Lunch consisted of a single chunk of canned meat split five ways, a box of crumbled crackers, and some tea that was brewed outside by Sandy. This was the most any of them had eaten in what seemed like days.
They sat in silence for a while, in the “conference” room. It wasn’t anything else beyond an office with a large table just behind the front counter of the storage office. Once upon a time, it had served as a meeting place for the employees, back when Dani’s parents were still in California. Since then it had become a storage room, and since the arrival of Jimmy and Edgar, it had become a dining room, of sorts. The irony was not lost on Dani. The room took on new life after the death of the world.
Sandy broke the silence. “Does anyone want another glass?”
Edgar looked up from his crumbs. He had wet his thumb to pick up the stray remains of crackers. He held out his glass. “Please,” he asked.
Sandy took his paper cup and filled it with the last of the tea. “I have a couple more brewing. The last of my mix.”
Edgar took the small cup and took a large gulp from it. Jimmy sipped at his tea, contemplating.
Bob wasn’t at the table, instead, he was near the door, carefully looking over the makeshift repairs of the glass door. Only one of the doors had shattered, but that was still a large hole to fill and a couple of bookshelves laden with heavy boxes of books had done a lot to reinforce the cardboard and plywood. In truth, it was mostly cardboard and it made Bob nervous. The RV in front of the entrance was an extra layer of protection, but what he needed, he said, was plywood, maybe more shelves, and boxes too.
Danielle sat at the table, finishing up the last bite of cold meat. She stared at her now empty plate, still hungry, still miserable. Had it been worth it to stick around? There was safety here, sure, but it was all relative, and safety seemed like a misplaced luxury when the hunger pangs started. They needed food.
She coughed. “I think we need to go on a supply run.”
Bob turned his gaze toward her and nodded. He rose up from his seat near the door and took a seat at the table. “I think you’re right. We should do it today. We still got light out there” he added.
Jimmy nodded. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let me help. Saw a couple of stores nearby. We can hit them all.”
Dani shook her head. “It’s too risky to hit multiple places right now. We’re in no big hurry. We need to get the most out of one place and then regroup.”
“What do you think,” Bob asked.
Dani wiped at her forehead with the heel of her palm, a habit she’d inherited from her dad. There were a number of options all within a couple of blocks. There was a Market Bros. just down Acacia, and down Lyon there was a drug store, one of the huge chains that had a little bit of everything.
Dani looked over at Sandy. The older woman seemed lost in thought.
“How are we for medication,” Dani asked.
Sandy peered around for a moment and shook her head slightly, aware enough to answer the question. “We don’t have a whole lot. We only had a basic first aid kit here and even that was mostly empty. Other than that Bob and I have our prescriptions and personal medications, I assume.”
Edgar lit a blunt. “Don’t forget about all that dope you got from us.”
“I don’t do that garbage,” Sandy sneered.
Edgar shrugged. “Your loss, Mama.”
Sandy glared at Edgar, who was near twice her size and weight. Jimmy punched Edgar on his arm, making him drop his blunt.
“… Hijo de puta,” he muttered as he picked up his blunt from his lap.
“Respect, Edgar. We’re guests.”
Edgar picked up his joint from the table and took a big drag as he stood up and bowed his head in Sandy’s direction. “My apologies.” He slumped back into the chair.
Dani grabbed a legal pad that sat at the center of the table and began scrawling some notes. She thought out loud as she wrote. “I think Jimmy, Edgar, and me -”
“I,” Jimmy corrected.
Dani cast a furtive glance at the tall redhead and grunted. She continued, “Anyway, we can hit the Wellman’s about a block down. Provided the place hasn’t been cleaned out we should be able to get food and medication there.”
Sandy glanced at the trio. She then gave Dani a pointed gaze, a warning gaze. “Are you sure, Danielle?”
Dani didn’t have time for Sandy’s paranoia. “I’m sure. We’d better get going now.”
She rose to her feet, and Jimmy stood up nearly as quickly. Edgar rolled his eyes, took a huge drag off his blunt, and begrudgingly rose out of his chair. Dani handed Bob the legal pad as she passed by his side of the table. He placed his hand on her hand as he grabbed the pad. It was a reassuring gesture and Dani gave Bob’s hand a squeeze.
