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ORIGINAL FICTION

IT'S JUST NO GOOD ANYMORE


By Ken Gentner


Gina cocked the Beretta's hammer with a blistered thumb and winced in pain. The powder burns mixed with the fluid under the freshly broken skin. "Die you fucker," she rasped at the last approaching dead thing - a fat teenager wearing a stained rock concert t-shirt. His greasy scalp flew off his skull and landed on a pile of stinking carcasses behind him before his own body joined in the stack of rotting flesh. Her slide locked to the rear after ejecting the magazine's last casing. She couldn't have done that better if she were paid.

Gina wiped her forehead with the sling for her broken right arm. More pain lanced across her brain as she lifted the arm slightly to get some slack in her left hand. She examined the glistening sweat on the pea-green fabric. She needed a shower to rinse the sweat, grime, blood, and sand out of her skin. It had been days since she pampered herself with her own personal hygiene; hell, she could smell her own unclean and not-so-fresh feeling from between her thighs over the rotting flesh that surrounded her. She stunk of them. She shuddered at the thought of anybody touching her again. After dragging all of the bodies outside, she set them ablaze. Finally, she locked the church's double doors and made her way through the entire building to give herself the satisfaction that she was the only prowler in this house of worship. The last time she relaxed and let her guard down, she was almost eaten in her sleep. She wasn't stupid enough nor could she afford to repeat mistakes. Keeping low to avoid silhouetting her lean frame in the stained glass windows, she swept through the sanctuary, checked the pulpit, and rechecked the locks to the doors on both left and right wing closets. Beyond the right wing closet, she took a hidden flight of stairs to a dressing room below. Hidden among the rows of dusty taffeta angel costumes and choir robes lay the last boxes of her only weapon's ammunition. Gina scooped the government-issued brown boxes up with her good arm, placed them in the sling and headed into the kitchen. She had not yet taken a full inventory of the church's wares because of constant undead interruptions. She imagined the refrigerator to be stocked with sugar-free punch and the cabinets full of generic brand decaf and stale Archway cookies. She could afford this break now since she chained all of the entry doors at their crash bars. The church was built in a split-level configuration; meaning only the front and rear entry doors are at ground level. The sanctuary was about fourteen feet above ground, making the windows unreachable from outdoors. The basement was refurbished in the 1950's to double as a fallout shelter in the event the U.S.S.R. launched nukes at the God-fearing heartland of America. There were no basement windows and the walls were lined with asphalt and lead to protect against sound and radiation. For the first time in a month, she felt safe.

She poured the punch into a Styrofoam cup and admired the greenish hue as it swirled and bubbled on the surface. She swallowed and realized how thirsty she was. She was coming down from her latest adrenaline surge and felt the weight of the gun belt biting into her hips. Her chest was heaving from exertion. She finished the last of the punch and walked to the utility room under the basement stairs. She saw a showerhead sticking out of the wall surrounded by cobwebs. She found a decaying cardboard and tin can of powdered soap lying on an old roll top desk near the door. She painfully disrobed.

The water was rusty and putrid for a brief time when it first emerged from the parched showerhead. It sputtered and coughed in protest at the command to come to life. Gina eagerly stepped beneath the surprisingly warm water. She tapped a chunk of blue and white soap from the can and pulverized it in her hand. The water made a paste with the soap as she rubbed the grainy mix across her waist and breasts. She allowed her mind to relax and remember a happier time.

She could still smell the flowers.

Lilac and tulip aroma filled the air while they made love under clear skies. The pond reflected the colors of late spring. The emerald grass mixed with the blue heaven above. The red, purple, orange, and yellow flowers framed his face. The pond - with her spectrum of color - sat like a halo of pious radiance around his head. His smile reflected hers on that perfect day.

"I do so much love you."

"Why do you say it that way?"

"Because saying 'I love you' doesn't mean as much when it is repeated as often as people do," he replied with loving sincerity.

Gina allowed herself a moment to weep. The water was going cold. She quickly scrubbed her body, finishing the last bit of the powdered soap that was starting to irritate her fresh layer of skin. It dawned on her she washed herself with scouring powder. She didn't care. Smelling like bleach was better than smelling like them.

