She stood in front of the mirror that spanned the wall and finished touching up her make-up. Studying the results she shook her head, “Why do they give you tips?” She asked of her reflection. “You’re too slim, you’re lips are too thin, your nose is too narrow, and your eyes are too wide apart.”
The door to the dressing room opened and closed, “Talking to yourself?” Cara walked in wearing only the bottoms of a g string bikini, the top in her left hand while the right held a wad of bills. Cara was pretty, voluptuous, and the men who visited The Fox Hunt really appreciated her. Now, after a twenty minute set she was covered with a sheen of perspiration that seemed to accent her sexuality.
“I wish I looked like you, you know?” Catherine reached behind her and checked once again to assure the bikini top she wore would unsnap with one hand, and then refastened it again.
“Nonsense Sugar, you get just as many tips as I do and I wish I had those cute little perky tits you have.” Grabbing a towel, Cara began to wipe herself down, “Two tables asked if you were next, so make sure you work the tables after your routine.”
“Okay, thanks Cara.”
“Don’t mention it.” She watched as Catherine lifted her hands and saw them tremble. “Still get the shakes, huh?”
“Yeah, God I’ve been doing this for five months and I still get them.”
“Eventually you’ll get used to it, but I’d rather you were somewhere else. Are you still putting in job applications?”
“Yeah,” why was she lying? “But who can live off of fast food wages.” It was hard to admit she struggled when it came to job applications; she had been dyslexic all her twenty-two years and had trouble reading and understanding the questions she needed to answer on the forms. She always did well when she could interview in person, but her lack of formal education was always a problem. Quitting school after failing ninth grade didn’t look very well on a resume.
“Don’t worry, something is coming your way, I can feel it.” The lights in the room blinked off and on, “You’re up Cathy, make them pant!”
She smiled and exited the dressing room as her entrance music began to thump in the background, stopping in the curtained alcove before the side of the stage she took several deep breaths and shook her trembling hands.
“Gentlemen! Give it up for Annie, the Montana Vixen!” The applause began and she pushed her way through the curtain, adopted a sensual walk up the steps, and began her routine that would eventually end up with her half naked for the last two numbers. Twenty minutes of looking just over the heads of the patrons and smiling in a manner to encourage the desires of the audience, to make them want her and fantasize about her. Most of the patrons were gentlemen, but there was always the few who thought the dancers could be bought, or even had for free, after-all, would a decent woman take off her clothes in front of a roomful of men?
When her set was done she meandered through the tables, collected her tips and for once no one propositioned her, no one offered her a ride home and she quickly retired to the dressing room. Amanda was standing before the mirror as Catherine had before, touching up her make up in preparation for her turn on the stage.
“There’s a good crowd but it’s kind of quiet out there tonight.” Catherine mentioned.
“Yeah, some of the regulars were talking about a lot of shit happening outside.”
Doing the same as Cara before her she picked up a towel and started wiping down her damp body. “What do you mean?”
“There’s a lot of police activity and one of the guys said he heard gunshots twice while he was on the way here.” Amanda looked nervous.
“It’s probably just the gangbangers shooting at each other.” Catherine commented as she slipped into the top of her bikini.
“Maybe, but my roommate, you know the teacher, she said one of the kids in her class got sick at school and when she took him to the nurse’s office he went into a coma for a while after they called for an ambulance. Then all of a sudden he sat up and bit the shit out of the school nurse. It took four people to hold the boy down until the paramedics arrived.”
“He bit her?”
“Yeah, but the weird thing was once the paramedics got him strapped down they told her she had to go to the hospital too.”
“God, how bad was she bitten?”
“Not that bad and when she said she would be all right the police that came said she didn’t have a choice, she had to go. My roommate said they handcuffed her and put her in the back of their car.” Amanda’s eyes were wide as she related the story.
The lights flashed, “You better get going Amanda.”
She started for the door, but turned around, “Cathy, what if all the shooting is tied to that boy somehow, what if people are going crazy if they get bit?”
“Amanda, don’t be silly, why would people go crazy because they got bit? You know the police probably took the nurse because it involved a minor and she’s probably home right now.”
