albert Ruiz.” The man said.
Tammy glanced at him “What? Oh, Tammy Hawthorne, thanks for the ride.”
“It’s okay; I didn’t think you looked the type to be there.” He smiled at her.
“Thanks. There it is, The Palace.” She pointed to the gold and green building and he swung the Honda into a parking spot.
Opening the door she asked, “What would you like?”
“Oh, nothing, really. I’m not much on Asian food.”
“Really?” She studied his face for a moment, “What have you tried?”
“I tried some of that sushi stuff once and it didn’t really work for me.”
“This place doesn’t serve sushi, and it’s mostly Chinese anyway, I’m going to get you something for giving me a ride, so you might as well come in and pick what you want.”
“You don’t have to.” He looked a little uncomfortable.
“You didn’t have to give me a ride home, but you did.”
“Okay, but really, I have no idea what I might like.”
She smiled, “You really have never eaten Chinese food?”
He stroked his eyebrow with his index finger as he answered, “No, I’ve always been a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I do like spicy food though.”
“Do you like ketchup?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Then you’ve eaten Chinese food before.” She climbed out of the car and waited on the sidewalk as he joined her.
“How will I know what I want to eat?”
“They have a taster platter, that’s what I really like about this place. They let you try samples before you buy.”
Walking to the door of The Palace he stepped ahead and opened the door for her, then waited as two women walked out before he joined her at the counter. Leaning over he looked at the various dishes on display, “What’s this reddish-orange lumpy stuff?”
Tammy looked, “Spicy chicken, it’s what my brother asked me to pick up for him.” She looked higher on top of the counter display and removing a clear glass cover she offered him a piece skewered with a tooth pick. “Try it.”
He tentatively pulled the morsel of meat from the toothpick with his teeth and then chewed it and swallowed. “Hey, that’s pretty good. What comes with it?”
“Most people prefer it over rice; I do, but my brother likes noodles with his spicy chicken.”
Albert looked at the encased food and examined the noodles, “What’s that in with the noodles, cabbage?”
“I’ll have that.” He walked around the counters and looked at the other items on display as Tammy placed the order.
“Hi, Ms. Wong. I need two orders of Spicy Chicken, one order of Broccoli and Beef, an order of rice and two orders of noodles please.”
“Hi Tammy,” Ms. Wong said. “Introducing a new friend to Chinese takeout?”
“Yes Ma’am, where is your brother tonight?” Tammy asked as she handed the middle-aged woman a twenty dollar bill. Ms. Wong and her older brother, Tim had been running The Palace as long as Tammy had been at Berkley.
“Oh, terrible, Tammy, terrible, a homeless man chased two women into the store and started biting them with his teeth! Tim ran to help and the homeless man bit him too before the police came!”
“Oh my goodness, Ms. Wong, is Tim alright?”
“He went to the hospital with the two ladies, but he hasn’t come back yet. Sometimes the emergency room is so busy!”
“Yes, I know. The people who come to America illegally make it really crowded sometimes; did you know their talking about closing the emergency rooms at the county hospital?”
“Where will people go who are really sick, or injured?” She shook her head as she counted change back to Tammy.
“What did they do with the homeless man who bit everyone?”
“He was very crazy, so the police said they would take him for observation. You know what though? One of the policemen said it was the fourth time today a homeless person bit someone!”
“The fourth time?” Tammy shuddered as Albert joined her.
“The fourth time, what?” He asked.
“Tim Wong was bitten by a homeless man today and the police said it was the fourth time today homeless people had bitten someone.”
“That’s strange.” He took the bags of food, stepped away from the counter and walked to the door holding it open for Tammy.
“Bye Ms. Wong, tell your brother I hope he is going to be alright.”
Wong waved as they walked out and to the car. Albert opened the door and then handed Tammy the bags of food after she fastened her seatbelt.
“Where to now?” He asked as he started the engine and backed out of the parking space.

Melissa lay collapsed over the top of William, her body glistening with a sheen of perspiration. William’s fingertips were tracing the ties between the ring piercings along her spine as she attempted to catch her breath.
“Are you sure,” she asked. “This was your first time?”
“If I would have known it felt like this I would have done it a long time ago.”
She giggled, but then looked at the door, “What was that?”
“What?” He asked as the door of the apartment swung open and Tammy walked in with a stranger.
Tammy shouted, “Oh my God!” And covered her eyes with the palm of her hand. The man turned on his heels and walked back out of the door into the hall.
“Oh shit!” William said as he tried to pull his pants up while Melissa searched for her discarded tank top, but finally grabbed William’s shirt and held it over her bare torso.
“Jesus, I thought you said she wouldn’t be home until ten?”
Tammy dropped her hands from her eyes and promptly covered them again. “Oh my God! Put some clothes on!”
“I’m trying!” William shouted back as Melissa swung her leg over the top of him and started pulling her pajama pants on.
“William!” Tammy said, “I swear to God if you have permanently scarred my psyche I’m so going to kick your ass!”
“Well, if you would have come home at ten like you said…”
“I said by ten, not at ten!”
