Harold was piss-himself drunk, laying on the floor, waiting for the office break room to stop spinning around him. The building he had holed himself up in had a liquor store on the first floor, and he’d managed to get down into through the ceiling two weeks ago. This was the first time he’d allowed himself the luxury of getting completely wasted, and not because it was New Year’s Eve: it had taken him this long to zombie-proof the building. Now that he was sure he wouldn’t be eaten, he was seriously considering never allowing himself to sober up again.
Booley shuffled down the dusty steps to his apartment building's security door, and once there quietly and slowly pulled open the curtain just enough to see outside. The street was littered with abandoned cars and taxis, but it was passable. More importantly, there were none of the walking dead in evidence. There had been a couple of them milling around the day before, but they had meandered off down towards the river after a change of wind and so far had not returned.
He pushed the door open and hurried up the street, hunched over against the cold. When he reached her building, he wasted no time on the long-dead call buttons: the key to the security door was already in his hand, and he let himself in without delay.
Booley didn’t give the quiescent elevator a second’s thought. Hanging his hat and coat on the banister, he proceeded up the stairs to the fourth floor. As he tiptoed down the hall, he listened carefully for any noises that would betray her mood, but heard nothing. Once he reached her door, he knocked quickly and quietly.
No answer came. But, since there was always the chance she was asleep, or even listening to music with her ear-buds in, he knocked again, as loudly as he dared. He was reasonably sure her building was safe, but while there had been none in view on the street there were many places a zombie might be hidden from view in a city.
Finally he heard her moving inside: a rustle of blankets, bare feet padding lightly on carpeted floor. There was a long moment of silence that she must have used to peer at him through the peephole. Eventually the door slowly swung open, and Camille stared blankly at him, dressed in flannel pajamas and holding the .45 pistol he had often insisted was much too large for her to wield safely. As far as he knew she had never once fired it.
"Batteries," he blurted awkwardly. "I found some." He fished in his pockets, eventually producing a pack of 8 double-A's, unopened, pristine. "Batteries."
She looked at them, and then up at Booley. "I guess you can come in if you want." She stepped back enough for him to pass into the apartment, which he did at once, then pushed the door shut behind him. She said, as if to excuse herself from being more welcoming, "I have sort of a headache."
"You look thin. Have you been eating enough?" He winced at the sound of his own voice: parental, at best avuncular.
She shrugged. Of course she hadn't; he didn’t need to search her kitchen to know the pantry was all but bare. She never went out scavenging on her own, not outside her building anyway.
He put the battery package on the coffee table. Her blinds were down, and the apartment was relatively dark. "Were you sleeping? Did I wake you?"
"No. I was reading. Well, sort of. I'm looking for something to read." Camille gestured at the bookshelves: three tall edifices packed with hardcovers, the leftover spaces filled in with paperbacks. "I keep starting things and realizing I just read them. I don't get it. I couldn't have just read them all, could I?" She looked at him, head cocked to one side, as if she were actually asking a reasonable question and expecting a considered answer.
Booley said, "I don't know. How fast do you read?"
"Pretty fast, I guess. Mom had me take a speed-reading class when I was in school. She wanted me to be a lawyer or something. Something that would make me a lot of money, you know."
"Mothers are like that." Camille's mother had survived the plague and the horde to die three months later of a heart attack. Booley had carried her body up to the roof and burned it on a makeshift pyre. Camille hadn't come with. It had been windy that day, and the smoke had been carried away quickly: he'd only had to stay in her building for two days before it was safe enough on the street to go out again. "I'm going to bring you some food next time I—"
"I'm leaving." She sat down on the sofa and wrapped a fleece blanket around herself for warmth.
She shrugged. "Maybe tomorrow."
"Where are you going to go?"
"Out of the city. My Uncle Reese has a place upstate. He's a survivalist type, you know? Basement full of powdered milk and shotguns. Mom didn’t want to make a try for it, but now that she’s gone…"
Booley was filled with panic. Camille was the only one left within blocks, the only one he knew, who he could trust. There had been others at first, a few in a building here, a few there, but one by one they had disappeared or turned on each other or been bitten. Now there was only Camille. "How are you going to make it all the way upstate?"
