Dave checked the soles on his Wavekoreys for tread as he sipped at his bottled water and studied the sun. According to his calculations, it was closing in on five o’clock. He decided it was time to start looking for shelter with the night closing in.
There’d been a time when the night belonged to lovers . . when the night belonged to them. Inside the new world, nightfall came with an entirely new set of rules, the most important of which was to pay attention to the sun. Being caught without a home base after dark was just asking for trouble.
It was haunting, the time right before dusk. The trees took on the appearance of grim faced reapers as the earth devoured all color. There was a hum- barely perceptible but very much present- as the dead prepared their reign. A mysterious howl loosed itself from the trees, the entrails of its sound nipping at Dave’s heels from maybe a mile south. He moved off to the shoulder of the two lane and checked his gear.
The mysterious sound was gaining on him, so Dave moved into the clutches of a sycamore tree and waited. It didn’t take long for the identity of the howl to make itself known- in the form of a vintage silver Corvette. Dave watched as her radials breathed fire as it kicked its way into sunset.
He moved back onto the shoulder of the road and watched the tail lights get small before going hard red.
They must’ve spotted him. Dave froze in place as the ‘Vette parked itself on the double yellow line. Running into the woods was risky, but so was staying put.
As Dave considered his next move, the Corvette’s tail lights went soft and he exhaled momentarily before opening his eyes to find headlights aimed right at him. He darted back into the thick of trees as the engine roared and the wheels burned up the distance between them. Inside of a few seconds, the silver Corvette was mere yards away.
Dave remained silent, listening for evidence. A buzz of different voices nested within the dark enclave, camouflaged by the Hendrix tune “Purple Haze”.
“Come on! . . . It’s alright.”
He remained still as the occupants turned the stereo down and began arguing. Dave counted three of them. An alto was pleading with the other two that they should forget it and keep moving. His pleas were being overruled by a tenor whose every other word was four lettered. And then the bass timbred voice shut them all up before removing himself from the vehicle. He was on the high side of six feet with tattoos raining down his tree trunk arms.
“Hey man . .we don’t mean any harm, we’re just trying to get somewhere safe! Same as you.”
Dave remained still. If the fire hydrant dressed in leather and jeans was being truthful, they would give up on him and move along. Good guys didn’t take unnecessary risks. Bad guys didn’t stop until they exhausted them.
“Hey!” It was the four letter wizard talking now. “Get the fuck out here so we can see you!”
“Shut the FUCK up Nelson!”
Then Dave heard it, a couple of walkers trudging closer. He kept still, hoping they might provide cover by wandering up to his unexpected company, but he turned to find their cold dead eyes were focused on him.
Dave bolted to his right and ran for it, but the click of a revolver stopped him in his tracks.
“Nice and easy, motherfucker . .” It was the four letter wizard, wrangling him to the shoulder of the road and into a face to face with the grizzly bear leader.
“Some people do it the easy way. Some people need convincing, nothing wrong with that. Name’s Zed.” He stuck out his paw for Dave but was met with a cold stare.
“Aw shit Zed! We got us a fighter!”
“Hey guys! . . Walkers!” Said the passenger who had remained in the Corvette and was busy removing himself now.
“Yeah, just in time for dinner.” Zed muttered as he took the man by the collar and held him in place without much effort.
“Hey! What are you doing?!” The man screamed.
“Collecting information.” Zed explained before turning to Dave.
Zed ignored the man and asked for a name but got silence.
“A name or he gets fed to the bio-hazard brigade, my man.”
Dave remained silent.
“Tell him your fucking name! For Chrissakes!” Screamed Zed’s prisoner.
“Where are you headed? . . . Dave?”
“Tell me where you’re headed or Daddy Warbucks becomes dinner for two.” Zed warned.
Dave remained silent as the captive man pleaded with him to talk.
“Now, this is Daddy’s car and he was kind enough to let us borrow it and we were kind enough to let him live. Just tell us where you’re going so he doesn’t have to be puppy chow.”
“It’s no stain on my conscience, but you . . you seem like the type who’d lose sleep over such a thing. Just tell me where you’re going and . .”
“Maryland.” Dave said.
“Ding ding ding! We have a winner!” Zed hollered, before kicking out his prisoner’s legs and watching his body go helpless to the swarm of walkers.
“NO! NO!! Hellllppp meeeeee!”
Dave was forced to watch as the two walkers silenced the man, eating away at him slowly and with horrifying detail. Their gray skin was soon bathed in crimson as they continued working at a corpse. It was no longer possible to tell the sex of these walkers, as most of their hair had gone lost and their shapes had gone the way of sunken ships. Their mandibles still worked quite well and they used them with the hateful purpose of hyenas.
“Didn’t have to go down like that. All I asked for was the truth.” Zed said.
“I told you . .”
“No, you lied. And now . .”
“Martin.” Chimed Nelson, the four letter wizard.
“Martin is dead as a result.”
“I told you Zed! This dude is a cold blooded, motherfucking gangster! Woohoo!”
“On the contrary. I’m seeing a refined gentleman on the way to something good. If I didn’t know better, I’d say there’s a real purpose to this young man’s journey. And we’re gonna find out what it is,” Zed said.
“Shit, or we could just shoot the cocksucker and be gone!” Nelson argued.
“You’ll have to excuse my friend here. He’s got the manners of a wild boar. But I know a man with something to live for when I see one, and you . . my friend, have a destination in mind.”
“I told you, I’m going to Maryland.”
“No, no . . no. You gave up your name, no sweat . . but you weren’t quite so forthcoming when I asked where you were going. Which tells me it’s gotta be worlds better than where we just came from. And I’ll tell you this . . . wherever it is you are going? . . we’re going.”
