Z-Burbia 4: Cannibal Road, страница 10
“We aren’t very far from that mob,” Greta whispered. “Is it safe to stay here?”
“We’ll keep an eye out all night,” Stella whispered back. “You, me and El can take shifts.”
“I can watch too,” Charlie said.
“You need your rest,” Stella insisted. “If we have to make a run for it, I want you to have the energy to do just that, run. Jace, back me up here.”
“Your mom is right, bud,” I croaked. “You are still recovering. You may think you are at full strength, but you aren’t. We need to be able to move fast if we have to.”
“Don’t want to leave you behind,” Elsbeth said. “That would be sad.”
“Not too sad,” Greta shrugged.
“Fuck off,” Charlie replied.
“Stop,” Stella ordered.
“We’re just kidding,” Greta said.
“Yet it’s funny how fast kidding turns into bickering,” Stella responded, giving our daughter the “don’t fuck with me, little girl” look.
“Fine. Whatever,” Greta said.
Elsbeth moved closer to the front of the diner and peered through the dirty windows. I was surprised the place hadn’t been looted yet, but then again, in a university town, I bet the shit got bad fast on Z-Day. It also apparently got a whole lot worse after that.
“We can move more furniture,” Elsbeth said quietly, “and block the windows and the door better.”
“Good idea,” Stella said.
I eased back into the booth more as the ladies fortified our overnight sanctuary. Charlie got up and went into the kitchen, but Stella didn’t bark at him to sit back down. It was a good thing because he came out with a case of ramen and some gallon jugs of water on a dish cart.
“We don’t have any way to cook the noodles,” Charlie said. “So we’ll just have to eat them raw.”
“Ugh,” Greta said. “They are going to be stale as shit.”
“I guess the gas isn’t working in Knoxville the way it worked in Asheville, huh?” I said.
My family stared at me then shook their heads.
“What?” I asked. “What did I say?”
“The gas was working just fine,” Stella said. “That’s what half those explosions were. When John blew the billboards, it triggered explosions up and down the street. Storefront after storefront exploded out at us.”
“GI Joe missed the fact that the billboard explosives were just the beginning,” Greta said. “Whoever set that shit up had it rigged to take out the entire street, up and down, for a few blocks.”
“Oh,” I said. Then reality smacked me upside the head. “Oh, what happened to the convoy?”
“We don’t know,” Stella said. “Everything was on fire and I grabbed the kids and ran towards where I saw you go. We were able to bring our day packs, but all the rest of the supplies are gone.”
I looked at the backpacks on the booth seat by Charlie and frowned.
“Doesn’t look like much is in there,” I said. “Better take inventory.”
We all went through the packs and found there were extra clothes for Greta, Stella, and Charlie, but since they didn’t grab my pack, I was left with the gunk covered shirt and jeans I had on. As for other supplies, we had several lighters, two rolls of duct tape, three med kits, a flashlight, some rope, a few clean rags, six collapsible batons, and about ten full magazines for the 9mm pistols we all had. Except me.
“I lost my pistol and knife to the booster club,” I said. “El? Did they take your stuff too?”
“Nope,” Elsbeth replied as she sat down at a center table and plopped her two blades in front of her. “Can’t take these from me. They tried.”
“And died?” Greta smiled.
“And died,” Elsbeth smiled back then looked at me. “Here, take my pistol.”
“Thanks, I smiled as I also snagged one of the extra batons. “We should raid this place for whatever we’ll need. I have a feeling someone was using this as a cache. I doubt a diner like this had ramen on the menu.”
That’s when we heard the creak of floorboards from above.
“Or someone’s living here,” I whispered.
“More Vols fans?” Charlie whispered.
“I think they would have come down and greeted us with a beer bong and Jell-O shots by now,” I replied. “It’s got to be another survivor.”
The floorboards creaked louder and from a couple spots.
“Maybe two survivors,” I added.
“Greta?” Stella asked as she stood up and aimed her pistol towards the back hallway. “How many doors did you see back there?”
“Four,” Greta said and I could tell she knew she was in deep shit. “The guys’ bathroom, girls’ bathroom, the emergency exit, and...the door to the stairs.”
“You knew there were stairs?” Charlie asked.
“I didn’t hear anything up there so I assumed it was clear,” Greta snapped, then pointed up at the ceiling. “Not like anyone can move around without us hearing anyway.”
“Both of you shut up,” Stella hissed. “El?”
“On it,” Elsbeth said as she picked up her blades and started walking to the back hallway. “I’ll clear it.”
But she didn’t need to. We all heard door hinges squeak and the sound of boots on old tile.
“Hello?” a man’s voice called. “Who’s there?”
“Just some folks looking for a place to hide for the night,” Stella replied.
“Oh,” he replied, still lost in the shadows of the back hallway. “You armed?”
“Yes, sir,” Stella answered as Elsbeth moved closer and closer, her feet not making a sound. “But only for protection, not because we want to hurt anyone.”
“Heard that a few times,” the man said. “You gonna steal all my stuff?”
“No, we don’t intend to,” Stella said. “We were going to look for supplies, but since this is your place, we’ll leave everything as we found it.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “If you promise not to steal or try to come upstairs, you can stay here for the night. One night only. I want you gone when the sun comes up.”
