Spending the night in an abandoned motel was a change for the better. Max had decided to pull off at the place alongside the road because they had seen almost no zombies after taking Paul's tow truck. This didn't mean they had made good time, they were still shy of the Nebraska border, and the motel they stayed in was run down and looked like it had seen little use before 'Z-day,' everything was dated. With no electricity, the air in the rooms was stale and smelled slightly of sweat and maybe mildew. They parked next to doors that were dead center along one side of the building, facing south so they could see the highway. The place was modern enough to use cards instead of real keys, which had required them to break into the rooms. Stewart had pulled a gadget out of her bag of tricks and broken two windows to get in, the logic being that it was easier to defend a window than a door, so they kept the doors intact. The doors did open fine from the inside and the first thing they had done was to prop them open to try and get some air into the rooms. The wrecker actually had a very small generator on it and an assortment of well used power tools, however they did not turn it on. There might not be any zombies in the neighborhood, then again there might be. One thing was for certain; noise brought zombies out of the woodwork.
Outside of the rooms they backed the cruiser up onto the curb until the rear bumper pressed against one wall, then they backed the tow truck in the same manner on the other side, to form a 'U' with the motel doors in the bottom. Stewart and Tom took the van into town to see if they could scrounge some fresh food, but when they parked the van for the night, it would go at the top of the 'U,' not quite closing it off. It would make an excellent defensive area to guard from and provide them with a good line of sight. With Tom and Steward gone that left the others to prepare dinner and get ready for the night, Max fired up the grill while Amelia kept the kids busy inside the motel. There was no fresh meat around, but they had found enormous amounts of canned meat. The kids all seemed to like spam, which drove Max crazy when he thought about it, he always considered it a budget meat that poor people ate, and now it was the delicacy that the kids ate without complaint. The children and Amelia filed out of the doorway from their prospective rooms, it was about an hour before sunset. The kids were all dressed as if for bed, all wearing shorts with the girls sporting thin t-shirts, Amelia was dressed the same way. They all filed in front of Max and stood staring at him.
“What?” Max asked the kids all looked towards Amelia.
“There is a pool there Max,” said Amelia pointing to the low-pool wall about thirty feet away. Max could see the glimmering water from here, it looked clean.
“Oh no, I don't think that is a good idea.” Max began, but then noticed the affect it had on the kids, “Maybe.” Then he wondered, 'Why not?' and said, “Well okay. But we lock the rooms, leave the windows open and we all take guns. And you have to keep the noise down, so we don't attract any zeds.”
The children nodded as they smiled, Nick and Cory actually gave each other a high five. After opening the windows, gathering the guns and locking the doors the kids made the short trip to the pool with Amelia. The boys, opting to be 'tough' and go barefoot, were hopping on the asphalt, which was still hot, while everyone else just smiled smugly for taking the time to put on flip-flops before making the short walk. Max had gotten over telling Cory to wear shoes, his family must have been very tolerant. Nick was starting to pick up the habit too, despite Max's growing ire. He supposed it didn't matter that much, so long as neither of them cut themselves. In this new age without electricity clean water was hard to come by and the kids needed the pool as much for its cleansing properties as for fun. Just before leaving the safety of the 'U' Max turned off the grill, the spam would wait. When Amelia turned and nodded to him, Max made his way to the pool.
Once there he scanned the surrounding area. He couldn't see much. On the one side, the highway rose up and blocked the view, limiting what he could see to less than a quarter mile. Max could see down the road that led past the main office to the main road through town, the road Stewart and Tom should be coming back on, most likely this was where any zeds would show up too. In the opposite direct he could see alongside the highway for quite a long way, the view was one of scrub brush and barbed wire. Satisfied he nodded to the kids who jumped into the pool with delight. They giggled loudly, then caught themselves and went into whisper mode, playing 'Marco Polo' quieter than Max thought possible. Amelia was right in there with them and her thin t-shirt revealed a rather lot more of her than Max was comfortable viewing.
He felt guilty being aroused by the sight of her, Amelia was not flirting with him, not cognizant of her effect on Max at all, she was having innocent fun. Max kept his gaze moving when he looked over the pool area, never stopping to let it linger. 'Sarah is dead less than a week and I can't control myself?' he thought furiously. He knew Sarah didn't care, any more than he would have, but the guilt was unassailable.