William looked at Melissa and mouthed “I’m sorry.”
From behind her hand Tammy asked, “You’re getting dressed, right?”
“Hang on, geez.” William zipped his pants and walked to his bedroom where he grabbed another shirt to replace the one Melissa was buttoning over her breasts. When he walked back out the apartment door was closed and Tammy was gone. Outside in the hall he could hear Tammy laughing and the occasional loud chuckle of the man with her.
“Melissa, I am so sorry!”
She shrugged, smiled and then laughed, “You should see your face right now.”
“Well, if it looks the way I feel I guess I look pretty ridiculous.”
“A little, but you look cute at the same time.”
William smiled, “Thanks, I thought you might take it a little hard is all.” He walked to the door, “You ready?” she nodded and he opened the door.
“You can come in now.”
Tammy and the stranger walked in and everyone had red faces. Tammy pointed to William and said to the man, “Albert, my promiscuous brother, William. William, Albert, my savior.”
William shook hands with Albert and then pointed to Melissa, “Uh, this is Melissa, she lives down the hall and we share a couple of classes together.”
Tammy nodded and Albert shook her hand. “I’m really sorry about this,” she said.
Tammy stifled another laugh as she set the bags of Chinese takeout on the table, “It was bound to happen sooner or later. I just hoped it might be later or at least not so dramatic!”
“Yeah,” William added. “For the rest of my life every time I drop my pants I’m going to have a vision of you shouting OH MY GOD! Try that for a psyche damaging event!”
The room erupted into laughter again.
Albert pointed to the weapons hanging on the wall, “What are those?”
“Naginatas,” William answered. “They’re sort of chopped down versions of the Japanese pike.”
“They’re not very long for a pike.”
Tammy laughed, “Thus the descriptor, chopped down.”
Albert smiled, “Yeah, I guess so. Why do you have them on display?”
Tammy left for bowls for the food and William answered, “Tammy and I have been taking Aikido lessons since we were five and seven years old. Our parents got into it when they were studying in Japan and they taught it to us.”
“I see,” Albert responded. “I took Brazilian Jui Jitsu for a few years, but I never competed or anything.”
Both of the guys looked at Melissa and she held up her hands with peace signs, “Make love, not war.”
They laughed again as Tammy brought out the bowls.
They joked and laughed for an hour as they slowly ate and more than once Albert looked at the draped windows and listened as sirens passed outside, finally he asked, “Is there a police station, fire station, or hospital close by?”
The other three stopped talking and listened also, “No,” Tammy said. “I don’t think so.”
William walked to the window and looked down from their position on the second floor, “That’s weird; a bunch of police and Highway Patrol cars just went by.”
Tammy and Albert joined him while Melissa continued finishing her portion of noodles; the chicken had been too spicy for her. “Maybe there’s a protest or something?”
Tammy returned, switched on the TV and tuned to KTVU channel 2, “…are warning residents to stay indoors until the riots are under control. The spontaneous outbreaks of violence have all local police agencies mystified as to their reason and stretched thin responding to 911 calls. Please do not call 911 unless you have an actual emergency! This is KTVU Channel 2 news. The program broke for commercial and Tammy started to turn off the set, but hesitated.
“Maybe we should leave it on for a while until we find out more? They didn’t even say where the riots were.”
“Yeah,” Albert said. “Probably in Oakland, but maybe in the illegal barrios. They’ve been pushing it lately.”
Melissa seemed agitated with his statement, “They have the right to protest the conditions they are forced to live under.”
Albert raised an eyebrow and responded, “They’re not forced to live under any kind of condition, they can always go home.”
Melissa frowned, “You’re Hispanic, don’t you support your people’s rights?”
“My people? I was born in San Jose, my people are Americans and I don’t like the fact people come here illegally and drive down the wages for work that has been historically performed by Americans.”
“Nonsense! Undocumented Workers perform the work Americans refuse to do. They provide a needed service and how would you like to pay five dollars for a head of lettuce?”
“Oh,” Albert said. “So you support the artificially low wages paid to the farm workers?”
Melissa opened her mouth and then shut it.
“Your argument has no merit. First you complain they don’t get paid enough, and then you argue we need them to work for low wages in order to keep food prices low. Illegal Aliens, for which you use the euphemism of Undocumented Workers, don’t just perform the work Americans refuse to do, they do the work many Americans would like to do, but can’t because the industry has become dominated by illegals. A five dollar head of lettuce? Get real; let’s say a farm worker can pick three heads a minute, in an hour that’s 180 heads of lettuce, in a ten hour day that’s 1800 heads of lettuce. Let’s say we raise their pay to ten dollars an hour, in a ten hour day that’s one hundred dollars divided among 1800 heads of lettuce and means that each head of lettuce at the market will cost eighteen cents more than it does now when you’re paying them half of what I proposed. Farm work is underpaid, I agree, but don’t talk to me about five dollar heads of lettuce.”
Melissa clenched her teeth, “All I’m hearing is someone who has put a little thought into the problem and twisted it to fit their position.”
