October. Part 3 of 4.

Several weeks went by, my ankle finally healed. Jose and I stand to pass the bottle of whiskey back and forth. I leaned heavy on the shovel as I took another drink and passed it to Jose. The ground was as hard as cement but we dug this hole deep. Sam and the rest said some nice words. His body was heavy, Jose had the feet and I had his shoulders. We put him in the hole and everyone went back inside. We took turns shoveling the dirt back in. Over time his tarp-wrapped body disappeared, swallowed by the Earth.

Earlier in the day Turk, Jose, and I head into the city with the old Ford. We were running low on nearly everything so it was up to us to retrieve the necessary items for the group to survive. The Ford engine idles fast as we exit the truck. Turk leads the way as we get to the automatic doors of the store; the power went about a week ago. We pried the doors open and we each grabbed a basket. Jose headed to the clothing section to collect coats as Turk and I made our way to the food. We weren’t the first to come here after the world fell apart but there was still quite a lot of canned food left. We stock our baskets and return to the truck. We empty our baskets. As we head back inside it started to snow. We passed Jose with a basket of coats and a smile on his face. “Come find us when you’re done putting those in the truck.” I said as we passed, he gave me a nod and continued. We filled our baskets again when I told Turk I needed a drink. I push my basket down the aisle; a distorted version of me is seen in the bottles as I pass by them. I gently put three bottles of whiskey into the shopping cart and make my way to the truck. Jose helps me load the goods into the truck. I light a cigarette and pass it to Jose. We smoke as the snow begins to cover the ground. Jose and I decided to go back into the store to check on Turk. We heard the scream, we ran as fast as we could to where the scream came from. We found Turk sitting against a shelf, he was holding his arm tight but the blood kept pouring from between his fingers. At his feet was a dead zombie, his head cracked open staining his once blue vest even more. We went to Turk’s side. Jose removes a scarf from around his neck and wraps it around Turk’s arm. Jose lifted him by his feet and I grabbed him by the shoulders. We carried him outside and put him in the back of the truck, his blood speckled on the white snow leading up to the truck. Jose hopped in the driver seat as I sat in the bed holding Turk. We floored it back to the ranch. Every bump and turn we took Turk would scream in pain then cry. Turk knew his fate just like the rest of us. We could fix his arm, but he had it inside him, it would, and did eat away at him.

We arrive at the ranch and pull him from the bed and take him inside. Two of the survivors April and Lori help by clearing off the table. Sam comes rushing in from the other room. I rip what was left of his sleeve. Turk was looking pale from the loss of blood. Sam pours an entire bottle of rubbing alcohol on his wound, Turk shakes but doesn’t scream. The vanes leading up his arm were black; he was already lost before we started. Sam pushes me away and tries with all her might to keep Turk alive. While she holds him his life slips away. Jose and I pry her from Turk’s lifeless body, in this world there were new rules. Rules in which always needed to be followed. We carry his body outside and lay him gently on the snow packed ground. Jose grabs the tarp that was covering the firewood and we lay it out next Turk’s body. Again we lift and place his body on the tarp. As Jose and I say our goodbyes Sam walked from the house to us. She carried with her the .22 rifle we used for small game. Jose reached to take the gun from her but Sam pulled away. Her eyes were red as she leaned down next to Turk’s head. She softly put the barrel of the rifle to Turk’s temple. With a heavy sigh, she pulls the trigger. His head snapped a bit while the bullet bounces around in his skull. This was a rule that we never wanted to follow but always had to. Jose and I wrap his body in the tarp, wrapping his body nice and tight. We grabbed the shovel and started to dig. The ground was hard as cement, but we dug.

It was Thanksgiving, surprisingly cold this winter was. Sam, Jose and I sit by the fireplace drinking the last two bottles of whiskey. Swapping stories of the life “before”, I, of course, neglect to mention anything about time travel. A bottle down and things change. I generally do not like the person I become when I drink, but I drink so I don’t have to be the person I normally am. A self-conceived dilemma. Jose was in a bitter rut ever since Turk died. A lot of people were in the same rut on this day. I guess not being able to celebrate a holiday with the person you wanted to or used to spending it with can kill your spirits. This is not to say all of us felt this way. Sam and I left Jose at the fireplace to sulk on his own. I guess our laughter was getting to him. I followed Sam into her bedroom; she was the only one that did have a room to themselves. We lay on her bed as she pointed at a water spot on the roof and said “Sometimes I imagine that’s a picture of me, or, a shadow of me. A permanent mark that I was here.” she let her arm slowly drop to her side. I stared at the watermark for a few seconds. “That doesn’t look anything like you; you’re much too pretty to be a watermark.” I gracefully said. “You’re not getting it, that mark was here before me, and when I die and the house is still standing it will still be there. I want to put my image in it, so just maybe I won’t die.” She said as she rolls to rest her head on my shoulder. “My dad used to say ‘If you’re afraid to die, you don’t deserve to live.’ I guess it echoes in my head even more with all this dying around us. I’m afraid to die Karl, but don’t I have the right to live.” I took a large drink from the bottle. “I guess it’s hard to say who has the right to live, I can’t really be the judge for that.” I said trying hard to roll the question off. “I guess neither did my father.” She said. I felt her tears soak through my shirt and wet my skin. “But in some cases Sam, what you’ve done here, for all of us, you’ve earned that right, the right to live, even if it’s just in a watermark.” I said as I extended my arm and set the bottle on the nightstand.