The boys went to the deep end and took turns jumping off the diving board, Nick lost his shorts during one fantastic dive, which made everyone laugh. The pool, Max decided, was a good idea after all. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning, he saw a zed coming up the road from the street. Only one. He motioned to Amelia, who immediately shushed the kids and scrambled out of the pool. Max moved towards the gate, picking up a baseball bat and leaning the rifle he had been carrying against the white fence next to the gate. Amelia picked up the shotgun and leaned low over the fence, using it to brace the gun.
“I'll go brain it. You cover me, yell if you see any more you don't think I can see.” Max said. During this statement he was forced to look at Amelia, hunched over, near naked and Amelia's face blushed as she realized the condition her thin clothing left her in. Saying nothing else Max slipped out of the gate and headed towards the side of the office to get closer to the zombie without being seen.
Amelia didn't yell and Max glanced back a few times to make certain no other zombies were creeping up along the back side of the pool, he was proud to see Nick was already at the opposite corner with the small twenty-two caliber rifle he had been given. The building corner was all windows, Max could peer through them to see the zombie making its way up the road. He looked for a good long time before he checked his revolver and hefted his bat to go out and meet it. Because the zombie was well down the road, Max paused at the side of the building to make sure no other zombies were waiting around the corner to ambush him and to check for other zombies in areas he could not see before. Nothing else moved, just the one who had spotted Max and was now moving toward him with renewed vigor. Max made himself wait by the corner of the building. Some zombies were uncanny, they would send others of their number ahead to test the defenses and lay in wait to view the outcome, the farther Max moved away from the office, the more anyone watching could see, so he waited.
It wasn't a long wait, it took the slow zombie about two minutes to make the climb up the gentle slope of the road and reach for him. Max faked a frontal attack, which made the zombie, who was Hispanic and about Max's age, clasp his hands together over thin air. With the zombie's arms grasping nothing, Max clubbed it in the side of the head, he felt the familiar give of the thing's skull and he knew it was dead. Again. Still when it went down he hit it twice more, to make absolutely sure the thing wouldn't be getting up again. Then he hauled it into the office, which they had found unlocked when they arrived. He dumped the body on the floor behind the desk and wrapped a phone cord around its legs, something that he thought would take a slow zombie hours to figure out how to remove. His paranoia thus satisfied Max looked out the office windows for any other movement. Seeing nothing he made his way back to the pool.
“See anything else?” Max asked a shivering Amelia. It was still warm out. However, there was a slight breeze and that had cooled her off quickly.
She shook her head and said, “No. No other movement.”
“Nick you or Cory see anything?” the boys were also shivering and on the opposite corner from Amelia. The girls had gone to separate sides of the pool and shook their heads before Max asked them.
Cory answered, “No.” The same time as Nick and then both boys said, “Jinx!”, which set them off to laughing.
“Well then, get back to having fun!” The girl's smiles returned immediately and they dropped the clubs back by the pile of towels and jumped in with a quiet laugh.
Tom and Steward found them enjoying themselves like that a half hour later when they pulled in from town. Parking the van corner to corner with the patrol car. Stewart walked over while Tom loosened up a couple of gas cans off the top and started dumping the contents into the wrecker, which used diesel.
“That looks nice!” Stewart commented, eying the pool and the kids playing in it.
“Get your suit on and go in. I'll watch.” said Max.
“I bet you will! Looks like you've been watching Amelia already.” Max flushed and Stewart's voice softened, “Sorry Max, that was out of line. She is a looker though, no harm in that.”
“It's too soon Stewart.”
“Life goes on. No harm in looking.” she repeated.
“Get in, you lame-o, before it gets too dark.”
“You don't have to tell me twice, but I only will if you take a turn afterwards. You been downwind of yourself lately? Phew!” she said waving her hand in front of her face.
Tom came over as Stewart walking into the pool area behind Max's back, saying “Anyone not wanting to see a naked woman look the other way!”
Max stood still, looking at Tom, who was watching the pool area. “She isn't? Is she?”
“She is. The boys are going to have good dreams tonight. I know I will. A little tummy, but overall in good shape. You going in?” asked Tom. Behind Max, he could hear the kids yelling and saying 'Ewwww!' followed by a splash in the pool.
“Not yet, not while Stewart is in the pool.”
“I'll take my turn then,” said Tom, setting his rifle down against the fence, then dropping two pistols onto a chair, where he started tossing his clothing.
“Find anything in town?”