Albert smiled, “All I’m hearing is someone who has put no thought into the situation and is twisting it to fit their position. You’re mouthing bumper sticker statements to advocate the dismantling of America and reducing it to third world status.”
“I just think we should level the economic playing field.” She stated.
“So you want the world to have the same standard of living as America?” Albert asked.
“Absolutely.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“There is not enough wealth in the world to bring the world’s standard of living up to ours, in order to level the playing field you better be ready to take a substantial cut in your own life style first.”
“Hey guys?” Tammy said. “Let’s agree to disagree, okay? The news is back on.” God she hated politics and economics.
“The channel 2 News Chopper is circling over a hot spot at this moment and is ready to provide a live feed of the violence taking place in Oakland. The announcer looked off-screen, and then looked back to the camera. “On board is our Channel 2 reporter, Martin Villanueva, Martin what can you tell us from your position over the action?”
“We are presently circling a police barricade and we can see a large number of people running towards the police position. Many of these people seem to be trying to run from those behind them. Oh my God! Did you see that? The camera zoomed in on a group of people who had caught a woman and dragged her down; they were ripping and tearing at her with teeth and nails as the woman screamed and twisted, trying to escape. “Sweet Jesus! They are tearing that woman apart! Why are the police not trying to push forward and save her! Oh, look at the blood! I think, yes, I think the woman is now dead; I’m sorry, I didn’t realize the footage was going to be so graphic! I apologize to our viewers.”
“Yes, well, that report from Martin Villanueva. I have another announcement from the office of the Mayor, all citizens are ordered to stay in their homes, or wherever they are at the moment if they can barricade the building for safety. If you cannot secure the place you are located return home or somewhere you can assure your physical safety. The Mayor’s office also warns the citizens that vigilantism will not be tolerated under any circumstances and gunfire within the city limits is strictly forbidden with the exception of official law enforcement personnel. Remember, a gun in the hands of a private citizen is more dangerous to themselves and their families than to any criminal or rioter.
Albert shifted on the couch, “Bull shit; when I get home I’ve got everything we might need.”
William glanced from the TV, “What do you have?”
“Guns, ammo, and food. Shit, the way this is shaping up I may be able to pull out some stuff that’s not legal in California.”
William perked up, “Like what?”
“Couple of .45s, two twelve gauge shotties and two AK 74s. The shotguns are legal, but not the pistols or AKs”
“Why would you have two of everything?”
“In case one breaks I have another for spare parts, or to loan out.” Albert turned and looked at Tammy, “Listen, I know you guys don’t know me very well, but you’re welcome to come to my place.”
Tammy looked at Melissa and her brother, “The authorities are telling us to stay at home and not go out, maybe we should stay here.”
William shook his head, “Albert has guns.”
Melissa stood up and walked to the door, “You heard what they said, nobody is allowed to shoot so what good are guns to anyone?”
Tammy looked over her head, “We have the naginatas.”
Albert raised his eyebrows, “You’d rather use those than a gun?”
Tammy shrugged, “They don’t run out of bullets.”
“Yeah, but wouldn’t it be better to take out one of these crazy people at a hundred yards rather than five feet? And what if there are a lot of them? How many can you kill before they overrun you?”
“You’re kind of enjoying this aren’t you?” Melissa said. “You think you finally have a reason to go shoot someone, shit,” She sneered, “If someone is a hundred yards away you don’t need to worry about them. They can’t hurt you if they’re that far away.”
Albert pointed at the TV, “You saw how fast the rioters chased down those people on the street. Do you want to take that chance?”
“No,” she said. “That’s why I’m going to my apartment and lock the door. I’m going to wait for the authorities to get this under control; after all, it’s their job. There’s only one way into my apartment and all I have to do is lock the door.” She held her hands out to her sides with the palms up, “Wa la.”
Albert shook his head, “There’s only one problem with one way in.”
“There’s only one way out.” Melissa stepped through the door and left.
“Well,” he said to Tammy and William. “I’m going to head for home and security, are you going, or staying?”
“Tammy?” William asked.
“God, I don’t…”
There came a scream from the hallway and the sound of bodies bouncing off of walls. William grabbed a naginata off the wall and rushed into the hall to see a wild man slamming against Melissa’s door with tremendous force. On the second impact the door frame shattered and the man was in.
He ran down the hall and turned into Melissa’s apartment where she was holding the man at bay with a chair held in front of her. “Hey!” He shouted from the door, and began to advance, his naginata held in his right hand slightly below the crossbar of the blade. The man turned and with a savage cry turned his back to Melissa and attacked William. William took one last step forward with his right leg and snapped the weapon forward allowing the long handle to slide through his loose grip. The tip of the willow leaf blade entered the man’s throat and exited the back of his neck at the base of the skull. He dropped instantly, his spinal column severed.
The pitch of Melissa’s screams increased as she dropped the chair and stared at the body on her floor. William grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her until she stopped and looked into his eyes. “Pack a suitcase, we’re going to Albert’s home, do you understand?”
She nodded and left for her bedroom. When he turned to the broken door he saw Tammy standing there staring at the body with both hands holding her naginata in front of her, “Tammy!” She looked up, “Start packing, we’re going to Albert’s house!”
