The zombie who was aiming her rifle at Stewart collapsed in a spray of bone fragments and dark, sticky blood. Her gun slipped from nerveless fingers as Stewart’s shoulders sagged in relief.
“About fucking time, Max!” Stewart said, only to turn and see Ruben standing with his gun still aimed in the zombie’s general direction. “Ruben?”
The old man nodded. “Your boyfriend and Bill are having a little pow-wow back at the car park.”
“So you can see zombies too?”
“No. I just followed the swear words. They usually lead to you. I’m glad I could help out.”
“Well, thank you.” Stewart said, a little gruffly.
Ruben eyed the thick vegetation around them uneasily, “We should get out of here, I don’t like being somewhere they can jump us so easily.”
“Uphill gets us back to the state patrol building.” said Stewart pointing up the slope.
“Yeah, I didn’t get lost walking thirty yards into the woods to save you, believe it or not.”
“I believe it. Sorry, I was just trying to be helpful.”
“Forget about it.”
The two climbed the hill and came upon Max and Bill arguing to their left as they emerged onto the thin strip of grass between the building and the edge of the woods.
“Now what?” asked Stewart.
“Max has something on his mind. It sounds like that sort of argument.”
Stepping over to the other two Stewart could tell Ruben was right. Both men stopped talking as they were approached.
“What? Is there trouble with the bro-mance?” Stewart asked.
Max smiled, but Bill scowled and said, “No, just a disagreement.” Doing a double take, Bill went on, “Ruben. I didn’t even see you leave.”
“Well, you two were arguing and I thought someone should cover Stewart’s back. What were you two bickering about?”
Max looked at Bill and back to Ruben. “Nothing much. We were talking about the mission and trying to figure out what to do.”
“Or if we should do it. I’m sorry Ruben, I was all set to keep going without Max, but now I wonder at the sense of it all, especially with Javier down. It’s just the four of us against a bunch of the toughest zombies. Not just tough zombies, but the ones who started this mess? Maybe we should pack it in.” said Bill.
“Hallelujah. Let’s load up and head home. Let the Drapers of this world deal with the heavy lifting.” Ruben said.
Max shook his head, “Go if you want to, but I am going on. We went through this already, before we even left Lake Michigan. Any of you could have backed out then, but you chose to come. What has changed? Javier is incapacitated? Did you really think we would all make it through? I didn’t. Which is why I was more than half hoping you four wouldn’t come along.”
“No, we are in it until you say ‘stop’, Max.” said Bill. His face was downcast with a slight frown, “I just don’t know when that will be. Maybe when Stewart dies? Or I do?”
“Maybe, but probably not. I think if I am the one to die that you should turn around and head home, unless someone else can figure out how to find the bad guy. All we have to do is get within a hundred yards of the bad guy and blow him up. We don’t have to talk to him. I plan on getting close to wherever he is, dropping the backpack nearby, setting the timer and running like my ass is on fire and my testicles are catching.”
“Nice speech, Max. I’ll give you that.” Stewart said, “But if you die, do you think we’d really be able to go back and face your kids? I mean, maybe Ruben and Javier could, but I’ve been with you since this started and Bill is your best friend, neither of us could live with ourselves if something like that happened. No offense old man.”
“None taken. I would go back, someone has to tell them what happened.”
“Okay, so we are going on. Let’s load the fuck up and get out of here.” Stewart walked through the open gate towards the cars, “Are we all fueled up? I hope so, because I want to make some miles today. If Aubrey keeps the roads cleared we could be down there tomorrow at this time and back to Iowa three days after that.”
“That’s a good goal.” said Max, trailing behind her.
Ruben and Bill shared a long look and Bill shook his head, “Don’t. Don’t say anything. Lately every time you talk things get confused. I’m not sure what you gained, but I know it’s messing with our heads and after talking to Max I know we aren’t limited to physical improvements.”
“I wouldn’t try anything with you Bill. Things aren’t going the way I like anymore.”
“You and me both. You ready to spill the beans on what your zombie inherited power is?”
“Like I said, it didn’t come with a manual. I’m still trying to figure it out.” With that Ruben turned and started walking after the other two.
“You didn’t come through the gate Ruben.”
Ruben stiffened for a moment, and then kept walking.
“Have it your way, Ruben. But you should talk to one of us sometime.” Bill said softly.
After traveling more than six hundred miles that day and through part of the night they stopped at a rest area around two in the morning. The latest signs they had passed indicated that they were twenty miles outside of Jacksonville. There were two things of interest that happened that day. First, they were down to two police cruisers. The one Stewart was driving started overheating after only three hundred miles. They had opted not to try and find a new vehicle, fueling up only two was far easier than siphoning gas for all three. They had picked up three gas cans, two and a half gallons plastic affairs which helped with siphoning fuel from the abandoned cars along the highway.
When they finally stopped to get some sleep they still had half a tank in each car and all three gas cans were full. Max had wanted to stop at the last abandoned car they had passed to get fuel out of it, but Bill insisted they wait until daylight. By then everyone was getting tired and tempers were short. As they pulled into the rest stop, the other thing of note happened. After Max and Stewart were sleeping with Ruben and Bill left on watch, Javier woke up.