The sun kisses our bodies with warmth as it leaks between the curtains and the boards. My head quakes from the drinking of the night before. Sam’s nose and cheeks were a soft pink, “how can girls this pale be a rancher” I thought. I run the tips of my fingers down her arm; she twitched a little and waked. “Is it morning already?” she asks in a groggy tone. “Looks that way.” I said as I palmed my forehead trying hard to make the headache go away. “Just one night I don’t want to sleep with my clothes on, I feel so dirty.” Sam said as she stood from the bed. I was barely sitting up when Jose burst the door open. “We got company!” He yelled. Sam and I hurried ourselves after him. The survivors were already moving into the basement. Children, mothers and fathers all crying, it was like this every time we had company, though it wasn’t often. Sam, Jose and I ran outside, Jose being the only smart one to wear a coat. There were six of those damned things moving slow toward the house. Jose had Turk’s shotgun aimed and ready. The rules were the least noise as possible. So I ran out first, baseball bat armed. I strike the closest one down. I could feel the hangover slip away being replaced simply by adrenaline. Jose uses the butt of his shotgun to take out two others. Sam on my left shoots one twice with her .22. Everything worked better than hoped; we were getting this routine down fine. While dealing with the last of the guest in front of the house we hear the screams, oh God the screams, they ripped through time and space to burrow themselves into our chests. We didn’t notice the kerosene lamp that was knocked over in the panic. The old house burned quickly as we ran towards it. We try to enter the house, to let the screams out. But the fire burns hot; it singes my hair as I try to knock the door down. I return to Sam and Jose in front of the house. Jose turned to me, giving me a look that will never be forgotten one of a man that had nothing left to lose. He tosses the shotgun and his coat at me and runs full speed at the door. Like a phoenix in reverse, he disappeared into the flames. Sam cries on her knees in front of the house. Everything came apart too quickly.

The fire melted all the snow around the house, as the smoke billowed into the air. Sam cried as I paced back and forth behind her. There wasn’t much we could have done as the house fell into itself. I covered Sam with Jose’s coat and lift her up. The sun was shining but the chill in the air cut right to your bones. She goes limp as I lift her up. She fell slightly before I caught her; I carried her to the cab of the old Ford and place her inside. We needed to find shelter, but the only shelter was back in the city. I started the truck and turn the heater on full blast. It was hard to use my fingers with all the shaking and the cold. I turn the truck around and drive down the dirt road. I check only once in the rear view mirror just to see. It was all gone, everything: Jose, the survivors, the watermark, all just gone.

I drive slowly down the wrecked Central Ave., twisted cars and people were draped with a soft white snow. Everything had a peace about it, the kind of peace you get before the bomb’s clock ticks to zero. The truck suspension moaned as I drove over a curb to get around a three car pile-up. Sam wakes but didn’t say anything. Her green eyes seemed vacant then as if someone crept in and just took all the living out of her. I turned my face back to the road in front of me, it is then I spot the smoke spill from the small drug store’s chimney.  I hang a right, clipping a small sedan as the rear of the truck disagreed with me. I pull in front of the small store, put it in park and shut the truck off. “We should at least see.” I told Sam as I held my hand on the keys. She didn’t say a word and exited the Truck. We walked to the wood door that was the entrance. I tried the knob but it was locked.  I knock on the door three times but no one answers, Sam peered into the small window next to the door. In an almost stage whisper she went “Watch it, someone’s coming to the door.” I knock on the door once again. It opened in a rapid swift movement before I knew it I had an old double barrel shotgun pointed between my eyes. “I guess you came for answers, not like the rest, you want answers not my flesh?!” the man with the gun yelled. I nodded and so did Sam “Yes sir, just answers!” I said in a hurry. “Well come in, you’ll catch a cold out there.” He said removing the gun from my face. Sam and I followed him inside; I closed the door softly behind us.

To be continued…