Elsbeth stood with her back against the wall just to the side of the hallway. She looked at Stella, but my wife shook her head.
“That’s very kind of you,” Stella said. “We’ll be gone when the sun comes up. Sorry about the front door.”
“No matter,” the man said. “I’ve fixed it plenty of times.” We could hear him walking away and then the door hinges squeaked once more. “Get some rest, and then be out at dawn, got it?”
“Got it,” Stella said. “Thank you, sir.”
There was only a grunt and then the shutting and locking of a door.
We looked at each other and grimaced. Above us, the ceiling creaked again and we could hear the sound of hushed voices.
“I don’t plan on sleeping a wink,” I said. “Not with the possible cannies up above.”
“They ain’t cannies,” Elsbeth said.
“How can you be sure?” Greta asked.
Elsbeth sniffed loudly. “Because the place don’t stink like people meat. This place smells clean. Cannies don’t bother with clean.”
“Well, that’s certainly true,” I said.
“What does that mean?” Elsbeth asked.
“What? I was agreeing with you,” I said then saw the smirk on her face. “Ha ha.”
“We will all be sleeping tonight,” Stella said, “in shifts like we planned. If the people above wanted us harmed or dead, they could have stayed quiet and snuck up on us or attacked already.”
“Maybe they are luring us into a false sense of security,” Charlie said.
“Did it work?” Greta laughed. “Do you feel secure?”
“Not even falsely,” Charlie shrugged.
“Then it’s probably not that,” Stella said. “I want you and Dad to sleep all night. Let us ladies handle the watch.”
“I can watch too,” I said.
“You can watch t
“Fine, fine, but don’t say I didn’t offer,” I replied as I stretched out in the booth and tried to get comfortable.
“We eat, we rest, we get ready for tomorrow,” Stella said. “I have no idea where anyone else is, but we can’t worry about them. From here on out, it’s the Stanfords versus the world.”
“I’m a Thornberg,” Elsbeth said.
“You’re a fucking Stanford,” Stella replied, “and don’t you fucking forget it.”
“No, ma’am,” Elsbeth grinned from ear to ear then snapped her fingers. “Gimme some ramen.” Greta tossed her a pack and she frowned at the packaging. “Shrimp flavor. They should just call it old pussy flavor.”
This got everyone laughing and we had to cover our mouths to keep from bringing the Zs back to us. Or the orange crazies. Or possibly the people upstairs. Or whoever made those billboards, because I don’t think it was the orange mob.
Fuck. You know, for it being the apocalypse and all, it sure got fucking crowded fast.
“Jace, sweetie? Wake up, babe. We need to get going.”
I struggled to pull myself from sleep, but my eyes refused to open.
“Jace? Baby? Come on.”
“Do I have to get up?” I whined as I forced my eyelids to part. “Just five more min- HOLY FUCK!”
I shoved the thing away from me and scrambled up over the side of the booth and onto the floor. Chairs flew everywhere as I tried to get my feet to work, but just ended up slip sliding this way and that.
Coming at me was what had once been my wife, but had obviously changed in the night into a grotesque mockery of the woman I loved.
“Jace? What’s wrong?” The thing said as worms dropped from its empty eye sockets. Pus and blood oozed from what had once been its nose and I had to fight back my gorge as a black and swollen tongue licked across cracked teeth.
“Stay away from me!” I shouted. “Greta! Charlie! Help!”
“What you crying about, Long Pork?” Elsbeth asked from behind me.
I grabbed onto the edge of a table and pulled myself up, my hands coming away greasy and caked with filth. Elsbeth was right there in my face, and the stench of her was more than I could handle. It took all of my strength to shove her away so I could get some space to turn and puke up the meager contents of my stomach.
“That’s a waste of good ramen,” Elsbeth said. “Better lick that up now before I make you, Long Pork.”
“What the fuck is going on?” I yelled.
I kept backing up until I was against the front windows. As soon as my back touched glass, the whole world shattered and undead hands grabbed me. I was pulled out into the street and set upon by hundreds of hungry, orange painted Zs.
“FUCK!” I yelled as I tumbled from the booth.
“Mom? Dad’s awake,” Greta said as she walked by me, a snotty teen girl smirk on her face. “How’s the view down there?”
I froze in place as I watched my normal looking daughter walk by and pick up her backpack from a table.
“Jace? Baby? You okay?” Stella asked as she knelt down and put her hand to my forehead. “Are you feeling sick? You don’t have a fever.”
“Why’s Dad on the floor?” Charlie asked.
“He had a bad dream,” Stella said. “Right, Jace? You had a bad dream?”
“It was pretty shitty, yeah,” I said as my wife helped me to my feet. My shoulder was on fire and I couldn’t hide the wince. I copped to the pain before Stella could even ask. “I must have slept in one position all night. Should stop hurting once we get moving.”
“Yeah, that’s not going to be so easy,” Greta said as she stood close to one of the front windows. “The street is full of Zs.”
“How many?” I asked as I slowly and carefully rotated my right shoulder.
“Fifty, at least,” Great said.