She padded across the cold concrete floor to the dressing room and dried herself off with an altar towel. She felt completely invigorated from the shower. 'Quick assessment,' she thought. 'I have three toilets, five sinks, about a year's worth of toilet paper, there are two boxes of military field rations from 1972 in the pantry, and 90 bullets.'

KA-CHINK

Gina dropped the towel and rushed to her pistol and knapsack. There was no time to hesitate and be a weak girl now. That sound was someone or something trying to open the front doors. The chains were securely fastened with a padlock. Nothing can get in by conventional means. The dead aren't smart enough to cut through the door.

She dressed herself in a black choir robe and slid on a pair of cork sandals. She dashed to the kitchen and snatched two long kitchen knives and a paring knife. "I need more bullets," she muttered.

Gina scrambled the steeple stairs in less than a minute. She took measured care to prevent the steeple floor door from creaking and giving away her position. She immediately spotted an old brown Chrysler Cordoba parked neatly in the lot. From her vantage point, she saw the white vinyl upholstered interior with a cluttered backseat. The trunk was open, but she couldn't see inside it. The hatch was in the way.

Gina's blood chilled and thickened in confused shock. There was a hand holding the trunk open! The pink and white flesh disqualified it for membership in the undead horde. The fingertips were too thick to be a woman's. Gina quietly reloaded her pistol and spare magazines while eyeing the intruder. She looked above her head to check her clearance. She would hate to stand up into a bell and be knocked unconscious and allow this man to get the upper hand. She glanced back down as the hand slammed the trunk shut, revealing a good-looking and sturdy middle-aged man wearing blue jeans and a gray flannel shirt with a black turtleneck. He had a rifle in his left hand and knelt to pick up a sledgehammer and a coil of black rope.

Gina ducked her head down to examine her options. Stupid bitch, get your head back up there, she thought and started to bring her head up to watch her opponent. She dropped prone before she realized she had. The man shot at her.

He knows I'm here, she thought immediately. Gina heard a humming ringing sound from above. She looked up and saw a wisp of smoke from the edge of the church bell. The sharp metallic clang had immobilized her briefly, and she realized she was in for a monster headache tonight. That fucker shot at me.

"Knock knock," said the man with calculated volume. He craned his neck and scanned the church windows high above. "Doors are chained on the inside, and there is a smoldering pile of dead people out here. That means you are inside the church and have the upper hand. I won't play games with you. I know you have an advantage. Please let me inside. I am alone out here, but I'll work hard to help you in any way I can. I have ammunition and a strong back. I have a car with a full tank of gas. I could move on, but I just want to rest for a while. You know I could just smash a window and climb in if I wanted to. I respect you this much at least. Isn't that worth something?"

Gina realized he shot the bell for effect and as a display of his abilities. She spied a group of approaching zombies in the trees behind him. Another group of six approached from the west. She could let him handle it on his own with the chance he may die, or she could just pop his head herself and let the dead have their way with him. This would draw a crowd even after the body was devoured. They could damage the car, a means of escape if things went sour.

"God damn it," she whispered and stood up to a half crouch. She estimated twenty yards of safety between him and the first group of lumbering dead. She started for the trap door when she saw him turn and look at the approaching ghouls. He threw his shotgun to the ground and placed his hands on his head.

"What the FUCK is wrong with this asshole?"

She boiled down the steps and ripped the keys off her belt. She was thankful she had rehearsed finding the right key for each lock in the event she needed to make a hasty exit. Gina yanked the lock and chain off and kicked the doors open.

The man made no move for the door. He stood there with his hands on top of his head smiling at Gina. "Thanks a lot. I knew I could trust you."

"You don't even know the half of it shit-for-brains. Get down on your stomach, arms spread," Gina fired back.

The zombies were fifteen feet away from his heels. His jaw dropped. "What?"

"'DOWN', I said!"

The man examined her clothes. "You better be good at what you do, choirgirl," the man snapped as he dropped to the black top.