"I'm going to take my bike while I'm still strong enough to ride it. And then I've got Dad's gun." It was resting on the couch beside her, and she patted it. “And some ammo in a box.”
He was formulating what to say in response, but after a moment she added, "You don't want to come with." It wasn't a question: she was telling him he couldn't tag along. "Reese doesn't know you, and I don't know how much he's still got. If he's there at all."
"Right." Booley nodded, trying to seem like he was taking the news well. "You're probably right."
She didn't say anything for a minute. He backed up and sat heavily in the armchair, the old green one her mother used curl up in. Camille picked up the batteries. "Double A?"
"Do you have any nine-volts?"
"I might…" He had a drawer full. Batteries were on his 'always pick up' list for when he went scavenging.
"I have a little transistor radio. I know it works from last summer when the power went off for two days, but the batteries in it are dead now—"
"I'll bring one over tomorrow. Maybe two."
"I appreciate it." She got up, and walked over to hand him the battery package. "I don't need any double A's, though. You can keep these."
He stuffed them back into his pocket. "I'll bring you the nine-volts in the morning."
He made his way to the door, but turned to caution her, as seriously as he could manage, "Don't leave before I come by. Promise?"
He stepped out into the dark, musty hall with little relish, and she closed the door behind him without ceremony. The brass-painted "4E" briefly swung back and forth from the single nail holding it in place. Booley made his way forlornly back down the stairs to where he had left his hat and coat. There, leaning against the mail boxes, was Camille's bicycle. Booley briefly fantasized about taking it, hiding it, preventing her from leaving, but of course there are no undead bicycle thieves; she would have known him to be the culprit.
Putting his coat and hat back on, he pulled open the door and hurried back out onto the street, to scurry between the abandoned cars back to his own building. As before the security door key was already in had before he needed it, and he was inside never having stood still.
In his apartment there was little room to move around amidst all his scavenged possessions, but he sidled slowly through the box-filled living room and into the kitchen. Pulling open a drawer, he tossed in the package of batteries; it came to rest with dozen of packages just like it.
Nav called out, “Two minutes.”
The jump clock was counting down; the crew was on-edge but keeping busy. The Captain answered absent-mindedly, “Two minutes, aye.”
The enemy home planet would appear in front of them, and they would either be caught unprepared and defenseless or they would be ready, waiting to pounce as soon as the fleet appeared.
“Board is green.” It was the third time Weps had said it, so the Captain ignored him.
The seconds ticked away, and the tension mounted “All right, people. Let’s get this nonsense over with and get home; I’ve got things to do.”
“Here they come again.”
The Ambassador looked skyward: the Eileiocca swooped down as a group, wings outstretched, passing mere meters above the assembled humans. His hair and clothes were buffeted by the displaced air, and he covered his ears to protect his eardrums against the loud scree of their war-cry.
“It’s quite impressive, isn’t it?” Doctor Reese opined as soon as he put his own hands down.
“Yes, very much so,” agreed the Ambassador, allowing only the slightest tinge of annoyance to creep into his voice. “But are they ever going to land and talk? We’re on a schedule here.”
The doorbell was an unwelcome event, and Calvert took his time rising, shuffling to the door, unlatching the chain, and pulling the door open. He said, curtly: “What.”
She was young and pretty. Girls like her did not come to his door ordinarily. He immediately distrusted her. She smiled sweetly and said, “Mister Willis?”
“Who wants to know?”
“What the hell kind of name is that? And what do you want?”
“I’m your angel, Mister Willis. You need to come with me—”
He slammed the door in her face. After a long, terrifying moment, the doorbell rang again.
They’d disconnected the warning beeps: the mobile crane’s engine noise was bad enough to draw zombies from a couple miles in any direction. Fortunately after their sweeps there weren’t many of the walking dead still around, at least for now. Still, just in case, they kept pickets and lookouts posted.
The next timber was lowered slowly into place, sliding into the slit trench with ease. The ground crew unhooked the chains and began to lash it in place. In a week they’d have a fortress no horde could batter their way into: old school, frontier-style. Assuming they had a week.
We didn’t fucking need to be told what to do. We’ve seen the movie.