She jerked her head up and down and then rushed out.
“Albert, please tell me the doors of your house are stronger than the ones we have here.”
“They are, and there’s security bars on every window.”
“Good,” he handed Albert the weapon. “Keep an eye on Melissa while I throw some clothes in a duffel bag!”
Fifteen minutes later they were ready to leave, Melissa with two suitcases, Tammy and William with one duffel bag each. In addition, Tammy had cleared their cupboards of any food they had and Albert had cleaned out Melissa’s. The food was loaded into a spare sports bag that Tammy and William normally kept the sparring gear they used while training with each other. There wasn’t much to be had actually; three college students who avoided cooking had a tendency to have empty cupboards. They gathered in the hall outside Melissa’s door when everything was packed.
“There’s one last thing to do,” Albert said. “We need to get rid of the body in Melissa’s room.”
None of the other three said anything until finally Tammy spoke up, “What do you mean?”
“Hopefully this thing will probably be over soon and Melissa will want to move back in when it is. Do you want to live in an apartment that smells like rotten meat?”
William was feeling somewhat sick, “You think we should carry the body downstairs?” With his training, using the naginata to kill the man had been easy, but the emotional aftermath wasn’t as readily dealt with. The man was dead and William had killed him.
Albert nodded, “Carry it down, or maybe just drop it over the balcony.”
“We can’t just throw the body out like trash!” Tammy stammered, “He was something to someone, somewhere.”
Albert frowned, “I know that, but we don’t have a lot of time, things might get worse before they get better.”
William shook his head, “I don’t know if I can, you know? I mean, I’ve never hurt anyone before and…I don’t think I can.”
“Melissa?” Albert asked.
She shook her head and looked away from his eyes.
“Alright, you three go down stairs and load up your cars, I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
The three of them gathered their bags and started down the stairs as Albert entered the room. They were in the process of loading their bags in the Explorer when they heard a solid thud from the building; when they looked the man’s body lay in a misshapen pile on the lawn below Melissa’s balcony and above Albert was closing the slider.
Moments later Albert ran out the entrance of the building and joined them, “Okay, it’s not far to my house and it doesn’t look as though there is much traffic, so you shouldn’t have a problem following me. Just stay close,” He pulled a business card from his pocket and handed it to Tammy. “This is my address in case we get separated, okay?”
Tammy took the card, “I’ll be on your butt the whole way.”
He jogged to his car and climbed in as Tammy, William, and Melissa got into the Explorer. Within minutes they were racing down the road with Tammy tailgating Albert as he weaved his way through the streets, avoiding people whenever possible. Tammy wasn’t sure what was happening, only hours before they had stood at The Palace ordering takeout, now there were people running the streets and chasing others while trying to drag them down. Granted, it seemed most everyone was staying in their homes, but there were still people out. Many of ones they saw had fully loaded cars, or trucks, and seemed to be intent on leaving town instead of holing up like the authorities were ordering the population to do.
“William,” Tammy asked. “Are we doing the right thing? Maybe we should be heading for Mom and Dad’s place in Livermore.”
“I know, I was thinking the same thing, but Albert’s house is closer for now, he has guns and he says his house can be secured. The guy at the apartments? I keep wondering how he got in through the security gates. Without a key to the gates, how did he get in?”
From the rear seat they heard Melissa, “He was already in.”
William looked back at her, “What do you mean?”
“He lived in our building, on the first floor. I met him one time down by the pool and he seemed like a really nice guy, but we ran around with different crowds, you know?”
Tammy ignored Melissa, “So you think we should go to Albert’s and not to Livermore?”
William dug into the pocket of his jeans, “Let’s call Dad and see what he thinks.” He speed dialed and waited, but the phone never rang. “The circuits must be overloaded or something, it’s not even ringing.”
“We’ll try again later,” Tammy said.
They followed Albert until he finally turned down a residential street and parked in the driveway of an older, but well-kept home. Getting out of the Explorer they grabbed their bags and the naginatas as Albert ran to the door of the house with his keys in hand. William and the girls ran to the sidewalk and then he returned to the Ford and grabbed the sport bag with the food in it. As he was closing the rear of the SUV he heard a scream and spun around towards the house.
Tammy was racing for the porch, Melissa was screaming through her hands and Albert was down; there were two crazies tearing at his body. He ran for the porch, but Tammy was already there, the sharpened edge of the naginata flickering as it spun through the air once, then twice. He ran up beside her with his weapon held the way he had in Melissa’s apartment only to see both of the infected nearly decapitated. Tammy was already crouching beside Albert, his feet kicking and finally growing still as he bled out of a massive wound on his neck.
“Albert?” Tammy touched his face with her palm. “Albert?”
“We have to get inside,” Melissa squealed. “We have to get inside now!”
Tammy looked up at her, “Shut the fuck up!” Standing she twisted the keys hanging from the door and pushed it open, as she reached for the duffel bags and suit cases Melissa ran past her and into the house. Following her, Tammy threw the duffel on a couch and the suitcases at Melissa, “Why didn’t you warn him!”