Gina left a sandal in the doorjamb and dashed at the man. She pressed the arch of her bare foot into the nape of his sweaty neck and took aim with her Berretta. She plugged three ghouls in the eye and fired two shots in the head of another. Out of immediate danger, she shoved her pistol in her armpit and snatched the rifle off the ground before bolting for the door. "Get up and get over here NOW!"

He stood up and calmly removed his keys from his pocket. He walked over to the trunk and opened the lid. Again, the trunk hatch prohibited Gina from seeing what he was doing, so she trained her pistol at him. She glanced sideways at the last group of advancing ghouls.

"No witnesses," the man said loudly. A shot came from behind the car. One of the dead fell just after it crossed into the parking lot from the grass. "I don't want anyone to know what we have got going on here." He lowered his pistol to his side and smiled down at the two blonde women tied-up in his trunk. The younger one's tears smeared her eye makeup across her cheek and beaded on the gray duct tape over her mouth.

"MOVE IT!"

"Sssshh! You are drawing a crowd here. Let me handle this please." The man produced a sledgehammer and a coil of black nylon rope from the compartment and closed the hatch.

The man tossed the rope to Gina before the first zombie clumsily clawed at him. He sarcastically dodged his opponent's attack and returned with a hammer strike to its chest. It fell into the dead burn pile and caught fire. The man dropped the hammer into the zombie's skull, smashing the brains into a flat pile of goop. He made short work of the remaining dead afterwards.

Gina admired the man's strength and fury. It looked as if he enjoyed this new sport more than anyone else on earth. She hadn't realized she relaxed her grip on both weapons as he approached her. She quickly brought the pistol to bear on his chest before he got within ten feet of the door.

"Jesus Christ, what on earth made you such a paranoid woman? Lower your defenses in the face of trust for once, okay? We both know you are as tough as you think, but recognize a friend when you see one."

Gina conceded. "What is your name?"

"Michael Jay Faulkner."

"All three names, huh? Like a serial killer?"

"Aren't we all out on killing sprees? What's yours?"

Gina forgot her arm's condition. She felt the dull throb in her elbow and tightened her sling. "I'm Gina. Just Gina."

Michael nodded at her broken arm and shrugged his shoulders. "Whatever, Gina. I can make you a proper arm cast if you give me the chance. Your arm will heal faster that way."

"Great, I could use another arm these days."

"I hate small talk, Gina. Why don't we drag our remaining bodies to the burn pile and get inside where it's safe?"

Gina didn't have to be told twice. She holstered her pistol and dropped the rifle in the church entryway. She met Michael at the first body and moved the remaining ghouls to the blaze. Exhausted, they moved inside. Gina chained the doors shut and walked downstairs with Michael to the kitchen.

"I guess the time for manners is gone, Gina. What do you have to eat?" Michael was rummaging through the cabinets and found a bag of flour and some newspapers. He withdrew a syringe from a small first aid kit he had in a backpack.

Gina eyed the syringe Michael had in his hand and stepped back. "I haven't looked too much.what the fuck is the needle for, dickhead?" Michael looked momentarily offended, and then smiled broadly, "You have a good sense of humor. I like that. The needle is for the morphine I will need to give you before I redo that terrible bone set job you did. The flour and newspapers is all I have for a cast. Trust me, paper mâché is strong when it dries. We will have to cut through it with a knife in six weeks. If you keep it dry, I won't have to redo the whole thing."

Gina felt uneasy about allowing some strange man dope her up and then work on her broken arm. She feared a misshapen arm even worse. After thinking it over, she decided this was for the best.

"You will feel a slight pinch then a little giddy and sluggish."

The sensation was overwhelmingly relaxing. The background around Michael's head began to swirl into a kaleidoscope of color, and spiraling into a halo around his head. This vision seemed so familiar to her and she didn't know where she saw it before. The morphine was wonderful to her. She didn't even mind the wet popping sound her broken arm made as he manipulated it into the proper shape. She realized she would be in agony if she weren't stoned. She giggled at her arm. She laughed at the dirt under her fingernails and she laughed at Michael. It seemed like forever since she was high.