“Well, okay. See you outside.”
“You bet.” Catherine finished drying off, checked her makeup, strolled to the curtain and after waiting until she was sure Amanda had the audience’s attention, she slipped out, grabbed a tray from the bar and began to canvass the tables taking orders and receiving tips for the drinks she brought. Including herself there were three dancers, so each girl was doing a twenty minute set each hour and by midnight the tables were beginning to clear.
Marty, the announcer, and bartender, motioned Cara to the bar and they spoke quickly before she stepped behind the counter, he grabbed his coat and left out the side door to the employee’s parking lot. Cara waved to Amanda and Catherine to join her.
“Listen guys, Marty has a medical emergency and had to leave. He told…”
Amanda leaned forward, “What happened?”
“Marty’s wife had some sort of altercation with their neighbor and she was taken to the hospital in Upland. The hospital called Marty and told him to get down there right away, so we’re on our own until closing time.”
Catherine looked back to the tables and the last group of patrons were standing and preparing to leave. “Doesn’t look like it’s going to be a problem, we probably would have been going home early anyway.”
“Well,” Cara muttered, “Marty said he’d be back before closing to lock up and then we could take off. In the meantime we need to stay because company policy means none of us know the security codes to set the alarms.”
“Aw shit,” Amanda exclaimed.
“Well,” Catherine commented, “If these guys clear out I guess we could clean the place up until Marty gets back.” Catherine wasn’t looking forward to hanging around doing nothing for two hours; it had boring written all over it.
Cara laughed and shook her head, “No way Darling, the cleanup crew won’t have anything to do when they come in, but they’ll still get paid whereas we won’t. I’m not working for free.”
The last three customers waved as they left out the front door, “Good night, Ladies.”
Cara waved in return, “You guys drive safe, you hear?” They waved again and left, closing the door behind them.
“Okay, we wait until they drive away, we lock the door, turn off the outside lights, and then we have a few beers on the house.” Cara grabbed three cold glasses, “You with me?”
Amanda giggled, “Okay.”
Catherine shook her head, “Naw, I’ll hang around with you until Marty gets back but I’ll have a diet Coke.”
Cara looked at her, “You don’t drink at all do you?”
Catherine shook her head, “Nope, I do stupid crap when I drink.”
“Cathy! That’s the whole point, you get drunk and you have an excuse to do stupid shit!”
Laughing, Catherine said, “Pour me a diet Coke and I’ll check out front to see if those guys are gone.” She walked to the door and stepped outside to glance over the parking lot as the last car was driving away west on Foothill Boulevard, strangely, there was a man running after the car, but he slowed and turned off towards a large strip mall where a delivery truck was coming to a stop next to a 24 hour convenience store. The early spring night had a bit of a sting in it and goose bumps were springing up all over her so she stepped inside, but stopped and listened for a moment thinking she heard a shout of…maybe pain? She heard police or fire sirens and there was a hint of wood smoke on the air, then a long stream of what she recognized as gunshots before it became quiet again. When she heard nothing else she closed the door and turned the handle of the dead bolt locking it. Shutting off the parking lot lights, she left the lights in the employee parking on for Marty when he returned.
Returning to the dressing room she slipped out of her bikini and dressed in the clothes she felt the most comfortable in, the ones she had brought from Montana when she moved to California six months before. Underwear, snug blue jeans and a thermal shirt, followed by a plaid shirt and lace up boots; she carried her denim jacket out and laid it on the bar. They were the clothes she often wore when she worked around her father’s cattle ranch outside of a small town named Acton.
She sipped on the coke as Cara and Amanda nursed beers until one AM showed on the clock. “I’m getting a little worried about Marty,” She said. “I’m going to call the hospital and see if I can get some information.”
Cara nodded in agreement, “I hope everything is okay, but I’m getting tired, this beer is putting me to sleep.” Amanda already had her head resting on her folded arms.
Catherine pulled out the phone book and finding the hospital called the emergency room, but all she got was a busy signal. After dialing four more times she pushed the phone away. “There’s no answer.”
“Yeah, all I got was a busy signal.”
