The night passed painfully slow. Amelia had pushed almost all of the furniture in front of the hotel room door, other than the beds. She drew the curtains closed across the balcony door and allowed Cory to only use a flash light or play his gameboy in the corner of the room or in the bathroom, where no light would be reflected to the windows. She hoped she was being cautious enough. Cory eventually dropped off to sleep beside her on ‘his’ bed, the kid was a heater, and the eighty degree room was almost unbearable even without a heat generating child who constantly seemed to be trying to attach himself to her back.
During the night she was awakened several times to Diane’s moans of pain. Diane seemed to drift in and out of consciousness and the water and food Amelia pushed on her did not seem to help. Her arms were puffy, with streaks of pink and red running up from where the bites were. Every time Amelia checked, Diane's arms looked worse.
At five am Diane seemed to regain herself and called out, “Amelia!”
Waking from her dozing Amelia rushed to Diane side, stumbling over Cory’s open suitcase and shoes.
“I am here Diane!”
“Amelia, I am dying.”
“No, no, Diane, you will be fine.”
“Amelia, don’t. I am too old and we both know what is going on.”
Amelia started to sob, quietly.
“Hey, cut it out young lady, I only get to do this once and I don’t want you to mess it up by being hysterical the last few hours of my life.”
Amelia pulled herself together, blew her nose into a tissue and tried to put on a better face for Diane. Despite her hounding Cory earlier to keep the lights off in the main room, she turned on her flashlight, keeping most of the glow covered with her fingers before turning to have a look at Diane. What she saw was ghastly, Diane was a pale, sweaty white, the painful red streaks up her arms contrasted sharply against her white skin and disappeared up past where her blouse covered her shoulders. Looking at Amelia Diane sighed heavily, “I haven’t got long now do I? I keep thinking, what if I had done something differently, defended myself instead of vomiting comes to mind, I should have done anything but that. It is foolish you know, what is done is done and, unfortunately, I cannot undo it. So what do you do? I am going to die and I bet when I go I will turn into one of them, after all I am dying because one of ‘em bit me. So I think you and the boy need to go, get into another room at least, okay?”
“Diane, I…can’t just…leave you here alone! I mean that would not be, that would be, not right!”
“Shush up, don’t say that, things have changed and leaving the room of a woman who is going to be a zombie very soon is the ‘right’ thing to do. Unless you want to either kill me now or risk me getting up and getting you and the boy. What other choices are there dearie?”
“I, I should have brought you to a hospital or a doctor!”
Diane made a pooh-poohing sound and said, “No, there is not anyone. We drove through most of the city the only people still around are keeping their heads down. What are the odds of finding a doctor? None, we both know it, a hospital? Yeah, more like an easy target for the hordes to snag some easy food from. Don’t feel guilty about anything we did good, you and I, and you have nothing to be ashamed of or sorry for. But now, you have to go. After looking at your face I don’t think I even have those few hours left that I thought I had.“
Amelia made as if to protest again, but Diane cut her off, “Amelia, you need to go. Don’t argue, don’t fight it, don’t even rationalize it, just go. Now. Please?”
Nodding 'yes' Amelia started to gather up the few things she had, making sure to get the keys to the Cadillac. After moving the furniture away from the door as quietly as she could she took a backpack that was obviously Cory’s and stuffed it full things she thought he would need. Amelia was amazed at how small some of his stuff was, his whitey-tighties were laughably tiny and the t-shirts and shorts mere weightless-spaceless scraps of clothing. This was not entirely true, of course, soon his entire pack was full with about all the clothing she could find for him. As for Cory he was asleep, he had thrown the covers off and was lying in an over-sized shirt and underwear, legs askew and arms wide open, one hand still clutching his game boy, his injured arm tightly gripping a blanket in a closed fist.
Amelia tentatively pulled the gameboy from one hand and the blanket from his other, stashing the gameboy into the top of his pack. She slung his backpack over her shoulder and didn’t know whether to take pride or be humiliated by the fact that a ten year old boy’s backpack fit over her shoulder without adjusting the straps. She half bent over the bed and lifted Cory up into a carrying position, he was far lighter than she had imagined and seemed to ‘fit’ and carry just fine. Amelia flashed the light back to Diane, who waved her off, making pushing gestures towards the door.
Looking back only once more Amelia eased the door open and stepped once again into the hallway. Cautiously she checked the hallway both directions, thankfully it was empty. Amelia had her hands full of small boy and flashlights and realized the best she could have managed would have been a lumbering shuffle if anything had been waiting for her. She made her way to the stairwell she and Diane had come up and after a few minutes she was back at the car. Amelia set her flashlight down on the hood and used her now free hand to pull out the car keys, pressing the button on the remote she unlocked the doors and put Cory into the passenger seat. After stowing the rest of the stuff in the back seat she moved around to the driver’s side, climbed in and started the car. The parking lot lights were still on and she decided to try and not call attention to herself by driving as far as she could without the lights on. As soon as she stopped she realized the brake lights still lit when she stopped, so she decided to drive, very, very slowly and use the brakes as little as possible.