“What’s this, kid?”
“Some rough plans. You’ll keep watch?”
“We’ll keep watch,” Bob nodded.
Sandy looked miserable at the idea of leaving the relative safety of the building. Regardless, she trudged out the door after everyone else.
The side gate’s rattle as Bob dragged it open was like a thunderstorm. Everything was so quiet now that the rattle of the gate probably carried a significant distance. Ghouls would be attracted to the sound, he figured.
Gate open, Bob stepped aside as the Cadillac drove through. Dani sat in the back seat and gave Bob a short wave. He was glad he’d had her tuck another gun into her jacket. He wasn’t suspicious of the two men, but he also knew better than to be unarmed in any situation. He’d learned that much in ‘Nam.
The Cadillac drove into the street and made a left. They were on their own now.
Bob slid the gate shut and took a length of chain and a padlock to it. Content with the security measures, he stepped into the nearest unit on the lot and took a seat in one of the salvaged lawn-chairs. Sandy sat impatiently in the golf cart, stewing.
Bob placed the legal pad on the TV-tray next to his chair. He looked it over and noticed there were a lot of notes in tiny, cramped handwriting. He’d expected Danielle’s writing to be tidy. Why he expected that he didn’t know. He’d just assumed, maybe because she was Korean, he thought. The notes seemed scattered, but he saw where she was heading with them. There were some good ideas. He’d need to talk them over when she got back. Maybe over some beers. He should have asked her to grab him a six-pack if she could.
He leaned back in the chair and stared out of the unit and down toward the other end of the property. He was already feeling tired but didn’t want to risk sleeping and being caught off guard.
After a few minutes of silence, he asked “What do you think these things are, Sandy?”
Sandy glanced and shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe some kind of mutant or something?”
“Like those old sci-fi movies?”
Sandy stared at the gate. “I guess. I don’t know. I generally don’t believe in that stuff but God works in mysterious ways.”
Bob leaned forward in his chair. Now this was interesting. “Y’all still believe in God after all this?”
Sandy smiled, albeit faintly. “Of course I do. God is why I have survived,” she replied.
Bob scratched his chin with a chipped thumbnail. He hadn’t really considered the existence of God much, at least since his late-twenties which were spent knee-deep in rice paddies and being shot at by the Vietnamese. Sandy was maybe thirty years younger than him and hadn’t had the pleasure of such experiences. Her position made a bit more sense, taking that into account.
“Y’know, it’s probably some sort of chemical thing,” he suggested. “Lotta weird stuff tested by the government over the years. Probably some experiment gone wrong. Bringing back the dead like that.”
Sandy shook her head. “They’re not dead.”
Sandy dusted the top of the steering wheel of the cart with her palm. “The only way the dead could rise is at God’s hand, and I don’t see God in any of this.”
Bob rolled his eyes. Of course she was a zealot. Fuck.
Sandy stepped out of the cart and began to pace a bit. She didn’t seem to enjoy being idle here in the open. She was on the wrong end of 50, now and her curled hair had gone unmanaged for weeks. She still carried a little bit of that middle-aged spread. She was noticeably beginning to shrink in other places, though.
Though perhaps she had always been small and he’d failed to notice.
Bob leaned back in his chair. “These things, they remind me of a movie I saw when I was on leave back in the war. Might have been ‘68? I was home for a bit and I had no girlfriend, no real family besides a drunk-ass daddy and I had money to burn.”
Sandy stopped pacing.
“Anyway, so I could have done something really damn stupid with that GI money but I just decided to go to the movies, right? I was back in New York and there was a theater that ran a few movies together for one price. You go there and spend hours watching shit and eating popcorn. Good times.”
“What was the movie,” she asked.
“I don’t remember the name, but it was something with Vincent Price as the last man in a world surrounded by these vampire freaks. They were smarter than these dead shits we are dealing with, but I definitely see some similarities now that I think about it.”
“How did the movie end?”
“Vincent Price died. I guess that’s the only ending that would make sense.”
Sandy took a seat back in the golf cart. She leaned over the steering wheel. “No more happy endings,” she muttered.
Thank you for reading the twelfth installment of the Haunted MTL original series, The Dead Life. Please share your thoughts about the story with us.