“Crap!” Cara pushed her glass of beer away. “Man, I’m serious; I’m having a hard time staying awake.”
“Cara, there’s no sense in all of us staying here, why don’t you guys take off and I’ll wait for Marty?”
Cara yawned, “Are you sure? We can stay a while if you want.”
“No, you guys get out of here and I’ll wait around. Go on, get.”
Cara stood and gave Amanda a gentle shake, “Come on Amy, we’re leaving.” The two dancers returned to the dressing room and came out clothed for the drive home.
“Bye Cathy,” Cara called as she and Amanda walked out the employee’s entrance.
Catherine waved and started wiping down the bar and then mopping the floor. By three AM Marty still had not returned and the janitorial crew had not arrived either. Listening to the radio Catherine tired of the loop of music that had been playing and began roving through the channels looking for something else to listen to. Her attention was caught by the voice of an excited announcer and she paused her channel surf to listen.
“…that report straight from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. We have a report from the Upland Police Department advising people to stay in their homes and avoid all travel until further notice. It is also recommended to secure your home against intruders and to be prepared to defend yourself from rioters. What the hell is going on out there people? It’s like I’ve always said…”
Indeed, what was going on out there? She poured some peanuts into a dish and began to crack them open and eat them as the announcer continued.
“…gangbanger revolution? Why has the government allowed all these foreign gangs to terrorize our country? They come here illegally and then become criminals that rape and plunder our cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Maybe it’s time for the average Joe Blow to stand up and be counted; what do you say, are we just going to sit here and…”
The employees’ entrance door opened and Catherine jumped from her stool with her heart racing, but she could tell from the silhouette it was Marty who closed the door and walked into the bar.
“Shit Marty! You scared the crap out of me!”
He didn’t reply, he just poured himself half a glass of draft and pulled a bottle from his jacket. Upending the bottle he filled the glass of beer the rest of the way with 151 proof rum before downing half the glass. Catherine became wary; Marty was a recovering alcoholic who hadn’t drank in years.
“Marty? How’s your wife?”
“Why are you here? I told Cara to keep an eye on the place.”
“You know she has to get up early with her kids to get them off to school, it made more sense for me to stay.”
He emptied the class and poured another half beer, half rum. “I’ve got other things on my mind.” At the rate he was putting the alcohol away he wouldn’t have much on his mind for long.
“Marty, what’s wrong, is your wife okay?” Catherine had never seen Marty touch a drink before.
“She’s dead, Cathy.”
“Oh, Marty! What happened?” She stepped next to him and rested her hand on his shoulder. “Marty?”
“Our next door neighbor killed her Cathy, old lady Henderson. She bit Jean in the throat and tore out her artery.” He looked up at her, “No one knows why, she just bit her and then chased one of the guys down the street, I guess the cops are still looking for her.”
Another bite, what was happening out there? “I’ve been listening to the radio and…”
“Go home Cathy.” He was pouring another glass.
“Marty, you need to stop that, how are you going to drive home?”
“There’s nothing to go home to. Go on; get out of here before it gets any later.”
She had been hoping that Marty would drive her and her bike home after he closed up, but that wasn’t going to happen now. “Listen, why don’t I drive you to my place and you can crash in my spare room; you shouldn’t be alone right now.”
He shook his head and then, “Go on, get out of here and leave me alone!”
She had never heard Marty shout before and recoiled from him. “Okay, I’ll call tomorrow, alright?”
He waved his hand as she walked around the bar instead of behind him. Gathering her jacket and her bicycle from a storage room next to the exit, she threw open the door and stepped into the cold, foggy darkness. Withdrawing a watch cap from a pocket, and a pair of gloves from another, she put them on, and then stepped through the frame of the bike and pushed off towards her apartment up Foothill Boulevard.
On a light traffic night she could easily make the trip to her apartment in half an hour while riding beneath the street lights along the road, tonight she started slow and tried to keep a watch around her as she rode. She was scared and almost returned to the bar, but with the way Marty was putting away the alcohol she pressed on instead. In the distance around her she could hear gunshots and sometimes she could hear screams and sirens; she pedaled on checking the shadows and dark corners for someone hiding in wait for her. Sometimes she wanted to stop and just freeze somewhere hidden until the sun came up, but she was too scared to stop as well.