As she crept back onto the highway, Amelia hoped someone was home at Max’s house and she hoped they had a spare bedroom where she could crash. The next exit was ‘Youngsfield’ and if Amelia remembered right it was not the exit she wanted, preferably she would take the Kipling exit, but she would settle for getting off at Ward road too. Of course everything could connect via the side streets too, it would just take longer.
As she passed the Youngsfield exit Amelia saw a large wreck at the bottom of it near where the highway turned into a street. A similar wreck was up ahead at the on ramp. Amelia saw a few shady looking people sitting near the on ramp, close to a gap between several wrecked cars, they saw Amelia creeping along and waved for her to pull over. Amelia waved back and hit the accelerator, preferring not to make any new friends just now. As she sped by she heard them lighting off fireworks, only a second later she realized they were firing guns at her car! She tried to veer left then right to throw off their aim and while she might have been successful, it may have just been bad aim on the part of the men that caused them to miss. However the jostling woke up Cory and he gave her a series of looks, first of fear, then of recognition, then one of ‘where the hell are we?’. After getting his bearings he asked, “What happened? Where is Diane?”
“Diane didn’t make it honey, we took the car and left, we are trying to find my friend Max’s house, he has kids about your age.”
“Did you bring my stuff?” he asked.
“Yep sure did kiddo, it is in the back seat.”
Cory unstrapped his seatbelt and lurched ass end up over the front seat to grab his back pack. After going through it he seemed pretty satisfied with everything in the back, then looked again, stopped looked around on the floor and was obviously searching for something.
“What Cory? What is it? What did I forget?”
“You didn’t bring my shoes!”
“Ah, no they must be there someplace, look again.” still even as she said it Amelia could picture them in her mind’s eye sitting in the closet near the door. ‘Shoot.’, she thought followed by, ‘Is this really that big of deal? Well maybe he is a kid and maybe his mom bought them for him or something.’
After he finished looking again, Cory said, “No shoes, not in the car, unless they fell under the seats, sometimes that happens.”
“Well, uh, if I forgot is that okay? I mean it is summer and everything right now, I am sure shoes are more of a hassle for you than….”
“What if we have to go into a restaurant or a store? You have to wear shoes in stores, it’s the law! The police will arrest me!” Cory wailed.
“Hey, hey, settled down, no big deal, the police won’t arrest you right now, they know how things are all messed up and everything.”
“No! We have to go back and get my shoes!”
Amelia thought about it and there was no way she was running the gauntlet of those men at the Youngsfield exit again, who knows what they wanted? Remembering the layout of Arvada a little she recalled there was a Target store just off Kipling and if that didn’t work out there was a K-mart a bit further down the road, she thought there might be a shoe store or two in there somewhere as well.
“Okay, Cory, calm down, I have an idea, alright? I know where we can get you new shoes okay? I could use another pair myself, maybe tennis shoes for both of us alright? You seriously won’t get in trouble for going into the stores barefoot anymore either, the laws have changed honey and no one is going to care what people have on anymore. We’ll stop right up here and get us both some new shoes.”
As she sped past the Ward Road exit she was relieved to see that the road looked clear up to the Kipling exit, a few minutes later she was exiting on Kipling and turning left under the highway to go north. Three blocks beyond that she pulled up into a shopping center along the side of the road, there was one super Target store and several smaller strip mall outlets. Amelia eventually stopped outside a “Two For Twenty” shoe store, which might not have the best brands available, but would definitely have shoes for both her and Cory. She could see into the front of the Target store from where she was at and it looked ominous. She was not sure, was that something moving she spied from within the big box store? The “Two for Twenty”’s front door had been forced open, leaving a large swath of glass around the front entrance. Amelia spied a rack full of flip-flops not too far in from the front door, discounted to a mere three for ten dollars, excellent Amelia always liked sales. The lights were on in the place making it a beacon in the surrounding darkness and the place looked empty.
“Look kiddo we gotta make this quick okay, we get in, we grab some shoes our size and we get out. First thing we do is get to that round rack of flip-flops and you put a pair on, I will carry you over the broken glass by the front door. Got it? Cory. Cory listen, if we see any zombies, any zombies at all, you run back to the car and yell loud enough for me to hear you okay? You got it?”
“Okay Amelia, I am not a baby! We go get flip-flops first.”