William stepped through the door, “Tammy, knock it off and let’s make sure the house is locked up.” He pulled the steel screened security door closed and locked it, then the heavy wooden front door. Carrying the sport bag of food into the kitchen he laid it on the table and looked around. Neat, it was the only way to describe Albert’s home. Neat, and clean. The house was much neater and cleaner than his and his sister’s apartment had ever been.
William continued through the house, checking windows and doors. Looking out a bay window in the kitchen he saw a detached garage in the backyard; even the backyard was neat and tidy. Tammy was at the kitchen sink rinsing blood from the blade of her naginata, “Make sure you oil it when you’re done.”
“I know how to…” She slumped and rested her upper body on her stiffened arms, palms on each side of the sink. “I know…”
William wrapped his arms around her shoulders, “Hey, are you going to be okay?”
She didn’t answer, she just nodded her head. He started to relax and step away, but she grabbed his hands and held him there. “He didn’t have to help us; he barely knew us. He’s dead and I killed two people, William.”
“You had to, we both had to kill people, but it looks like we might be safe here, so let’s try and get squared away. There are two bedrooms, one was his and the other looks like it was for guests; there’s nothing inside of the closet or the dresser drawers. You take his and I’ll put Melissa’s stuff in the spare, okay?”
“Okay. Have you tried calling Mom and Dad?”
“Yeah, still no answer though.” He kissed the back of her head and walked away, leaving her to the task of cleaning her weapon.
In the living room he picked up Melissa’s suitcases and carried them to the spare bedroom and laid them on the bed. When he turned around, Melissa was standing there and immediately slipped into his arms, “You’re going to protect me right? You won’t let any of those people get to me?”
“No, I…”
Tammy stepped in behind her, “It’s not William’s job to carry your ass, so you better pull it together and fast.” Then she carried her duffel into Albert’s room and placed it on the bed.
“She hates me,” She whispered.
He started to say ‘no’, but he couldn’t remember ever hearing that tone in his sister’s voice, or that look on her face. Instead, he said nothing and left Melissa alone in the bedroom.
In Albert’s room he opened the door of the closet and started pushing clothes hanging inside around, searching.
Tammy asked, “What are you doing?”
“Albert said he had guns, I’m trying to find them.” Finally he stepped out of the closet and looked around the room. “I wonder where he kept them?”
Tammy glanced around also, “Where do people keep guns?”
“Well, remember when Dad was talking about buying a gun?”
“Remember he decided against it because we were required to have a gun safe and the one they wanted to sell him was more than the gun?”
“I guess he would have all of his guns in a gun safe somewhere, but it would have to be kind of big and I haven’t seen anything like that.”
“Albert seemed security minded, I mean he has bars on the windows and steel sheathed doors; my guess is it would be somewhere close to him, you know? So he could get them if he needed them?”
“Makes sense.” He looked around the room and then opened the drawer of the nightstand next to the bed. Inside were a collection of porno magazines and he quickly closed the drawer, “Nothing, but some magazines.”
Tammy flipped down the covers of the bed and then the pillows; under the right hand pillow was a pistol. “There’s one.”
It was large and bulky looking; she picked it up and examined it. It wasn’t just large and bulky looking, it was heavy and ugly. Turning the weapon on its side she read the printing on it, “Hi-Point Firearms, Model JHP, .45 ACP.” She looked at her brother, “Do you understand any of that?”
“Not really, but I think the .45 ACP is the bullet it uses.”
“I do.”
They looked to the door and found Melissa looking at them.
“I mean I know a little about handguns and stuff.”
“I thought you didn’t like guns?” Tammy asked as she held it out in front of her.
“You shouldn’t point a gun at anything, or anyone you don’t want to kill or destroy.”
Tammy looked down at the gun, “I don’t have my finger on the trigger.”
“Doesn’t matter, they’re dangerous and should never be pointed at someone unless you want to shoot them; could you point that somewhere else, please?”
“Do you know how to use it safely?” William asked.
“Let me see it.” Melissa held out her hand.
Tammy handed it to her and Melissa turned it over in her hands, “See this button? If you push it,” she did and the magazine fell out in her hand. “The magazine comes out so you can reload another mag.” She handed the magazine to William, “Let’s see if Albert kept one in the breech.” She pulled on the top of the pistol and it slid backwards as a cartridge flipped out onto the bed. “That’s why you don’t point guns at people. It was loaded and the safety was off.” She pointed to a lever on the side, “This is the safety, up the safety is on, down it’s off and can be fired.”
William turned the magazine over in his hand, “How many rounds does the clip hold?”
“It’s not a clip, it’s a magazine; they’re different. As to how many rounds it holds, I don’t know.” She took the magazine and started stripping the rounds out, when it was empty, “It had eight rounds in it and one in the breech, most likely loaded from the magazine, so probably nine.” She fed the rounds back into the magazine, “Yeah, it holds nine rounds.”
She slipped the magazine back into the grip and offered it back. Tammy shook her head, “You know how to use it, so you keep it until we find the other ones, and then you can teach us.”