Two blocks from her apartment complex a police car with red and blue lights flashing raced onto Foothill and started to pass her, but the driver slammed on his brakes and slowed to her side.
“Hey kid!” The policeman shouted before he realized she was a woman, “Sorry Ma’am, what are you doing out here, don’t you know there is a curfew right now?”
“I know, but I was at work and it’s only a couple of…”
Inside the patrol car, the cop’s partner said something, and then the cop said, “If we weren’t so busy I’d stop and write you up. Get off the street and don’t approach anyone that’s running, don’t try to talk…aw hell, stay away from everyone and get your ass home, now!”
“Listen, could you guys…” The black and white raced away before she could finish, “…give me a lift?”
She looked around her quickly and saw several people behind her jogging in her direction. She pushed off and began building speed with the bicycle as she looked back. The people were now running after her; she whimpered and struggled to get the bike to top speed down the wide road. Every time she looked back the runners were farther behind until finally when she looked they were no longer in sight. She steered the bike towards the center median and tried to watch everything as she attempted to maintain the speed she was traveling. Soon she could see the familiar shape of her complex and tried to pedal faster.
Racing up the driveway she braked hard at the steel security gate of the building; dropping the bike she removed her gloves and dug into her pockets for the entrance key before inserting and twisting the lock open. Pushing the door open she lifted her bike to its wheels and propelled it into the corner while she closed the steel gate behind her. She stood there for a moment gasping for breath as she rested her hands on her bent knees looking at the indoor/outdoor carpet under her feet.
She finally pushed herself to a upright position just as a man suddenly slammed into the gate with a resounding crash; tripping over the rear wheel of the bike she fell into the shadows beneath the stairs. Drawing herself into a ball against the wall and frozen with abject fear, she watched him as he struggled with the metal gate, jerking it back and forth while his eyes searched the darkness she hid within. After a few moments he stopped jerking on the gate and listened to a distant scream before suddenly racing away in the scream’s direction.
Catherine squeezed her eyes closed and sat beneath the stairs shaking as she pictured the man in her mind. He had been barefoot and bare chested though he was wearing what appeared to be the bottoms of pajamas. His right hand had been missing the two smallest fingers and there appeared to be several bite marks on his arms. God what was happening? She finally calmed her breathing and standing, picked up the bicycle before carrying it up the stairs to her apartment where she unlocked the door and quickly pushed the bike in while securing the door behind her. Walking to her couch she removed her denim jacket and left it on the arm as she sat down heavily. For a moment she thought about calling her parents, but this was the reason she had left home and come to Upland. She needed to prove to her family, to her older sisters, that she could take care of herself without running to mom and dad when things didn’t go her way, no, she wouldn’t call, but she cried to herself as she tried to sleep.
It was late in the morning when she groggily sat up on the couch having been unable to sleep. God, she felt awful, the couch had never been intended to be slept on and she should have gone to bed. Everything in her apartment were hand-me-downs she had either found free in the classifieds, or were given to her by people she had come to know through work. It’s hard to move the full length of the nation to a new start and bring all of her possessions with her without a truck, or a car. A driver’s license was out of the question though; with her dyslexia it was difficult to study the handbook from the Department of Motor Vehicles and she refused to try and learn it by having it read to her, maybe someday, but not now.
Stumbling into the kitchen she put on a pot of coffee to perk before she headed to the bathroom where she undressed and started to run a bath, maybe it would help her to relax and sleep later, for now she wanted to be clean and she had things she needed to do. When she was through Catherine dried and wrapped her hair in a towel before putting on a robe and pouring herself a cup of coffee in the kitchen. In the living room she pulled the drapes and looked out onto Foothill Boulevard.