“Looks like more than that,” Charlie said as he stepped up next to her.
“I said at least fifty which implies there could be more,” Greta said.
“Stop,” Stella warned.
The kids shut up.
“We go out the back,” Elsbeth said. She was holding a bucket and looking about the diner. “What should I do with this? Don’t seem nice to leave a bucket of piss for those people upstairs since they were kind enough not to kill us or eat us last night.”
“Right neighborly of them,” I said with a thick southern accent.
Elsbeth stared at me, holding out the bucket. “You deal with it, Long Pork. I need to scout the alley out back.”
“There’s an alley out back?” I asked as I took the piss bucket from Elsbeth and set it on the floor. Might as well take care of my needs. “Alleys are always good.”
I relieved myself and then wondered what to do with the piss. While everyone was busy doing other things, I casually scooted the bucket under one of the tables and slowly inched a couple of chairs in front of it.
“I saw that,” Stella said. “Just go dump it down one of the drains.”
“It’ll stink up the plumbing,” I said.
“Then use your big brain and figure something out,” Stella snapped, “but leaving a full piss bucket under that table is not a solution.”
“Okay, okay, jeez,” I said. “I’ll figure it out.”
“Bring it with,” Charlie said, “as decoy scent.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” I replied. “Maybe we could fill up some water balloons with piss and lob them in different directions if we get cornered.”
The three women in the room stared at me as if I had gone insane while my son started looking through drawers and behind the diner’s front counter for balloons.
“What?” I asked.
“We are not bringing piss balloons with us,” Stella said. “Even if they might come in handy, we can’t risk them breaking and one of us stinking of piss.”
“Plus, how are you going to fill them?” Greta asked. “Did you think of that?”
I looked at Charlie and he looked at me then we both looked at Elsbeth as she stood there laughing instead of scouting the alley as she said she would.
“Piss balloons,” she snorted, shaking her head back and forth. “Long Pork and Long Pork junior. You two are funny.”
“So no piss balloons?” Charlie asked.
“No piss balloons,” I said.
Which meant I had a bucket of piss to deal with still.
“Just leave it,” the man’s voice said from the shadows. “I’ll clean it up.”
I set the bucket down and peered into the shadows of the back hallway.
“I’m Jace Stanford,” I said as I held out my hand and started to walk towards him. The distinct sound of a pump being racked on a shotgun stopped me. “And you get to stay a mystery.”
“Manchester,” the man said as he slowly walked forward. His dark skinned face was crisscrossed with white scars and there were obvious rope marks across his throat. “My name is Manchester. This was my diner and I have been here since the first day.”
“Damn,” I said. “That’s a long time to hold out against the Zs.”
“The Zs? That what you call them?” he asked then nodded. “Makes sense. But the zombies haven’t been the problem. The people have.”
“Those orange crazies?” Charlie asked.
“Them? Nah,” Manchester laughed. “They’re easy. I toss them some ramen now and then and they leave me alone.” He pointed at all the Vols memorabilia and sighed. “This used to be a popular place for the college kids. Those Orangies aren’t all college kids, since they do like to recruit, but a lot of them were. They leave me alone out of Tennessee pride and respect, I guess.”
“Lucky you,” Stella said. “Thank you again for letting us stay here last night. We will be gone in just a few minutes.”
“Not out front,” Manchester said. “You have to go through the alleyway. Once you g
“We have some friends we need to find,” I said.
“Don’t bother with them,” Manchester replied. “Take care of yourselves. You want out of Knoxville as soon as possible. Not safe for outsiders here.”
“Doesn’t seem safe for anyone,” Charlie said.
“We’ll be fine,” Manchester said as he glanced quickly up at the ceiling. “There’s a lot of insanity, but in that, is order. I know how it works, but you don’t. Get to the tracks and get out of town. Do not stop for anyone. Do not stop for anything. Even if you hear your friends calling your names, you keep going. Some groups keep ‘em alive to lure ya in.”
“Groups?” Stella asked.
“Groups,” Manchester nodded. “The Orangies, the Professors, the Sisters. And don’t get me started on the Orderlies.”
“Yikes,” I said. “Which ones made the billboards?”
“The Sisters,” Manchester said. “Sorority Village. Stay away from there. They don’t like men folk and they’ll take the women to recruit or eat.”
“Eat?” I asked. “So they are one of the canny gangs?”
“Canny gangs? Oh, you mean Cannibal Road,” Manchester replied. “The Sisters may eat folks now and again, but they aren’t one of the Cannibal Road gangs. That’s a whole other mess of trouble. Do what I told you and get to the tracks, and get out of town. Stay to the tracks.”
“Yeah, okay, thanks,” I replied. “We’ll get out of town.”
Manchester shook his head. “Y’all think I’m crazy. I’m not. You want to see crazy? Stay on 18th and go check out the medical center. The Orderlies will show you crazy.”
“I think we’ve had our fill of the local color,” I said. “We’ll turn at 18th and get to the tracks.”
“Good deal,” Manchester smiled. “Now, I hate to ask it, but y’all have got to leave. I need to do some repairs and clean up so if the Orangies come by they’ll see things just how they like them.”