Continued from Delirium Jane: Part IV
I drop down to one knee and swing my spear at the back of the dead woman’s knees. The blow drops her on flat on her back where Graham brings his wooden bat down into her face, caving in her skull and ending her life for a second time.
“Behind you,” he says calmly as he turns to meet another attacker.
I spin to find demon approaching in a slow staggering gait. It’s ancient and decomposed well beyond identification of age, sex, or race; maybe one of the originals, if they are capable of lasting that long. With each step it shutters and groans; its muscles and tendons seem to fight against the incessant drive of the disease, knowing that they should not work at all.
It looks like it might fall to pieces before it even reaches me, but it is no less deadly and I act swiftly. I drive my spear into an empty eye socket and end its existence. I can’t help but imagine that a breath of thanks escapes as I release the poor soul trapped inside the rotten husk.
“I think that’s the last one,” Skip says in a hushed voice.
“We better keep moving. I’m sure there are others,” I say.
“Skip, I think this is a bad idea. What are these guys really worth? Certainly, not our lives,” Graham says as he looks back toward the direction we had come from.
“The further in we go, the more I like these guys. If they can survive out here, then they will fit in great with us,” Skip answers.
We had left our 4Runner about four miles back at the edge of the tree line and Graham was uneasy about it being unattended and even less impressed with us heading into unfriendly territory to locate a band of unknowns.
“You’re quite the adventurer,” I say to Graham.
He scowls at me but says nothing and continues walking, checking his compass periodically.
“That’s why he’s my first mate. He’s the level head. You can’t have both the skipper and the mate gallivanting off into the sunset. I’m the drive and the ambition, he’s the sanity,” Skip says.
Before I can respond there is a gunshot blast and the tree next to me explodes, raining woody pine scented shrapnel. I drop flat on my stomach and shove my face into the layer of pine needles that cover the ground.
“All of you, hands where I can see ‘em,” a vaguely familiar male voice calls.
“Zak? Is that you?” I call out while keeping my face in the dirt and lifting my hands clear into the air.
“Maybe . . . who’s there?”
There is a long pause. “Jane? From Mussel Ridge?” he finally asks.
“That’s the one.”
“Whatchya doin’ way out here?”
“Hey Zak, you think we could have a proper conversation? One that doesn’t involve a mouthful of dirt and pine needles.”
“Oh yea! Sure thing. You guys can all get up off the ground.”
I push myself to my feet and dust myself off. I look around for the lanky blonde headed teenager, but am instead met with a hug from a great bear of a man.
When he lets go of me I step back with my mouth agape. “Holy shit man. What did you do with my little buddy? Did you a eat him?”
“I grew a bit,” he says sheepishly.
“Can we have this little reunion someplace else? That gun shot’s gonna be tolling the zoms,” Graham comments.
“This way.” Zak nods to the north.
“So you know each other?” Skip asks.
“Sure do. Jane helped me and my mom get to Mussel Ridge.”
“He was just a kid then. Sixteen? A beanpole with a shaggy mop of blonde hair.”
“Yea, that was too much work to keep clean out here,” he says rubbing his fuzzy crew cut “and I was almost eighteen.”
“What brought you out here?” Skip asks. The question sounds conversational enough, but there is something in his tone that tells me he is data mining. In the very short time that I have known him, Skip has a way of putting people at ease and keeping the information flowing. As a PR manager, it is a skill I recognize; it is a skill I use myself.
“We stuck around the Ridge for a couple of months. My mom started dating Cook and when him and the guys decided they’d had enough of the Captain’s rules she went with ‘em. She wanted me to stay, but I wasn’t gonna leave her.”
“How is your mom?” I ask.
“Pretty good. As good as anyone. S’pose you could say her and Cook got married.”
“Is he your leader? Cook?” Skip asks.
“Well . . . we don’t really have a leader. But I guess if we did, I would be Cook. People don’t fuck with him and when he speaks they shut their traps.”
“No leader, aye?” Skip digs a little deeper.