It seemed odd to see no traffic, early in the mornings when she normally rode her bike home from The Fox Hunt there was always little traffic, but she had never seen the streets so empty during the day. It was creepy and finally she closed the curtains and made herself some eggs and toast for breakfast. Sitting at the table with mismatching chairs she slowly ate and thought about what she should do. She didn’t have a lot of food in the apartment, but there were two major grocery stores on opposing corners of Mountain Avenue and Foothill; it was one of the reasons she had chosen these apartments to live in. She could walk to them easily and she had a duffel bag she normally carried things home in, so that wasn’t a problem, but was it okay to go out?
She turned on the radio, but was surprised by how quiet the airways were. Normally, as you scrolled through the channels you would hear Chinese, or Korean, a lot of Spanish and of course the English channels, there were programs running, but most were automated with loops of music playing all day. She finally found a talk program and listened to some of the people who were calling and was shocked when she heard the word zombie thrown around. Zombies? That was too crazy, surely no one believed that. She thought of the man at the gate the night before and closed her eyes as she envisioned him, yeah he was breathing, heavily as if he had been running a long time. Zombies are dead and don’t breath. She turned the channel to another program and listened to a news report advising people to stay home with their house secured and surprisingly, they were advising the use of guns to protect your life.
Catherine immediately went to her bedroom and removed her pistol from the bed stand drawer. Flipping open the cylinder of the Smith and Wesson revolver, she checked it was loaded and then dug through her closet to find her lever action rifle, and then the bandoleer and holster for the pistol and rifle. They both fired the same round, .357 Magnum, and she was very confident of her abilities with either weapon. She suddenly felt better with the guns handy and set about dressing, maybe she could take the chance of going to one of the stores if she carried the pistol and some reloads in her purse. She began to get ready for the trip to the market.
It was nearing noon when she finished preparing for the trip to the store, with the cash from the previous night’s tips and her empty duffel bag hanging from one shoulder she stepped to her front door and put her hand on the knob, but she didn’t turn it, in fact she checked the deadbolt and returned to the couch where she sat. The authorities wanted everyone to stay home, okay; she would abide by the decree and stay safe instead of pressing her luck. Shit, who was she trying to fool; she had chickened out plain and simple.
Maybe if she had a partner to watch her back she might be braver, but she worked nights and weekends and everyone else in the apartments worked days. She’d seen the guy next door once, but had quickly ducked back in her door to avoid meeting him. She didn’t know why she had avoided him for sure, he was attractive even if he wasn’t very tall and she had never heard him make any loud noises from his apartment. He had clean shoulder length auburn hair he normally kept in a ponytail, and he was nicely muscled, maybe she was afraid he would just give her one of those passing smiles people use, I see you, now I’m going to forget you.
She removed the revolver from her purse and checked for the god knows time to make sure it was loaded and slid it into its holster. The rifle she leaned against the wall next to the sliders to the balcony, but then grabbed it back, what if someone came through the balcony slider? She looked quickly around the room and finally laid it on the table where she could reach it in a hurry from anywhere in the room with a minimum of steps. God she thought, I’m getting paranoid.
It was at that moment she heard, maybe she felt, the sound of feet running up the stairs and down the hall, stopping close to her door. She swept the rifle from the table and worked the lever injecting a round into the breach while she aligned the muzzle with her front door. Within moments she heard/felt the steps running away. Had one of the …what? Zombies? Had one of the zombies gotten inside somehow? No, they would need a key, but what if someone was bitten and came home before they became violent? After a few moments of silence she began to relax, but her hands were trembling as she lay the rifle back on the table.
She suddenly didn’t care what her sisters might think; she grabbed the phone and started to dial her parents’ number in Montana before she realized there was no dial tone. It was that moment she suddenly realized how alone and vulnerable she truly was. She sat on the couch and drew her knees tight to her chest and pressed her forehead to her knees as she sobbed.
A few minutes later she heard the footsteps again at her door, and squeezed her arms tightly around her knees until she heard the sound of a door closing, it must be her next door neighbor home from where ever he had been. Was he alright? Had he been bitten? She wondered if she should knock on his door and introduce herself, maybe if she was with someone she would feel safer, but she didn’t know him, what if he wasn’t very nice? What if he was a criminal, or a drug user, or a rapist, or a serial killer, or…she frightened herself into inaction and started slowly rocking side to side, imagining her mother’s gentle hand stroking her hair.