“Why don’t you just kill me?” Dave said.
“Same reason we didn’t kill . . .”
“Yes,” nodded Zed. “He served a purpose. Until he didn’t.”
“He’s probably got some fine ass bitch who lives in one of those McMansions and shit!” Nelson squealed.
“No, this boy’s in love, you can see it in his eyes. Just like that sweet little piece of ass I took down back in South Carolina. You shoulda been there Dave, we came across this group, the one girl in particular . . fuck if she didn’t look exactly like my future bride.”
Nelson laughed at the horrible intimations as Dave’s brain began piecing together where these bikers had come from and what exactly they had wrought.
“She couldn’t have been more than twenty, ain’t that right Nelson?”
“A ‘lil old for my taste.” Nelson said.
“We ordered the group to stop, but they kept fighting us. We lost six fellas in the firefight. I remember her running, she was about to get on with the rest of her life. And then . .”
“Bitch went down!” Nelson screamed.
“Didn’t have to be that way. We could’ve lived happily ever after.” Zed bemoaned sarcastically.
Dave gritted his teeth in order to suppress the rage as he looked Rebecca’s killer right in the eye and let him know just how serious he was about ending things.
“One of us is gonna die tonight, Zed. And that’s your choice . .”
“Oh shit! The balls on this fucker!” Nelson cackled.
“Gather up his things, Nelson.” Zed commanded as he took his partner’s revolver and pointed Dave towards the Corvette.
That’s when it occurred to Dave that the contents of his bag would lead them straight to Borneo Runnings, and Sam. It was the worst of every possible outcome, and now he was faced with having to prevent it from happening or die trying.
“How does it feel Dave? To be in love? . .” Zed asked as they walked to the Corvette.
Dave dropped to the ground as his left leg cocked back before kicking at Zed’s kneecap, unleashing a guttural scream which was quickly followed by a stray gunshot into the air. Dave leapt up and grabbed the revolver and was about to aim it at Zed when Nelson tackled him. They wrestled off the shoulder of the road and into the wet grass, Dave’s grip on the revolver weakening.
“You’re dead now, motherfucker! And then we’re gonna find your bitch and . . .”
Dave took his thumb and ripped through Nelson’s eye socket, tearing away at the flesh on the side of his skull until he fell away in agony. He got up and shot Nelson in the stomach before turning his attention to Zed, who was just regaining his feet. Dave shot his kneecap.
“Fuck!” Zed screamed as he fell to the ground once more.
A swarm of walkers entered the clearing and set their sights on Nelson, catching him without much trouble. Dave listened until he went silent and then he wiped at his brow as Zed fought back at the excruciating pain emanating from his legs.
“I got friends . .” Zed began.
“No you don’t, you’re too much of a pussy to go it alone out here.”
“You’re gonna pay.”
“Yeah, I am.” Dave agreed.
A few stragglers out of the swarm began making their way up the shoulder, focusing their attention on Zed now.
“Kill me!” Zed pleaded.
“Since you asked . . .” Dave began. “Being in love is the greatest thing I ever did . . it’s one of the few ideas man ever had that was worth a damn.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to grasp the concept, but romance? . . . it’s how humanity narrates all the things that nature achieves genuinely. It doesn’t just introduce itself to you, Zed . .”
“Quit the shit and kill me asshole!”
” . . . Love knocks you on your ass and says Hey Motherfucker! You’re coming with me!”
“And . . you just go. No seatbelts . . no questions asked.”
“Fucking shoot me, man!” Zed screamed as the walkers moved in.
“I won’t shoot you, but you don’t get to live . . .”
Dave moved back as the walkers converged on Zed. He stayed there, watching the macabre scene unfold, as if to make absolutely certain that his nemesis was not coming back, in any form. The dead went about their work, uninterested in the witness who was standing just a few feet away.
He moved into the Corvette and brought the engine to life. He had three quarters of a tank, and he didn’t need a prayer to figure out the road in front of him and what he planned on doing with it.
“Ah Zed . . this is why you can’t have nice things.”
The glove box brought paydirt, in the form of fresh, hand rolled cigarettes and a silver Zippo with a well worn Grateful Dead logo stamped on its face. He blessed the Carolinas for possessing such a deliciously fertile womb as he flipped the Zippo to life and took a hard tug of tobacco.
The night was attaching itself to the stained glass panorama of a dying sun and the ripples of blackness took on the appearance of stillborn veins as it stole away the light. It reminded Dave of his childhood home and those ivy creeps that would wrap fresh brick walls in a deathly embrace of murderous patience. Dave figured on another thirty solid minutes of playing crazy with the speedometer before he had to shutter the headlights.
Didn’t matter. He was playing with house money, and he wasn’t about to lose. Not now. His was the ideal of this horror show reality, that Clint Eastwood’s alter ego lived truly in the actions of every man who dared tread its unholy province. Behaving as if there was nothing left to lose, and meaning it.
He listened as the radials struck a handsome chord with the gaping wound of road looking to be stitched up tight; just as a needle does to a fresh round of vinyl. The engine threw a blanket of smoke away as Dave used it hard and long, and that’s when the old familiar feeling started up, and it brought a smile to Dave’s face the likes of which a Roman soldier might have worn at the gates of hell. His thirty something bones were now possessed by the brash, cocky kid who’d been pissed off at the world for making him follow the rules. The kid who lived his life as if he were bulletproof. And the fact that he knew better in the here and now? Only made him that much more dangerous.
Dave was throwing his entire hand into the pot and betting on the girl at the end of the bar who just so happened to be the most beautiful thing he’d ever laid eyes on. The one with the fiery curls and the caramel eyes and the runway legs that promised to show him how the West was won.
It was last call, and he liked his chances just fine.