“Okay good and you yell if any zombies come close. Okay do you know what size shoe you wear?”
“You don’t know huh? No big deal buddy, it is more of a mom thing anyway, I think. We will just try on a couple pair until we get the ones we need. Ready?”
Cory nodded ‘yes’ and Amelia stepped outside of the car and waited until he scrambled up into her arms, she hefted him with her left arm and reached in and pulled out her trusty fire-poker, which had served her so well in the hotel. Fully prepared she cast a quick look around and seeing no zombies she trotted into the “Two for Twenty” after scrambling over the broken glass she set Cory down and they both approached the flip-flop rack. Amelia pulled the tags off of a few that looked to be Cory’s size and waited while he tried them on, a size three, not that flip-flops were any good judge of size, they still gave her a ball-park to work within. She hustled him down the ‘boys’ aisle and when they got there she raised her hands in front of her face in a ‘shhh’ing motion, they waited and listed. Hearing nothing Amelia whispered, “What kind do you want? Tennis shoes okay? Or hiking shoes, or both.”
Cory pointed out several styles and Amelia threw the boxes onto the floor, three seemed to be spot on for size inside of two minutes they had three pair of shoes picked out for him, a pair of ‘swim shoes’, tennis shoes and a pair of ankle-high hiking boots. Amelia made Cory put on the tennis shoes and carry the other shoes, insisting he take the flip-flops too. Then they moved over to woman’s footwear and Amelia chose a pair style of tennis shoes she wanted, then grabbed her size, a half size smaller and a half size bigger then made for the front door. Along the way they stopped to grab two bags of boys socks and Amelia picked out half a dozen pair of ladies socks as well, she was a bit low on clothing. Amelia always thought it was hilarious that boys bought socks by the bag and girls by the pair. They moved quickly out the front door and Amelia pulled up short seeing two zombies on the passenger’s side, across the car from where she and Cory now stood.
“Cory!” she whispered, “Get low and crawl into the car!” Surprisingly he quickly dropped immediately to his hands and knees favoring his uninjured arm made his way to the vehicle. While he did this Amelia made as if to run around the front of the car, leading the zombies to that side, then feinted and ran towards the back of the car, the zombies, not quite to the front edge of the bumper started moving around to the back end instead to cut Amelia off. Amelia then took six big steps forward and into the car, barely missing Cory’s leg as he pulled himself all the way into the passenger’s seat. She slammed her door shut, put the keys in the ignition and drove away, catching one zombie on the rear bumper, however even that was not hard enough to made it lose its balance or fall over. ‘That was close!’ She thought looking in the rear view mirror.
“Amelia!” shouted Cory, peering out the front windshield.
Whipping her head around she spotted a mob of zombies coming out of the Target store, some were very fast, others carried bats and sticks, a few even had lamps or other household furnishing to use as impromptu weapons. Amelia swerved the car down a parking lot lane and put the mob of unruly zombies behind her. Turning north back onto Kipling she made her way past the K-mart, the lot there was filled with roving undead, they looked up at the car as it passed, two blocks away, but none of them headed towards her. Amelia kept going into greater suburbia until she reached the cross street that she knew would take her to Max’s house. He lived in an established neighborhood, the trees were all fully grown, it looked like a nice place to raise a family. A few more turns and one mistaken drive around the block brought her outside of the house numbers that were printed on the sheet of paper she had taken from the MAC Corporation lobby the day before.
“This is it buddy, we are here.”
“This is it? I don’t see anybody?”
“Uh, they are probably hiding, we need to go up and tell them we are here.”
“Amelia, the door is open. I don’t think anyone is here.”
Sure enough, Amelia examined the house closer and noticed the front door was ajar. This was not good. Max was supposed to BE here, with his wife and kids and they were going to save Amelia and Cory and Diane!
“Amelia? What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” asked Cory.
Amelia looked at him and smiled through her tears, “Dude, we got those shoes and you are barefoot again?”
He looked at her a moment and then started scrambling around for his shoes, “Yeah, my mom, she said not to wear sneakers without socks, I took them off to put on my socks and then you started crying and, I am sorry Amelia, I’ll put them back on if you will stop crying.”
“No-no Cory I am not crying about your shoes kiddo, it is, this!” she waved at the house, “Max and his family are supposed to be here, it is not supposed to be like this, empty and dead. They were supposed to be here!”
“Well are you sure they are not here? Maybe they are hiding? We have to go look. Let’s go!” with that Cory popped open the passenger’s side door and started walking up to the front door, still barefoot Amelia noticed. She called out softly, “Wait for me buddy! I am right behind you!” then grabbed the fire poker and went into Max’s house.