"You are a really silly girl," Michael said as he shook his head and mixed the flour/water mixture. "Now, don't move your arm. I have to get the cast paper ready."

He cut the newspapers in long strips until he had a large pile that covered the entire table. Gina giggled and grabbed a handful of paper strips and tossed them in the air like confetti. She howled and cooed as the papers fell around her chair. Michael bit his lip to contain his laughter. He put a large blue plastic bowl full of a pale paste mixture in the center of the table and dipped the first newspaper strip in it.

Michael laid the strip around her upper arm, holding the end with his thumb and pressed it together to make a firm bond. "What brought you to this church, Gina? Were you part of a larger group of people and got separated?"

Gina tried to laugh, but stopped short and looked up at Michael. She didn't want to talk about it, but she felt it was time to stop hiding her feelings about her life. She swallowed hard and cleared her throat. "I found this church two days ago after getting separated from my boyfriend. I decided to hide out here and wait for someone to come along. The priest was chewing on a little girl's leg in the basement when I came in. It took me a while to clear this place up, but I did it all on my own."

"How did you break your arm?"

"Escaping from the hospital after it was overrun and all my friends were killed." It must have been the morphine that made her say it. The drugs were making her reveal things she would rather ignore. Her shoes told her to shut up.

Michael must have detected her pain. He looked at her swollen arm and continued to lay the newspaper paste on it. Michael decided to change the subject. "So, you are pretty handy with a gun. Where did you learn to shoot like that?"

"My dad taught me how to shoot. I found the gun on one of them."

The cast was a painstaking and careful process requiring several layers to make a solid and stiff cast to support Gina's broken arm. The morphine began to wane around sunset. Gina knew a rough night lay ahead for her. Her arm was swelling against the cast. She could feel the tacky paste on her skin as it meshed with her tiny forearm hairs.

Gina finally passed out waiting for the cast to dry while Michael made dinner. Michael gently moved Gina to an old army cot in a back room, careful to protect the cast from damages. He ate a bowl of beef stew and examined Gina's pistol. He carefully went through her knapsack. He studied a collection of photographs she had in a manila envelope. He touched her face in each. He happily toured photographs of her skiing trip with her high school buddies, holding a puppy, posing in a prom dress, and kissing a young man in a hospital gown.

Michael dropped the spoon in his bowl, cleaned his mess from the table and took the dishes to the sink. He picked up the photograph and Gina's pistol and walked down the hall to the room where Gina slept. Michael wept silently and leveled the pistol at her head. Gina rolled over and moaned comfortably. He hesitated, wiped his eyes and turned on his heels.

He scooped up the keys as he ran past the dining room table and bolted up the basement stairs to the front door. He lifted the door chain off the bars and quietly stepped outside.

Michael crushed the photograph in his hand and dropped it behind him. He turned sharply to face his car's twilight silhouette. A lone zombie was softly patting at the trunk, hoping to coerce his prey out of their hiding place. Michael's face turned to stone, squeezing the last tear from his eye. He calmly glided across the lot to his car. The zombie stirred and trudged toward the new target. Michael dropped to a crouch and delivered a bone-crushing blow to the zombie's knees. The ghoul's stiff legs shattered, dropping him to the pavement inches from Michael's ankle. The rotting husk was given a series of similar crushing blows to the pelvis, elbows and shoulders. Satisfied he immobilized the creature, Michael stood up and walked to the rear of the vehicle. He yanked the keys out of his pocket and jammed one in the trunk lock.

He glared at his captives. The older one was sleeping despite the scuffle and his intrusion. He reached behind the half-naked woman and snatched her daughter from her painful perch on the dirty spare tire.

The girl yelped and whimpered as Michael stood her up. He quickly slammed the trunk hatch down when the girl's mother woke and joined her daughter in the puppy-like howl.

Michael placed his hand over the teenager's taped mouth and stroked her greasy hair. "Shh," he whispered soothingly, "we mustn't get mother upset."

Michael stepped over the downed ghoul and pulled the girl towards the church door. He sat her down on a nearby bench, knelt down and palmed the picture. He took great care to keep his hand hidden in the shadows.

