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Zombies Don't Forgive
By Rusty Fischer
Medallion Press Copyright © 2013Rusty Fischer
All rights reserved.
The Culturally Confused Convenience Store
The bodega across from our apartment complex isn't crowded this time of day. A Spanish love song plays on the radio, and incense burns in the corner shrine where a Buddha sits among oranges and bottled water.
The shelves are lined with dusty cans and exotic fruit drinks in funky bottles. The posters on the wall are these kind of funky ads from the 1960s for sodas that don't even exist anymore, like Raspberry Ripple and Orange Fizzy Bottom and Lovely Lime. They all sound kind of good right about now.
Stamp hates coming to The Culturally Confused Convenience Store, as he calls it. Dane doesn't like it much better, although he's pretty sure there are brains involved in some of the crazier canned items, like the braised beef chunks on Aisle 3 or even in the way, way, way off-brand cat food on Aisle 6.
I grab a soda from the clanking cooler in the back of the store, next to open cardboard boxes filled with onions and dirty potatoes. Gargantuan Grape. That's really its name. It has twice as much sugar as a regular grape soda and not just because it's twice as big. I take it to the cashier, this thin guy with a sweaty moustache and a fiery boil under one of his ears. He hands me a phone card without even asking, which is one of the reasons I try to never come in here with Dane. I'm afraid the cashier will do that in front of Dane and then? Game over; the jig will be up.
"Ten dollars on the card enough this time?" he says without much of an Asian accent. He's got on crisp new blue jeans and one of those button-down Cuban bowling shirts with a palm tree on the pocket. His black fedora looks heavy on his sweating head.
"That should do it," I say, just like every time. I pay in cash, as always, and drop the coins in the Leave a Penny, Take a Penny cup by the register. If anything, Dane's sense of hearing is better than mine—that's saying something—and he'd get suspicious if I came home jingling a ton of change.
The guy nods and turns back to his hot rod magazine.
I leave the store slowly, hand in pocket, feeling the plastic card there. I look across the street for signs of Dane. I kind of feel like Stamp with one of his girlfriends. What I'm doing isn't exactly illegal, but according to Dane it's not smart either. Still it has to be done, and what Dane doesn't know won't hurt him. I walk to the little ice cream stand on the corner.
It's old school, a little brown building with two windows and a huge plaster cone on top. It's so ancient there are actually pay phones—two of them—in a bank along the side wall. I take the farthest one. There's no door to hide behind, but honestly why would Dane walk by? I dig out the card and dial the code.
I call Dad's office phone, which is county-owned and I figure hard for the Sentinels to trace. He picks up on the second ring. "Cobia County Coroner's Office," he croaks. Despite wanting desperately to hear more of his voice, I hang up.
I lean against the wall, crack open my grape soda, and suck down a few gulps. The soda feels good on my tongue. I can feel the sugar working in my cells, filling them up. Sugar. It's the only human food we can still eat, probably because it's not food. It comes; it goes; that's it. But at least it helps me feel a little more human for the few minutes I sip it.
The phone rings. Finally. It always takes Dad awhile to fumble with one of the throwaway cell phones he buys each month, turn it on, make sure it's charged, and then find a safe spot to call me from. I put the soda down on the hot black pavement and answer on the second ring. Dad gives me his latest cell phone number and hangs up. Yeah, it's tiring, but when you're running from a lethal team of zombie-hunting Sentinels, you have to add a few steps to your routine.
I key in the code again, then Dad's number, and this time we're good.
"Maddy!" he gasps when we're finally connected. "How are you?"
It's only the fourth or fifth time we've talked, and it's still new for us both. "I'm good. How are you?"
"Still human. Last time I checked. And you?"
"Very funny, Dad."
He sounds good. I'm so used to grunting and groaning, it always takes me a few minutes to work harder and sound more alive for Dad. "They working you too hard these days?"
"Oh, you know." He sighs. "No more than usual. We're coming into spring break now, so I'm at the beach a lot. When will kids learn not to go swimming after dark?"
Spring break? God, this time last year it was me swimming after dark, taking a cue from my best friend, Hazel, and trying to fit a little fun in before we went back to school.
"But enough about work. How is my Maddy?"
"She's good. Safe. That's the important thing, right?"
"Yes, yes, it is. Are you sure?"
"As sure as I can be."
"Well, you've got Stamp there, right?"
I smirk. Same Dad. Still on Team Stamp. "Yes, and Dane too, don't forget."
"How could I?"
I don't argue with him. We don't have enough time.
"Hey, I ran into Hazel's mother in the grocery store the other day."
"You did? How'd she look?"
His voice goes down a notch. "Not well, honey."
I frown. That's the worst part of being on the lam. Not the hiding, the low-paying jobs, the never going to college, or the constant fear. It's that I'll never be able to look Hazel's mom in the eye and tell her what really happened. Or at least something that might comfort her. I don't miss the heartbeat, the blood flow, the sweat. I miss the humanity.
"I brought her a casserole the other night," he says shyly.
"Wow, Dad, that's nice of you." I try to picture him, oven mitt on each hand, walking down the street to Hazel's house, knocking on the door with his knee, painting on a smile when it opened.
"It was just store bought. But I heated it up first."
"Still, I bet she appreciated that." I look at my watch. Six minutes left. "How about Stamp's family? Any word on where they might be now?"
There's a long pause. "I've tried tracking them down as well as I could, dear, but you told me not to arouse suspicion." He sounds frustrated and not just because he can't find Stamp's family.
"I know. You're right. It's better this way, maybe, if Stamp doesn't know where they've gone." "Don't be so sure. I don't know what I'd do if you didn't call me every month. Sometimes it's all I live for."
"Dad." I try not to sound too stern but fail. "Don't say that. What if ... what if the Sentinels catch me or the Zerkers? You can't count on this. It's ... it's a bonus, not a right."
His sigh is gravelly through the receiver of his cheap cell phone. "You start thinking like that and you might as well turn yourself in to the Sentinels tomorrow."
He's right, of course.
But so am I.
"When can I see you, dear?"
"We've been over this. Dane doesn't think it's a good idea."
"Fiddlesticks. When you left, you told me to wait a few months. It's been more than a few. How long?"
"It's still too dangerous. What if the Sentinels follow you? Or the Zerkers? It's not just about me being found. It's about you being ..."
He knows what I mean. What it means to be on the run from zombies who want to capture you and zombies who want to eat you.
"I can take care of myself, Maddy."
Finally, I chuckle. "I know you can. And speaking of the Sentinels ..." I hate to ask, but with only a few minutes left, I have to.
"They're still here, dear. They think I can't see them, but I can. Their stupid tan vans. You'd think they'd be more creative after doing this a few hundred years. Maybe they're on a budget. I don't know. But, yes, there's one outside my office right now. And another parked in the front drive at the neighbor's house while they're away on vacation. It's almost as if they want me to see them."
"They probably do. And that's what I mean: if you come after me, if I come to see you, they'll know it."
"Okay, okay. I get it. I just. I feel so helpless. Me here and you there in—see there, I almost said it. I guess I do have a little to learn about life on the lam, don't I?"
"Just a little."
Excerpted from Zombies Don't Forgive by Rusty Fischer. Copyright © 2013 by Rusty Fischer. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press.
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