Eventually she tried to sleep again, but every gunshot she heard made her jump and finally she rose from the couch and washed the small frying pan and dishes from breakfast, then drank more coffee. Deciding to try and keep busy, she began to look at how much food she had in the kitchen; how long could she stay in the apartment before she would be forced to go outside and go to the market. If she could wait long enough, maybe the police would get a handle on the violence and restore a semblance of order. They would have to eventually, right?
God, if only she were home, mom had tons of food in the basement because she canned everything each year and the stockpile had always grown larger because the ranch produced more every year than they used. Dad was big, brave, and strong even though he was much older now. They had good neighbors in Montana even if it was a long way to go visit, and she knew everyone in church. Here, she knew the older lady next door was unmarried and a teacher; she knew the man from the other side of her was good looking and quiet, but that was the extent of the knowledge she possessed about anyone around her. Back home there were miles between people and everyone knew everyone and their business, one of the reasons she had left Montana; here your neighbor was a mere few steps away and no one knew anyone. She wished she had taken the time and gotten to know everyone, at least the ones on her floor, but eventually they would have found out who she was and what she did for a living. They would have been disappointed in her and thought things about her that weren’t true. No, it was better they didn’t know.
When the sun began to set she turned off the lights and opened the drapes part way so she could see what was happening outside. The streets were still mostly empty, though occasionally a car would race by, and she could see people in twos and threes wandering around who looked strange. Many of them had serious wounds they seemed to ignore and they all looked deranged, even evil in the way they acted. She wanted to go outside and have a cigarette, but she had seen one person across the street step out onto their balcony and a lot of the crazy people noticed and ran to the area below the balcony, no, she would wait until dark and have a smoke on the balcony then.
When she felt it was dark enough she slipped her pistol into the back of her jeans, grabbed a cigarette, lit it, and then stepped outside on the balcony and kneeled down so only her head could be seen, when she took a drag from the cigarette she would bend down out of sight before rising back up to release the smoke slowly, enjoying the release from the desire for the nicotine. On one of the hunting trips she had gone on with her father and his friends, she had noticed how bright it was when you struck a match, or lighter, and even how noticeable it was at night when someone was smoking, so she was careful not draw on the cigarette while she had her head up.
The night was filled with sound, gunshots and screams, both near and far, but one thing she noticed, there were no longer any sirens. Were the police not using them anymore? Maybe with no traffic it wasn’t necessary to run the sirens as they raced from one point to another? The lack of the comforting sound disturbed her deeply, were there still police trying to stop the violence? Finishing the cigarette she prepared to go back inside, but the air was so cool and fresh, even if there was a hint of smoke in the air; she decided to stay outside a little longer.
A sound from the next balcony caught her attention and she sat down on the deck to be less noticeable as her neighbor, the good looking guy, slipped out and unfolded a camp chair, which he quickly sat down on. He leaned over to hide it, but there was a sudden flash of light as he lit a cigarette, the light from the lighter briefly illuminated the entire balcony. Should she warn him?
She worked up her courage and said, “That’s probably not a good idea.” The whispered statement startled him and he jumped in his chair. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s alright,” he said. “I just had a bad day and last night was worse. I didn’t know your apartment was occupied. You move in recently?” He had a nice voice.
“Six months ago.” She responded. “You work days and I work nights, probably why we’ve never run into each other.”
He reached down and snubbed out the cigarette, “You’re probably right, nasty habit anyway.”
“Yeah, I keep saying I’m going to quit but, I don’t know, it’s so relaxing sometimes.” They were both quiet as they heard a spate of gunfire somewhere to the south of them. “My name’s Catherine Bodine.”
“Hi Catherine, Michael Moore.”
“Hi Mike.” They were quiet through another round of shots, followed by a woman’s scream from the same area of the previous shots. Her hands began to tremble.
“Could I come over there? You don’t know me, or anything, but I...all the shooting…the screams. It’s just…”
“Of course, I could use some company myself.”
“It’ll take me a minute, but I’ll be there.”
“I’ll wait at the door for you.”