Melissa turned it over in her hands, “My dad took me shooting every weekend until I hit sixteen and I started my rebellious stage. I told him guns were for cowards, but I guess maybe I was wrong.” She smiled faintly, “Was there a holster?”
“We didn’t see one.”
“Well, keep an eye out for one, okay?” She left the room as William and Tammy looked at each other.
Tammy commented, “That was weird.”
“Yeah, let’s see if we can find the others.”
They roamed the house looking everywhere they could think of, but the only things they found were a holster, two spare loaded magazines, a partial box of ammunition, and a set of pouches to hold the mags, these they gave to Melissa. Everything they found was in the chest of drawers in Albert’s bedroom. They finally ran out of places to look at one in the morning.
“William, the guns aren’t here, so let’s get some sleep and we’ll try to figure out something tomorrow.”
William nodded, “Yeah, the only place left to look is the garage, but I’m not going out while it’s dark.” They could hear things happening in the distance around them, gunshots, sirens, and even screams of terror.
Tammy went to the bedroom and William lay down on the couch with his naginata at his side. Even as tired as he was, he had a hard time sleeping, and then Melissa joined him on the couch saying the noise outside was scaring her; he didn’t get much sleep after she lay down next to him. When he woke the next morning there was a blanket over both his and Melissa’s naked bodies and Tammy was asleep in an easy chair a few feet away. He slipped out from under the blanket, grabbed his clothes and retired to the restroom where he showered and then dressed. When he returned to the living room Tammy was gone. Shit! He thought, did my sister see me naked again? He decided she must have returned to Albert’s bedroom while he showered.
William fixed a pot of coffee and waited until Tammy finally came in after her shower, “Hey, when you’re ready I want to check the garage, it seems kind of quiet outside right now, what do you think?”
Tammy rubbed her eyes, “I think you and Melissa should wear PJs from now on.”
“I didn’t know you were going to come in and I was really tired, or else I would have gotten dressed after… well, you know.”
“I know, but how about you guys do that stuff in private, okay? We can all sleep in the same room, but you need to do that somewhere else.”
“Garage, or not?”
“Yeah, but I want Melissa to be ready with the gun too.” She leaned back in her chair and looked into the living room, “She’s up, so as soon as she’s ready we’ll go.”
“Nope, just me with you two watching my back from the kitchen or the back porch so you can get back inside in a hurry.”
They sat in silence until Melissa came out, joined them at the table and they told her what they wanted to do.
“I don’t know, seems dangerous to me,” she said.
“How else are we going to check the garage?” William asked.
“Both of you are supposed to be really smart, but I wonder sometimes,” She reached over and picked up Albert’s key ring. “Doesn’t it seem odd Albert would have a remote for the old Honda he drove?” She pointed it at the garage and pushed a button on the remote; the garage door started running up.
“Shit!” William shook his head and Tammy laughed. From the bay window he could see the entire inside of the garage, except for a stack of plastic chairs, it was empty.
“Remember what he said,” Melissa asked. “At your apartment last night?”
“About what?” Tammy asked.
“About the guns, he said the way things were going he might be able to pull out some of the guns that were illegal in California. They’re here, but they’re hidden.”
“We’ve been all through the house,” William said. “We found nothing.”
“Did you check the attic?” She stomped on the floor and it sounded hollow. “Did you check under the floor?”
“This house is a lot like the one my mom and dad live in, but smaller. I used to crawl around under the house and in the attic when I was a kid.”
“Okay, let’s look for the access holes, but I want to catch the news first” Tammy said. She walked into the living room and turned on the TV, waited for it to warm up, and then searched for a broadcasting channel, finally she settled on Fox News, there was no broadcast per se, but there was a picture of the U.S. with red dots indicating reports of infection across the nation. There were a lot of red dots.
Another hour of searching produced no results of any consequence; they still didn’t know where Albert’s cache of weapons was located. Tammy was beginning to become frustrated, “We agreed to come here because Albert said he had guns, but where are they? Maybe we should have gone to Mom and Dad’s.”
“If he was concerned with them being stolen, or confiscated,” Melissa said. “He wouldn’t have them somewhere they would be found easily. If there is no access inside the house, then there must be one outside.”
William disagreed, “Look at the way he kept his home, everything is neat and tidy. I think it would indicate he liked things orderly and I feel like he would have gone about stashing his weapons in the same way. The weapons are here and I believe he would have hidden them somewhere he could access them from inside the house.”
Tammy stood up and checked the fridge, “Anyone hungry? He has lots of food in here and we might as well use it.” She pulled out bacon, eggs, and frozen hash brown patties. Melissa joined her and they began fixing breakfast.
William kept thinking, Albert was meticulous, you could tell that from the way the house was kept and the attention to detail. He wouldn’t put a secret stash somewhere someone else, a guest, might stumble across it, so it would be somewhere a guest wouldn’t spend much time. Where in your home do most guests spend the least time? Everyone would come and go from the kitchen and the bathroom; the living room would have the presence of most visitors. Not the guest room because there would be long periods a guest might be alone there, that left only the master bedroom. He returned to the bedroom and began to search through it again. After a while he simply stood in the center of the room and slowly turned around scanning the walls. Had Albert remodeled the walls and encased his weapons inside of them somewhere? No, it would require breaking out the walls in order to take the guns out and that would be messy. What about the closet, would he maybe encase the weapons inside of a closet wall?