“We all live together and help each other out, but we don’t play games. When it comes to survival, it’s every man for himself. Or at least that’s what Cook says.”
“But you don’t agree?” I ask, hoping that he hadn’t lost all hope for humanity and become so cynical.
He ignores my question. “We’re here.”
Twenty feet in the air, a dozen platforms connected by a series of bridges have been built onto the oaks and sturdiest of maples; most sport a tent or two, with the largest housing a fully enclosed building.
“We skipped the fences. Too difficult to build, secure and maintain,” Zak says, recognizing our surprise.
“Zak! What do you think you’re doing?”a middle aged man yells down from the closest platform.
“It’s OK. I know them.”
“Cook’s not gonna’ be happy.”
“Just let the ladder down. I can handle Cook,” Zak says and then turns to us. “We’re not s’posed to bring people back here. The last time we brought strangers back, they tried to attack us. We dealt with them alright but it wasn’t good.”
A rope ladder drops from the platform and Zak motions for us to climb. I scramble up the swaying ladder after waiting my turn behind Skip and Graham.
“So you can handle me, can you boy?”asks a man with a crew cut and black goatee, dressed in fatigues; whom I assume is Cook. I can’t place him, even though we were supposedly at the Ridge together.
Cook smacks the back of Zak’s head hard. “I don’t give a fuck who it is. You know the rules. Did you check ‘em for bites? What about weapons? You have any idea what they’re carrying?”
Cook’s aggression has put me on edge and before I know it, I have my knife in hand ready for all hell to break loose.
“This is what I’m talking about fuckhead. See, she’s already drawn her knife.” Cook waves at me dismissively. “We don’t need you bringing any crazy bitches back here.”
“She’s not crazy,” Zak growls.
Cook turns and faces me. “Alright little girl, prove him right and put your knife away.”
My jaw clenches and I tighten my grip on my knife. You don’t survive the zombie apocalypse by doing as you’re told; you survive by listening to your gut. That applies to dealing with the dead as well as the soon to be dead.
I prepare to stand my ground as Cook moves towards me.
“Don’t you touch her,” Zak yells and charges at the man. At least six feet tall, Zak has a good three inches on him and pushes him away easily, but Cook recovers quickly and responds with a lighting fast hook to the kid’s cheek.
“THAT IS ENOUGH! Jane put your knife away! Graham stand down!” Skip barks.
Thrown off guard by a command and tone that was so out of character for the easy going guy I met in the pub, I do as I am told. I glance over my shoulder to see Graham unclenching his fists and struggling to relax from a position ready to pounce.
“Cook, I presume? I am Captain Leo Pearson, this is my first mate Graham and I believe you may already know Jane. We are not here to cause trouble; we are merely looking for some adventurous men to join our crew.”
Cook seems to respond favorably to Skip’s tone because he releases Zak’s shirt collar and relaxes his fist. “I am Cook. It looks to me like you’re here to cause trouble; skipping our security protocols and drawing weapons on me, unprovoked.”
“Things escalated quickly. We are in unfamiliar territory and Jane is new to my command. She is a bit . . . reckless. I will deal with her myself. And in our own defense, I would not say that we were entirely unprovoked. Your man shot at us in the woods, so forgive us if we are a bit on edge.”
Cook glances at Zak, whose eye is swelling and turning purple. “You shot at them.”
Zak nods. “I didn’t recognize them.”
“Pearson, let’s talk,” Cook says turning towards one of the two bridges leading from the platform.
“Let’s. Come Graham,” Skip calls, as if Graham were his obedient hound.
I begin to follow.
“No Jane. Stay here.”
My blood simmers at his flippant tone towards me. I accept that I hardly know him; I didn’t even know his real name until just now, but he was the one that told me I would have to defend myself and bring my attitude. Just as I am about to say something he offers a quick wink that tells me to hold my tongue and play nice for now.
“Zak, take her to see your mom. They’ll probably want to catch up,” Cook says.
I follow behind, as Zak leads me toward the other bridge. We both have our orders to be good little children while the men go discuss business.
Continue with Delirium Jane: Part VI