Jonas stopped by the large pine tree and looked down on the town he was being pulled toward. He rested his arm against the tree and rubbed his head with his other hand. Any who looked at him wouldn’t know him from the zed who had bailed out of the Humvee only five days before. His clothing was stained with dirt, greenish stains from trees, a bit of blood and tree sap.
‘I guess the forests doing well.’ It amazed him that the flora could rebound so quickly as soon as men stopped messing with it. ‘Now who are these fuckers?’
The fuckers he was referring to were in the town of Valleycliffe, in British Columbia. The place was human, as far as Jonas could tell. There were kids playing in the streets. He had even seen a car creep slowly down one pot-holed road this morning just after dawn. Getting there that early had also shown him that some of the houses, at least, still had electricity.
Jonas was perched on the north side of a precipice that overlooked the town, it was still in shadows and he felt optimistic that it would stay shadowed for most of the day. If the people down there were all human, he would have nothing to worry about. Far off in the valley a dog started barking, causing others to take up the choir for a good five minutes. As the barking died down, he saw the kids come back outside, they must have gone in when it started, and he hadn’t noticed.
He leaned back and listened in on what he referred to as his ‘Last’ channel, to see if his father had any directions for him today. So far, the communications had been vague, a nudge here, a direction there. No direct verbal contact. As frustrating as it was Jonas was happy. By now Parker would be, at the very least, suspicious that he was gone at most, she had figured out he wasn’t coming back.
He was glad to have Marla off his back. When he was completely honest with himself, like now, while looking over a beautiful town that, for as much as what had happened, could, if he squinted, be a pre-z-day village…when he was completely honest he was glad to be done with it. The military, the politics, the responsibility. He just had to survive. Survive and find Elijah Last, everything else was…finished.
The word entered his brain so forcefully that he jerked away from the tree and almost tumbled down the mountain. That would have been great. He was sure he would have survived the drop, but then he wouldn’t have been ‘staying’, and would have had to climb back up. Despite the tree cover he might have been spotted, either falling or hiking back.
Slowly, very slowly, he crouched down, then sat, putting his back to the tree and retaining a decent view of the town below, though he lost sight of the row of homes closest to the base of the mountain. Yeah, I can stay, this is fine.
When the zombie outbreak had started, Jonas had gone through the same stages as everyone else, first disbelieve, then thinking it was a prank or a promotion for an upcoming movie, then filled with a fierce determination to fight back. Finally, he had grown afraid. The media was filled with pictures of the carnage; these weren’t all slow-moving Romero zombies; these zombies could act human and be reasoned with…and still wanted to kill. Settling on fear had driven him to barricade himself into his southern California home and not let anyone in. It was during this time, alone, behind a locked door which had most of his particle board furniture stacked up against it, that he found a quite peace. His situation was…not good but came with a lot of relief. No more bills, no more driving his beater to his dead end, moderate wage job. No more trying to make ends meet or stress. No more stress. It was Zen like and peaceful. Admittedly peace with an over-arching layer of pure, unadulterated fear hanging over it. He played video games, surfed the net and ate from his stockpile of ramen noodles, refried beans, tortillas and soup. Mountain Dew, the 8 two liters he had stocked up on, was his drink of choice. For a weapon all he had was an old aluminum baseball bat. Something the internet said was not very good at destroying a horde of zombies. The power never went out, the internet relayed scenes of despair until it subtly changed to one of trying too hard to restore calm and order. In his bean addled, mountain dewed state he never noticed the switch, other to feel some relief that the government was getting a handle on things.
He had been taken when the police showed up at his apartment to evacuate him to a safe place. Stupidly he had believed they were living, breathing police. They had been zeds. One quick trip to the back of a converted security van and he began his second life.
He was fortunate in that he was taken early, and a given the task of ‘converting’ whole sections of the population. I had a quota, a god-damned daily quota. Like most of the newly converted he had dabbled a bit too long with the converts, taking quite a bit of their life essence for himself, not really knowing what he was doing. This was great in that he broke into the ranks of ‘super’ zombie, a rank that many never attained. How many did I have to kill to make the grade? Forty? Fifty? A hundred? He had no idea, probably someone knew. Rumor had it that it was taking longer to make supers now that it had been at the beginning, perhaps one day no new supers would emerge no matter how many people a slow zombie consumed.
Stay? Yeah, he could do that and would gladly do so.
The day turned to night, then back, no new urges to move came over him and that day passed two, with Jonas hardly moving at all. The second night he heard a rustling as some animal moved through the trees behind him. An elk brushed past his tree momentarily standing between him and the edge of the cliff, before plunging through the trees along the face. Jonas thought the thing was going to fall to it’s death, but it clung to the edge like a magnet as he watched it go. A moment later it occurred to him that something must be chasing the bull elk, otherwise why would it take such a risky course?
A low grow came from the direction the Elk had come from and, slowly, Jonas turned his head to look over a trio of large wolves.
“My, my, aren’t you fellows big?” Jonas said quietly.
The wolves sniffed the air, growling with menace as they stepped in closer to his tree. Jonas didn’t move, he just grinned and waited. In a moment one of the wolves stopped, ducked its head and gradually backed away, the other two followed. A howl over the ridge called out and, faster than Jonas thought possible, the wolves were gone, like a muzzle flash in the night.
“Well that was exciting.” Jonas said though truly it had not been. His feeling of invulnerability had been with him for several years now, it would take more than a trio of wolves to give him an inkling of fear.
The crack of a broken twig shot through the night, then he heard another, more subtle sound of something moving up on the other side of. Not quite fear, but something moved in him. Curiosity more than anything. Were they working with the wolves? Were the wolves coming back?
The barrel of a gun was the first thing Jonas picked out of the darkness to his left. The woman behind it was dressed in black and most assuredly not among the living. As he looked at her he felt the muzzle of another gun touch the back of his head.
“Don’t.” said a soft voice from beside him.
Now it was a tingle of fear that he felt. They are good. Very good. Father? Elijah didn’t respond. Jonas just held position and waited for his adversaries to tell him what they wanted.
“Apologies, you’re going into complete sensory shutdown until we figure out what to do with you.” The person behind Jonas pulled a hood over his head, tightening the drawstring around his neck enough that it would have killed him, were he not already dead. His hands were bound roughly behind him and he was pulled to his feet and then slung over someone’s shoulders as if he were a small boy. Then…he was somewhere else.
Teleport? It was a rare ability, but one moment Jonas sensed he was outside above the town, the next he felt a pressure change, as if he were underground. There was no air movement and there was a sound of a blower or high-powered fan that ate through the sack over his head and drowned out all other noises.
“Stay. Do not move. Do you understand?” The ‘voice’ was in his head and Jonas refrained from nodding. Mentally he sent his assent and he was lowered to the ground, it felt like wood and left.