They returned to the compound cold, dirty, and tired, but thankfully in the same numbers with which they had departed. They hadn't found much — Francis had siphoned a can and a half of gas, and Paco and Wilbur had scrounged maybe two bags of still-good canned food — but they'd cleared the approaches of danger, silently dispatching a dozen zombies with now-practiced ease.
The only surprise on the day was the smell that greeted them at camp.
Francis followed it into one of the walled-off houses the group occupied and found Emily, sitting in a chair placed a few feet from the oven, staring into it. He asked, incredulous, “Are you baking?”
“There was cake mix in the cupboard. Those eggs you found the other day were still good, so, why not.” It wasn't a question.
The smell was intoxicating. “What flavor?”
“Chocolate of course.”
He saw the empty cake-mix box lying discarded on the counter, and he picked it up and read the back. Half an hour at three-fifty... “You're using up a lot of power—”
“It was sunny today. And there was hardly anyone here to use electricity all day. I figure we had it to spare.” She glanced at him. “What.”
He shook his head slowly. “I dunno, Em, it just seems a little weird...”
She turned to look at him, spoke as if annoyed at having to explain the self-evident. “It's the end of the world. I wanted cake.”
Francis stood quietly for a minute, taking in the smell, before laying his guns and backpack on the empty kitchen table. He came back over to Emily and kissed on the top of the head. “Is there frosting?”
She pointed at a small can on the counter. “Also chocolate. We don't dare plug in the fridge so there's no way to chill it, make it solidify. Maybe if we leave it out back overnight. It's been getting down near forty.”
“Sure.” The back patio was enclosed, a sun room like you find in the south. Probably nothing would get in. “Maybe there's an open-top box we can put it in, just to be safe—”
“There's some banker's boxes upstairs.”
Paco pulled the door open and stuck his head in. “Do I smell cake?”
He was distracted, smiling, but then remembered his original purpose. “Hey, you gotta come, man. Some zombies coming up the road, must've followed us back, man. Guess we didn't get 'em all.”
“I'll be right there.”
Paco ducked back out, pulling the door shut behind him. For a long moment, Francis watched Emily watch the oven. “I'll be back.”
“I'll be here.”
“Keep the door closed.”
She leaned in closer, trying to make out detail through the cloudy stove-front window. “...Sure.”
He grabbed his guns and the backpack, and let himself out. He had the scent of chocolate cake in his nostrils the rest of the afternoon, even when he and Paco and Wilbur were burying the zombies that had happened upon the compound in a relentless search for a living meal.