He began removing all of Albert’s clothes from where they hung and then examined the room again. Other than a bank of shoe shelves on both sides of the closet there was nothing except the usual attention to detail he had seen in the rest of the house. Hell, he had even installed molding around the edges of the ceiling like the rest of the living quarters. William went to the closet in the guestroom and looked at the ceiling, no molding. Returning to the walk-in closet he started removing shoes from the shelves and checked the surfaces as he did; two of the shelves, one on each side, had been repainted. The shade of paint was close, but not quite the same. Using the shelves as steps, he reached up and pushed on the ceiling, it lifted easily and a ladder was revealed. Pulling on the ladder it swung down and then extended to the floor; he climbed up until his head rose above the ceiling.
Next to the lifted ceiling was an electrical switch, so he turned it on and was pleasantly surprised, there was an entire area that had been finished within the attic and on one small wall were two shotguns and two rifles resting on wall mounts. He found them. Crawling inside he found two wooden crates marked 5.45X39, several more large boxes of twelve gauge ammunition and a final wooden crate marked .45 ACP. Inside of an aluminum suitcase type box he discovered the second pistol, more spare magazines for the two pistols, twelve magazines for the rifles and some type of web pouches that looked like they would hold the rifle magazines. They were set!
Taking the suitcase, he climbed down and carried it into the kitchen. “I found them!” He said. He laid the equipment case on the table and opened it for them to see what was inside.
Tammy stayed at the stove while cooking the eggs, but Melissa came to look. “Good, there are more magazines for the pistols, bandoleers for the shotgun ammo, chest pouches, almost everything. Is there any gun oil? Solvent? Stuff like that?”
“There are some cans up there, but I didn’t notice what they were.”
“Melissa,” Tammy said. “Load up the magazines for the pistol and then we’ll eat. Afterwards we’ll bring down the rest of the guns and stuff.”

They located the owner’s manuals and Melissa spent the day going over the guns and showing Tammy and William how to oil and operate them. Then she used Albert’s computer to access the internet and gather all the information she could about the weapons they now had. In addition to the guns there were two military style duffel bags containing packages of freeze dried food, a small backpacker’s stove and a myriad of other small items.
That evening they discussed what to do next.
“Melissa,” William asked. “Where is your family?”
“Tucson, I wanted to go to the University there, but both of my parents went to Berkley and decided I had to go there too.”
Tammy shook her head, “It’s a long way to Tucson.”
“Not really, I used to drive it in eleven or twelve hours.”
“That was then, this is now,” William said. “You better come with us to Livermore and then we’ll decide what to do when we are there.”
“That’s going the wrong way for me.”
 “It’s not that much farther,” Tammy said. “And you don’t even have a car.”
“Shit, I always rented a car with my mom’s credit card.” She drummed her fingers on the table where they were sitting, “Wait! Albert’s car! I can take his!”
Tammy and William looked at each other, and then Tammy said, “I suppose so; it should get pretty good mileage and knowing what we know of Albert it’s probably in good shape.”
William spoke up, “Well yeah, but wouldn’t you rather come with me? I mean us?”
Tammy looked at Melissa and stood up, “I need to use the bathroom,” she said and walked away. When she returned William was looking out the front window and Melissa was still at the table.
“We’ll split the food three ways,” Tammy said. “Then get out of here. That’s assuming there is enough gas in Albert’s car for you to get out of the Frisco area. Once out of town you shouldn’t have trouble getting gas, I think.”
Melissa nodded, then looked at William’s back as she whispered, “I didn’t think he would become attached so fast.”
Tammy sighed, and then dumped the duffels of food on the floor and began splitting it up, when she was done she looked at the others, “Listen, we don’t have very far to go, just to Livermore, so you should take the rest of this stuff in case you need to camp along the road.”
Melissa nodded and Tammy finished separating the food packages. “William? Is it clear outside?”
“Not really, that’s why I closed the curtains most of the way. There are groups of people wandering around.”
“Infected?” She asked.
“Judging from the amount of blood on them, I’d say yes.”
“Okay, last night real late there didn’t seem to be as many, do you suppose that’s when they rest?”
“Everyone needs to rest sometime.” William continued to watch the street as he added, “Have you noticed how quick they move? They seem faster than normal people, almost like they’re on some kind of drug, or something.”
Tammy and Melissa joined him, “Some sort of natural function of the disease?” Melissa asked.
Tammy nodded, “Adrenaline maybe? Maybe their bodies are pumping out a lot of adrenaline; maybe that’s why they are so hungry and fast. If it is adrenaline, they’ll have to rest. Let’s wait until later and see if the streets clear out some. If they do, we’ll carry everything to the door and then make a dash for the cars.” Tammy looked at Melissa, “You should check the gas gauge before you completely load up; make sure you have enough to get out of town, you know?”