Michael assumed a proposal-like pose and placed his other hand on the girl's knee. "Look, we just met, and I know this is sudden, but will you marry me?"

The girl cried.

"Hey, hey, hey.I know how you girls get about this stuff. I'm sorry I don't have a ring, but I promise I'll get a good job and earn your ring. What do you say?"

The girl began to hyperventilate and shudder. Michael stood up and pulled the tape from her mouth. He imagined the quick shock of pain that streaked across her smooth skin. He quickly knelt down to resume his previous pose before she could speak.

"You sick and crazy fucker," the girl spat at Michael. She gulped and began screaming for help.

Michael punched the girl in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her lungs. She doubled over in pain. Michael stood up and began pacing in front of her.

"I'm not sorry I just did that. How could you do this to me, Gina?"

The girl looked up at her captor, eyes and mouth wide open. Large tears welled in her eyes.

Michael smoothed the picture against his thigh. "You fucking bitch! I swear my love to you and devote my life to yours. I took care of you when I found you that day. You remember the broken arm? Who helped you then? ME! I happen to be cleaning up one day and I find THIS! WHO THE FUCK IS THIS GUY?"

The girl gasped for air.

"That's right, play the shocked victim role. You wear it so well, Gina." He nodded at the crippled zombie. "As you can see, I crush all competition. ANSWER ME!"

She struggled for oxygen and finally summoned the air back into her lungs. She wet her pants. After much stammering she uttered the word "Gina?"

Michael stuffed the picture in the girl's mouth and put the tape back over her lips. "Glad to hear you caught your breath, Gina. Now shut up. I'm tired of hearing your filthy lies."

Michael opened the trunk. "Gina's mother" glared at him in horror and fiercely mumbled. Michael squeezed the young girl's mouth with his hand while he pulled Gina's pistol from his belt in the small of his back.

"Sorry mom, but Gina didn't accept my marriage proposal. I guess I can tell your daughter about us, huh?" He tapped the muzzle of the Beretta against the crotch of the woman's panties that were seated between her knees.

Michael unfastened the teenager's pants and pointed the pistol against her kidney. "Hey, you're eighteen now. You don't need your mommy's consent to get married, or have sex, Gina. See, I'll show you how easy it is to tell your mother that you are all grown up."

The woman lay helplessly wide-eyed in the trunk inches away from her child, and blinked a tear loose when Michael shot her daughter and had his way while she silently convulsed and jerked in the throes of death.

Michael tossed the girl back into the trunk to join her mother. "Sorry, I don't have the strength to go again. I'm not as young as I used to be. Perhaps we can get together later? Check your date book." He closed the trunk hatch and walked back to the church.

***********************************


Gina awoke to the aroma of oatmeal and bacon. A bouquet of fresh flowers sat in a blue glass vase on a paper tablecloth thrown over a box near her bed. She sat up and admired the wildflower arrangement for a moment. She noticed her cast was dry and hard; it had solidified in a right angle, just the way it was designed. Her arm felt supported and comforted. The pain was quite dull now, and throbbed only slightly. She estimated she would feel much better by midday. She reached across her body with her left hand to find the button to call for her nurse. She was hungry and was ready for that wonderful breakfast she was detecting down the hall that was probably being delivered to that bitch, Jessica Squall.

She forgot she wasn't in the hospital room anymore. She was in a church with an older man named Michael who was in the kitchen making breakfast. Michael, the guy who reset her arm and carefully built a cast for it.

Gina looked around the room, wondering what time it was. She was still in the black choir robe from last night. She felt silly in the large black sheet. She found the sandals she borrowed neatly tucked beneath the folding army cot beneath her and walked out of the room and down the hall to the kitchen.

"Good morning, Gina," Michael said with a smile. He was leaning against the kitchen sink and drinking a glass of orange juice. "How did you sleep?"

"Hello and good morning," Gina replied with a forced smile. She was still a little groggy from the morphine. She didn't want to seem ungrateful or moody after all he had done.

