Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Dead: Winter by Todd Brown
“Jon says that two of the camps haven’t had any signs of activity in at least the past three days.”
“You trying to get me back under your knife, Francis?” I quipped.
“What on earth are you talking about?” the doctor asked flatly, trying to ignore my use of her first name. What is it about doctors and the whole thing where they insist you refer to them by title?
“I was trying to dredge out some of the crap in this trench from the last burning.” I indicated to the gaping chasm I was standing on the edge of with a giant claw-like device that Ian had fashioned to fish out the bones and such that build up when a few hundred of them get torched.
“You scared the crap out of me and almost made me fall in.”
“Then you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings and should consider yourself lucky that it was just an elderly doctor who managed to surprise you.” She had a good point. I had, in fact, been daydreaming. It had only been three weeks since Melissa and I were married, but it had been three of the happiest in my life. Funny. Here I am, trying to stay alive when the world was being overrun by the walking dead, and I’ve never been so happy. How miserable was my previous life?
“When did Jon get back?” I asked, deciding that this conversation with Dr. Zahn needed to change course.
“He and Sunshine just set their packs on the porch and are in the examination room waiting for my check up.” It was a standing rule: if you go out on a mission, you get inspected for bites or scratches first thing. Even though we now knew that the disease that turned you into a zombie wasn’t a hundred percent lock if you were “nipped or clipped” as Jon liked to say, you still got checked out upon arrival.
“But no newcomers?” I had to ask. Dr. Zahn was the type who only revealed things under direct questioning. I think it has something to do with her being a military doctor for so long.
“No.” She looked as if she were about to say something, then stopped.
“But…?” I tried to lead her.
“It’s just that Jon seems distracted and Sunshine seems antsy about something.”
“I’ll see what’s up,” I sighed. “Just let me pull out these last few pieces.” I looked down into the pit at the fully intact ribcage that I’d been about to grab before the doctor showed up. The cart was already brimming with bones; they would all be busted up and hauled away.
“Also, I need to see Melissa tonight for her baby check up.”
“Will do…and you’re sure that you don’t mind Thalia and Emily being there?” Both girls were, for all intents and purposes, my daughters. I’d rescued Thalia the night the whole zombie thing started, and Emily had been entrusted to me by her father when he had us abandon the military outpost-slash-small town that went by the name Serenity Base when it was believed that a massive horde might be coming. It had.
“I think it is a fine idea that Melissa has the girls with her,” the doctor said. “And it wouldn’t hurt for you to make an appearance as well.”
“Isn’t that sorta private?”
“Husbands and boyfriends used to go to these things all the time…it is actually quite normal; besides, I doubt there is anything I’ll be checking that you haven’t seen.” Leave it to the good doctor to put a blunt edge on something and hit me over the head with it.
“I will be there…but I don’t really see the point.”
“Steve,” Dr. Zahn let loose with a sigh of obvious exasperation, “normally you are a good guy. You have a great heart, and it is obvious how much you care about everything. So how can you be so clueless about this?”
“I don’t—” I started, but she cut me off.
“Exactly! You don’t get it. This is a stressful thing in the best of circumstances. We left those circumstances behind a long time ago. Pregnancy is not going to be easy. All the medical marvels we took for granted are gone.”
I felt like a complete tool. So, besides the fact that I am an entirely clueless father to a pair of orphan girls, I can add “Idiot Husband” to my title.
“I’ll be there, Doc,” I assured. Dr. Zahn knew I was serious when I called her by title. I watched her walk away, and then returned to work. After all, the bones weren’t going to come out of the trench on their own. God, please don’t let them come out of the trench by themselves. Almost on cue, one of the heads rolled so that the face—or rather where the face would be if there were still flesh on the skull—stared up at me with empty eye sockets. The mouth opened and closed—a charred hunk of what I assumed to be the tongue twitched back and forth. Not all the heads had suffered sufficient damage to affect the brain enough to immobilize the zombie. Picking up the long poker nearby for just such circumstances, I thrust down, effectively spearing the head and added it to the pile in the cart.
After another hour of sifting, I was ready to pack it in. Putting all the gear in the cart, I grabbed my cane and was ready to head up the hill. I was looking forward to the day I wouldn’t need that damn thing anymore. I have no idea what sort of therapy people went through before, but I’m pretty sure Dr. Zahn makes some of the stuff up just to torture me. Of course it could’ve been worse when I fell off that picnic table and broke my leg trying to deal with a few zombies that had been led intentionally to our little hideout. From what I was told, I was real close to joining the herd.
“Steve?” Ian’s voice called from the other side of the wagon.
“Right here,” I answered and gimped my way around the open back end of the bone-laden cart.
“Jake and I want to make one more trip to La Grande in the morning,” he said, reaching over to fasten the bone-picker securely. “We can take the cart on our way out if you’d like.”
“Super,” I agreed. “And I need you to do me a favor while you’re out.”
“I need you to find me something special for Emily; her birthday is coming up. Also, baby things…not just for Melissa and me, but for Teresa, too.”
“Yeah…” Ian let the word hang for a moment. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about the baby situation.”
“You mean what are we gonna do if we get mobbed and have to make a run for it?”
“That’s putting it bluntly, but yes. I don’t want to sound like a dick but…”
“If it comes to it, you will be expected to do what it takes to survive.”
“That sounds good.” Ian stopped walking and turned to face me.
“But you know there is no way some of us can simply take off and leave you, Melissa, Teresa, Jamie and the girls to die. Throw in two babies? It isn’t gonna happen. And I don’t know anybody who is here with us that would willingly leave you guys behind if it came to that.” I listened to what Ian said, but it took me a moment for the gravity to really hit me. Melissa’s and Teresa’s pregnancy weren’t just an issue for those of us intimately involved; our situation had an impact on everybody here. Crap.
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