“Thanks.” She slipped through the open slider, closed it behind her and then locked it. Stumbling around in the dark, she located the lamp next to the couch, turned it on and then headed for the door, but stopped, should she take her pistol? She reached behind her and drew it from her waist band. So many people in California seemed to be anti-gun, what if she walked in with it and it made him uncomfortable, or even angry? She returned to the table and pushed the pistol into its holster and secured the restraining strap before returning to the door and unlocking it. Turning the knob, she slowly opened the door and glanced down both ways of the hall before stepping out and closing the door. He was waiting in his doorway and gave her a tentative smile as she quickly walked through and he closed the door and locked it behind her.
She was instantly hit with doubts about what she was doing; he was wearing a semi-automatic pistol in a holster on his hip, but she went to his table and sat down as he joined her. She hoped her insecurity wasn’t showing on her face.
“Can I get you something?” He asked.
“Do you have soda with caffeine in it, or coffee?”
“Cola?” She nodded and he picked out a clean glass, filled it with ice from the freezer, grabbed a cola from the refrigerator and then placed them on the table in front of her. She smiled, poured the drink and sucked off the foam before it spilled onto the tabletop. He began to look her over, as if he was committing her to memory; finally he blinked and met her eyes.
Looking at him with a faint smile she said, “Are you done?”
“You’ve been sitting there giving me the once over. Trying to figure me out?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize...”
“It’s alright; guys do it all the time to every woman they meet. A lot of guys do it in a disrespectful manner, but I think you’re just curious.”
Catherine sat there in uncomfortable silence. The seconds stretched into minutes with him staring at the surface of the table, her sipping the cola. He reached over to the kitchen counter and grabbed a pack cigarettes and lighter, lit one and placed it in a clean ashtray between them.
“I usually don’t smoke in the apartment,” he said.
“Me either,” She reached for it, and took a long drag before leaving it in the ashtray for him. “Thanks.” She told him about her trip home from work and the things she had seen; he told her about his trip home from the college he attended part-time, and she was stunned to hear his story. He had been forced to kill people the night before in order to survive and he had helped people to escape from the school even though some had been killed on the way. The scariest part was when he described how the people infected with the sickness that made them violent were also eating their victims. Catherine swallowed back bile and was glad she hadn’t eaten much during the day.
In the distance Catherine heard a vehicle accelerating down Foothill coming their way, then a sudden squealing of the tires and a deafening crash that lasted seconds, but sounded forever. They both jumped in their seats before they ran to the slider and peeked out, a pick-up truck was resting on its side, the roof crumpled, but the windows intact. They could hear a recurring thumping noise and Catherine realized someone was trying to kick out a window, or door to escape. Three people were running beneath one of the streetlights towards the truck and from down Foothill several more were running towards the sound of the thumping. The infected were converging on the accident.
Mike grabbed a Ruger 10/22 rifle from where it leaned against the wall, she recognized it because her father owned one and she had shot it many times in the past. He ran to the kitchen and switched off the light, returned to the slider and removed a piece of wood blocking the door from opening. He opened the door just enough to stick the barrel of the rifle through and aimed; Catherine went to the opposite end of the drapes and peeked out. The first three had already arrived and were beating and kicking at the front windshield trying to gain entrance to the person inside. Mike pulled the trigger; the .22 popped and one of the infected dropped in mid-kick at the windshield. He fired again and another dropped. The third, a woman, turned and looked in their direction as Mike fired, but he missed, he pulled the trigger again and she fell. Three more arrived and began climbing over the truck. Mike fired, but missed; fired again and the man fell. Another shot and another woman fell, but the last man succeeded at kicking in the rear window and reaching inside grabbed someone and started dragging them screaming out of the cab of the truck. Mike fired again, the man dropped and the person being pulled out turned and reaching back into the truck pulled out a small bundle that she held to her chest. Catherine could hear the faint cries of an infant. Oh God.
Mike threw the slider all the way open and ran out onto the balcony, “Here! Run here!”
