The place was swarming with undead. On one end of the massive building it looked like there was a business; “Lazarus Industries, Ltd”, but all the action seemed to be taking place midway along the building, where there were two massive hanger style doors that opened to the street. There was a sign that read “Marine Restoration and Repair” and that section of the building looked like it could hold several yachts at the same time. There were no boats in sight now, just undead.
“What the fuck are they all doing?” Katie asked herself. She saw the van and the pickup truck, but there was no sign of anyone in or near them. Getting into the strip mall across the street was simplicity in itself. Katie was crouched behind the plate glass of a pizza parlor, hugging the floor and using her rifle’s scope to check out what was going on across the street. With all the zombies around it was a miracle that they hadn’t spotted her. She kept low to the ground to try and stay out of sight, but doing so kept her from getting a good view of what was going on. Katie needed to be on the roof, not hugging the floor.
“Katie.” Randy’s voice came as a whisper out of the darkness behind her.
Whirling she brought her rifle around, there was nothing there.
“Randy?” Katie called.
There was scuffled footstep in the kitchen, then the quiet sound of something sliding to the floor.
Katie didn’t recognize the voice, it was male and it wasn’t the same one that had whispered to her before. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“`Cause if you do, all those zombies over there are going to come rushing over here to see what the noise is. And you and me are probably on the same side.” called the voice.
“Katie…” came the whisper again, from the side, looking she again saw nothing.
“What are you…are you doing that?”
“Doing what? No. Are you gonna agree not to shoot me so we can talk face to face or am I going out the way I came in.”
“I won’t shoot you.” Katie lied.
“Good enough for me, I am coming out.”
Katie saw an old man in army fatigues step through the doorway. In his hand he held the map she had left in the kitchen at the yellow house. In a flash Katie recognized the man. She was in Chicago, sighting down her rifle into the park, through the vegetation by the Art Institute. He and a younger man were struggling to drag a wounded comrade towards the building and a zombie was firing at them blindly through the bushes. Katie had taken the zombies out with a single shot and then covered their retreat to a small open park next to the building.
“You.” Katie said, not believing what she was seeing.
“You were at the Art Institute in Chicago. You were with the guy who could see zombies.”
“Uh, yeah. How’d you know that?”
“I was on the building across the street, I saved your ass.”
The old man cocked his head to one side, still half behind the door frame, and he nodded, as if listening to some inner advice. “That was you? On the building across the street?”
“Me and my partner were there. What in God’s name are you doing here?”
“They sent us to kill this guy. My name’s Ruben. And you?”
“I’m Katie. I am pleased to meet you, but with things being as they are, I don’t think I want to shake your hand or get too close to you.” Katie said, thinking Ruben was a zombie.
“That’s understandable. How did you get here?”
A whispery voice belonging to Randy said, “That is the question, isn’t it?”
Ruben cocked his head sideways and looked at the spot in the room where Katie thought Randy’s voice had originated from.
“You heard that?” she asked him.
“I heard something. What was that?” Ruben asked.
“My partner, he’s not quite dead, more like a ghost. His name is Randy. He comes and goes.”
“I’ve heard of stranger things.” Ruben said with a straight face. “Now I don’t think we have a lot of time, but I was supposed to come here and meet you. I….have a message for you.”
“It’s short. I don’t know what it means.”
“Who is it from?”
“God.” The old man shrugged, “Or at least I think it is, do you want the message or not?”
“No.” came Randy’s whispery voice.
“Yes.” Katie said.
“He is right. That’s it. Now I have to go, but we are on the same side and if you see me or Bill or Javier or Max, please don’t shoot us.”
“What do you mean ‘He is right’?”
“I don’t make the messages; I just deliver ‘em.” Ruben hefted the backpack he was carrying and pulled a can of beer from the top flap, he set it on the floor and rolled it towards Katie, it stopped against her knee. He pulled another out and cracked it open and took a long pull from it. “It’s warm as donkey piss, but still good.”
“I don’t get it. Why do you have to go? What are you doing?”
Outside thunder followed a flash of lightning and the first sheet of rain came down.
“Lady, if I knew what I was going to do next I would be a happier man myself. But it’s time.”
With that Ruben stepped back out of sight and left Katie staring at the beer resting against her knee. She was tempted to follow him out, demand the answers he had, but Randy’s voice stopped her.
This time when she turned she saw him beside her, standing and looking down, his face a dejected mask that he could not hide.
“About time, what was this all about?”
“I’ve figured it out, Katie.”
“About me, about you. I think I can help us now.”
The lightening flashed again and created a distorted sight for Katie because the light passed through Randy’s form.
“Freaky.” She said, “Okay hit me with it. Tell me what we know. I haven’t got a shot here and this rain is only going to make it worse.”
“When is the last time you ate?”
Katie laughed, “What? Worried about me putting on a few pounds? It’s not going to happen with all this running around…”
Randy raised his hand and sharply cut her off, “This isn’t a joke, when is the last time you had any food? Or water? Or used the goddamned toilet?”
“Why…I…used the toilet this…” She had been going to say, ‘this morning’, but Katie realized she hadn’t. Her brow crinkled in contemplation. ’No, not this morning, but last night before I turned in…’ Only she realized she couldn’t remember turning in. ‘Well operating on low sleep is normal in combat situations. I’ll catch up when I can later.’ Katie’s eyes opened wide, her mouth formed an ‘o’ shape and she started shaking.
“You’re as dead as I am.”
“No!” Katie yelled, hearing Ruben’s voice echo “He is right.”
A torrent of images came back to her, the Farm and Fleet, Samantha. Katie pushing the younger woman to the ground, tearing her throat out before she could scream. Knocking Kent out in the house, and feeding on his two kids, getting stronger as she fed on them and taking refuge in the car before ‘discovering’ them the next morning. Along the way, the woman she had picked up, along with the man who was eaten by her kids. Only the woman was in the car, not quiet dead before Katie came back to her. She hadn’t survived too much longer. Katie remembered the blood, the taste, the delicious feeling as the colors from those she was killing faded to black.
“Follow it back. Remember everything…” Randy whispered, “Don’t stop halfway.”
“No. Not me. I…didn’t.” Katie felt an almost overwhelming surge to forget everything she had remembered, an insidious voice repeated over and over in her mind.
‘This is not real, you don’t eat people. You’re alive. You’re human.’
The voice, a woman’s, repeated a series of statements, like a music player set to repeat the same tune over and over.
Katie clutched the sides of her head and resisted the urge to forget. Randy stepped forward and interlaced his fingers with hers. She looked up at him, bloody tears streaming down her face.
“I’ve always been helping you. Don’t forget. Don’t forget.” Outside the storm rose to a crescendo, almost drowning out his words.
Katie screamed as her vision faded, spiraling into darkness, consumed by a storm of madness as she followed the lines of her fragmented memory back to that day in Chicago, when she died.