William left the window and sat back down at the table, “What about the guns? How are we going to split them up?”
Tammy and Melissa joined him at the table. “Melissa should have at least one of the pistols and half the magazines and ammo. What else Melissa, what do you want?”
“I used to shoot trap with my dad and I was always pretty good with a shotgun, so I’ll take one of the two and leave you guys the rest of the guns, okay?”
“Alright, let’s get ready and then we’ll wait until late tonight,” Tammy responded. “We can check the news channels and see if we can pick anything up before we leave.”
The news was disturbing; apparently they had missed an announcement by the Speaker of the house in which she stated she was taking over the reins of the government and the President was under arrest. There were no talking heads at Fox, just a news feed scrolling across the bottom of the screen depicting the red dots on the map of America. The map continued to turn red.
Several hours passed before William asked, “Melissa, where’s Tucson on the map?”
She walked to the TV and pointed to a red dot towards the bottom of the screen, “Right there.”
“You shouldn’t try to go there,” he said. “You should stay with us, come with us to Livermore.” His voice sounded hopeful.
She pointed to the West Coast where they were, it was almost solid red. “It looks better in Arizona than it does here.” Tammy shivered as she realized Livermore was well within the cluster of red dots around Frisco. “Maybe we should all try for Tucson instead?” Melissa asked.
William glanced at her and then looked away as Tammy said, “No, I think our best bet is Livermore if we can get to our parents’ house.”
“Okay, it’s settled then.” Melissa moved to the table and started pushing shotgun rounds into the loops of one of the bandoleers. William did the same and soon the bandoleers and magazines were full. Tammy and William fitted the chest rigs that held the magazines for the AKs, William put the .45 pistol and holster on his waist, and Tammy slung the spare shotgun bandoleer over her chest rig. When they were done, they waited longer and finally they made sandwiches to have then, and to take with them on the road.
At one in the morning, William checked the street again, “It looks clear now.”
They gathered at the door while William opened it, stepped out onto the porch, and then walked slowly to the street and their Explorer. Checking both ways as far as he could see by the streetlights he saw nothing and waved the girls out.
Tammy had the duffel with their share of the food and joined William as he opened the rear window; she threw the bag in back as he ran for the rest. Melissa had the hatch of the Civic open and was pushing in her suit cases as William stepped from the porch with his and his sister’s bags of clothing. So far, everything was progressing smoothly. William threw in their clothes and went back for the crates of ammo as Tammy passed him with one of her own. The last thing he did was close the front door, but he didn’t lock it, they might need to return and Albert’s house was defensible.
Tammy climbed into the driver’s seat and waited while William ran to Melissa, she was preparing to shut the rear hatch, “Did you check the gas level?”
“It has three quarters of a tank; I should be good for quite a ways,” then abruptly, “Bye.” And she turned away, not even a hug.
Tammy called, “William! Come on!”
He turned his back to Melissa and started for the Explorer when Tammy shouted loudly, “Behind you!”
As he turned Melissa’s shrill scream penetrated the night and he ran back several steps before he pulled the pistol from its holster and tried to aim past Melissa’s face at the infected woman who was trying to bite her neck, but Melissa was struggling violently and there wasn’t a clear shot. Looking past the struggling women he saw more movement down the street, finally, he squeezed the trigger twice. Melissa was pulled backwards still in the grasp of the woman and they both lay still in the shadows beneath a tree.
“Melissa! Get up and get in the car!” She didn’t respond though, she continued to lie there on top of the dead woman. Grabbing her wrist he pulled her upwards, “Melissa! Get up damn it!” She was limp as he pulled and her head hung loosely as she slid out of the shadows and into the light of a street lamp, there was a neat hole over her right eye seeping fluid to the sidewalk.
He dropped her hand and watched as it flopped to the concrete she laid upon, “Melissa?”
Tammy was suddenly beside him removing Melissa’s gun belt, and then grabbing things from the back of the Civic, “William! Help me get this stuff! There are more of them coming!”
He grabbed the duffel from his sister as she took the shotgun and bandoleer from where Melissa had dropped them. “Go William! GO!”
They ran to the car, threw in Melissa’s gear, and then they plowed into the car and shut the doors. Tammy started the Explorer and punched the accelerator as they sped down the street. “William, are you okay? William?”
Slowly, he turned his head and looked at her, there were tears streaming down his cheeks. “I, I shot her, I shot Melissa!”
She reached over and squeezed his leg, “It was an accident, you didn’t mean too. They were struggling and you shot her by accident; it’s not your fault.”
“Then whose fault is it? I pulled the trigger.”

Three days, it took three days to get to Livermore. Everywhere there were abandoned cars, trucks, buses, and motorhomes jamming the streets. In the end, the only things they accomplished were the burying of their father, who they found in the front yard, and then the burying of their mother after William shot her in the house. He didn’t speak for weeks on end and Tammy made sure he was never alone or far away from her. William didn’t seem to mind the fact she hovered around him all the time, he just put one foot in front of the other and continued to…where? Who knew, but Placerville was said to be winning the fight against the infected, maybe they would go there.

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