“Yeah, we did. You have any trouble here?” asked Tom.
“One slow zombie, nothing else. It’s really quiet. What did you find?”
“A generator was running at the grocery store, we cleaned out the spam and we got hot dogs and steak to cook up. The dry ice freezer was still good so we filled the back seat with Styrofoam coolers, meat and dry ice. We'll eat good tonight.”
“Steaks? Any bread?”
“Prime cut steaks, corn-fed Iowa beef. No bread, sorry, all of the good stuff was gone, we found the meat in back in the deep freeze, the display cases were empty. We did find a pallet of crackers in the back though, brought a couple of boxes.”
“I could kiss you Tom!” said Max.
“Maybe later, I'd rather kiss Stewart or Amelia though, no offense.” Tom finished undressing throwing his underwear on top of the pile.
“None taken. Go clean up. Amelia brought over soap, not sure where it got to, I know the kids didn't use it.”
Tom slipped into the pool without the fanfare of Stewart, after about half an hour, right as the sun was setting Tom got out and took over watching. Max undressed self-consciously, trying to decide whether or not to go the full monty, when Stewart yelled at him to quit being a chicken and get in the pool before it was too dark to see. With a quick gesture, he disrobed and dove into the water. Once in the safety of the pool being nude wasn't a big deal at all, Stewart kept to the deep end, up to her neck in water, which made Max feel more comfortable. Max did seek out the soap and soon had a lather built up as he cleaned himself off. Amelia sent the boys over to him and he supervised as they scrubbed off. Stewart and Amelia then handled the girls at the opposite corner and soon all seven of them were ready to get out of the pool.
As a general rule, the group did not travel at night and tried to stop around an hour or two before sunset to find a place to sleep. It was not as if the zombies were more active at night, only that it was harder to deal with them then, the darkness did not seem to cause the beasts any problem and the living still could not see that well. So by full dark they were all behind the protective barricade in front of the motel room doors. They kept the coolers in the van for now, by consensus they would sort out where to stow the stuff in the morning. The steaks they brought were half thawed and the kids were okay with eating hot dogs instead of spam, even if there were no buns and only crackers to go with them. They did have ketchup and mustard and everyone had their favorite drink to go along with it.
“Do you think there was anyone alive in town?” asked Max.
“No, it looked like it was evacuated. People left in a hurry, but there weren't many bodies lying around.” said Stewart.
Bodies meant zombies who had been killed. A human killed by zombies got up and started eating others. The abandoned towns were something they started coming across this afternoon. Before they had come across plenty of evidence of fighting; burned buildings, corpses of the dead again, blood everywhere, shell casings. Today had been different, it was like there was a concentrated effort to removed the population before the zombies arrived. And arrived they had. Whenever Max and his group stopped there were tracks of thousands of people who had walked around on the shoulders of the road, all heading northeast into Nebraska along highway seventy-six. The mob of zombies seemed to be well ahead of them, Max was apprehensive about catching up to them. Sometimes he thought about just sitting tight in one of the small towns along the way, they were behind the zombie horde after all, so they should be safe. This town, for instance, seemed like the best bet so far, few zombies, no people, a grocery store with a generator that was working and some food left in it.
“Any zombies?” Max asked.
“A few, none in the grocery store, where we heard the generator. But we had to put down three when we got the gas. Oh, we filled the generator too. It was almost empty. How long do you think it could run on a tank of gas Tom?” Stewart asked.
“I looked it over, it depends on the draw of electricity from what the instructions on the side said, with the highest demand it would last two days if the tank were filled. With a low draw, it could go four, maybe five days. There were a lot of freezers on that line so I would say its been closer to two days than four. And it has a manual switch too. Someone had to turn the freezers over to the generator, it didn't happen automatically.”
“We unplugged all the front freezers too, just left the deep freezes on. The engine idled down substantially after we did that. I think we should run by there tomorrow, let the kids stock up on food and drinks and refill the tanks before we go.” said Stewart.
“Yeah, we could use all the good karma we could get,” said Max.
“What's 'Karma'?” asked Jessica.
“It's kind of like luck,” answered Amelia before Max could, “It means that when you do good things for other people, good things will happen to you. And if you do bad things, eventually bad things will happen to you.”
The girl got real quiet for awhile, then said, “We must have all done something awful then, huh?”
“Oh, I don't know, we are still alive, right?” said Amelia.