The woman looked in Mike’s direction, but Catherine couldn’t tell if the she saw him on the darkened balcony. From both directions on Foothill she could see groups of people running towards the accident and she realized Mike was not going to be able to stop all of the crazy people coming for the woman and child; she raced to the door of his apartment, opened it and unlocked her own. Once inside of her apartment she put on her holster and bandoleer and snatching her rifle from the table she ran back to the balcony with Mike.
When she arrived Mike was just raising his rifle and firing off a shot into the crowd, Catherine raised her lever action and fired a shot into the chest of one of the crazies before Mike shouted, “Aim for the head, it’s the only way to drop them for sure.”
She fired again and missed, fired again and one dropped. Looking down quickly, she could see a man who hadn’t been there before when she left for her weapons. He had a pistol held out before him and was firing into the crowd as the woman stepped up and helped support him, he must have been injured in the accident.
“Oh God”, she cried.
There were too many, coming too fast for Catherine and Mike to stop them all. The mob of infected boiled over the small family and they were lost from view. They both emptied their rifles into as many heads as they could. Then Michael grabbed Catherine and pushed her inside out of view of the infected. He closed the slider, locked it, and dropped the wooden dowel back into place.
Catherine sat on the floor cross legged and laying the lever action across her thighs began to reload it from the rounds in her leather bandoleer. “You better close the front door and lock it,” she said in a monotone. “I was kind of in a hurry when I went for my rifle”
A few moments later he sat beside her and removed the empty magazine from his rifle and began to reload it. Neither of them said anything, they just quietly reloaded their weapons. When they finished they set the rifles next to them and continued sitting on the floor in silence. Every time they heard a shot somewhere they flinched, when they heard the faint screams Catherine clinched her fists and squeezed her eyes shut until they stopped. Mike finally rose, went to the kitchen cabinets and started looking through them for something, finding some large candles in glass containers; he lit two and set them on the table. Then he pulled lunch meat from the fridge, bread, condiments, lettuce and tomatoes, onions, sliced Swiss cheese and a bag of potato chips; all went on the table with the candles.
Catherine rose numbly from the floor and went to the table and sat down where she began to clear a space in front of her and when Mike turned back to the table with a cutting board and knife she said, “Give those to me.”
He did and she began slicing the tomatoes.
“Milk, or cola again?”
“I’m lactose intolerant, so I’ll have to pass on the milk and cheese.”
“Sucks to be you.” He fetched another cola and a milk carton from the fridge.
“Are you from Southern California?” She finished the tomatoes and started on the onion.
“Born and raised,” he said. “What about you?”
What are we doing she thought, we just killed I don’t know how many people and we saw a family butchered before our eyes, now we’re having small talk? “Acton, Montana, it’s a little ways outside Billings. My folks have a cattle ranch about fifteen miles outside of there. I wish I were home right now. I’d be safe, and I miss my sisters, and I miss my mom and dad.” She stopped and shook her head. She’d almost lost it and when she looked at him his expression was begging her not to.
“You said you worked nights, what do you do?”
“Waitress, bartender, entertainment; sort of an up-scale beer bar, know what I mean?”
“Not really, I’ve never been much of a bar person.”
“Me either, but the tips are good and it pays the bills.” She started shredding the lettuce. “What about you?”
“I work construction for the most part, custom homes and sometimes a little commercial remodel.”
“Union? I hear they make really good money.”
“No, I do a little bit of everything.”
“My dad thinks union workers are overpaid and under-worked.”
“I think I have to disagree. Union guys are well-trained and knowledgeable; if you want it done right the first time, go union. They specialize in their fields.”
She frowned at him, “If union guys are so great, why didn’t you join a union?”
“Specialization is for insects.”
She snorted, “You sound like my dad.”
“Is that a compliment?”
She smiled, “Yeah, it is.”
She started to make him a sandwich, but he was making his own so she made hers instead. Catherine was able to choke down half of it before she put it down and covered her face with her hands and said, “The baby, the baby.”
He stood up and then kneeled on one knee next to her as he wrapped her shoulders with his arms. “It’s okay to cry.”
She shook her head, “No, I have to be strong.”
“Later,” He whispered as he pulled her head to his shoulder. “When it’s my turn to cry.”