Michael gestured to a table setting complete with another glass of orange juice. The bacon sat neatly on the plate, slightly blackened. "I have your eggs cooking right now. I'm sorry they aren't done yet, but please, dig in."

Gina quickly sat in the folding chair at the end of the portable table. Michael moved in behind and helped slide her forward. He was careful to set the silverware on the left side of the plate for her. Gina smiled at his attention to detail and greedily devoured the bacon. Michael laid a napkin across her lap for her, an antiquated gesture that took Gina by surprise for a moment. Michael smiled and returned to the stove.

"Where did you get the bacon and eggs, Michael?"

"I went out last night and did some bartering. I checked in on you once to make sure you were okay, and then I headed down to Lakeville. That town is deserted. Only a few dead still walked the street. I knew of a mom-and-pop grocery store down there, so I took my chances. The place had been looted for beer and candy, but still had some frozen foods and fresh eggs."

Gina considered the prospect of moving to Lakeville and occupying a farmhouse there. The comforts of a king-size bed and a huge bathtub sounded inviting, but dismissed the idea after a moment. There were too many windows they would need to board up. In addition, there were rumors of scavengers that travel in gangs. She knew she had a tactical advantage over the dead if she stayed in the church. A gang of cutthroats or some psychopath would have to try pretty hard to get inside it too. She figured with Michael there to help, she could handle any attack with ease.

"Michael, thank you for all you have done."

"You are quite welcome. I'm just happy I got lost out here in the middle of nowhere and found this church."

Gina felt the blood rush out of her face. Her feet turned to lead and her stomach plummeted. She realized Michael was lying.

"Everything alright?" Michael asked. He must have been watching her eat. He scraped a pile of eggs onto her plate.

She ordered herself to make small talk to keep up the charade of ignorance. "I just realized it has been a very long time since I have eaten bacon and eggs. I'm just grateful you came along."

Michael humbly smiled and blushed. He walked over to the sink and began washing the dishes.

Gina continued with her conversation. She needed to find out what he was up to. She began scanning the room for the whereabouts of her pistol or any firearm for that matter. "So, how long have you been on your own, Michael?"

"Since the day it all started. I lost my job at the mill in Elkhart the day before, so I decided to go on a tour of America. I was making my way hitchhiking and camping along I-70. I must have been somewhere near Terre Haute when I saw the first attacks. I was lucky enough to get picked-up by a woman and her daughter. That's how I got the car.

"Where are they?" She was almost afraid to ask.

"I left them at a rescue station a few days ago. I knew the National Guard would be there to uphold martial law, so I left them in good hands. She gave me permission to borrow her car. I didn't steal it. They seemed happy to finally be someplace where they didn't have to run anymore. They probably wouldn't have lasted as long as they did if it weren't for me. They had no weapons and no food. Quite frankly, they were parasites. I'm glad to have them behind me now when I travel," he made a hitchhiker gesture over his shoulder, thumb pointing behind him while he spoke.

"That bad, huh?" Gina was terrified. She didn't have the keys to get outside if she needed to. Did he know she caught his ruse? Knows Lakeville, yet got lost in the middle of nowhere?

"You have no idea how much of an annoyance they became."

Gina finished her breakfast, careful to eat everything. She wiped her mouth and collected her utensils. The throbbing in her arm started to quicken. She started to get up when Michael turned around. He floated across the kitchen and helped her up.

"Please leave everything, Gina. I'll tidy up for you. Why don't you go take a shower and change clothes? We could use a bit of entertainment around here. Are there any books or a television?"

"Only bibles and hymnals from what I saw." I think this is one of those churches that believe radio and television is of the devil."

"I will probably need to make a road trip for supplies today. Better to do it when we have plenty than when we are desperate."

"Just you? Don't you need help?"

"You have a broken arm. Someone has to stay here and protect the place, and somebody has to go out for supplies."

Gina left Michael in the kitchen and went upstairs to the sanctuary. She took great care to walk upstairs with heavy and deliberate steps. Once there, she quickly darted up the middle and took the hidden flight of stairs down to the dressing room. She crept between the costumes and laid on the floor. She lifted her head and pulled herself across the dusty floorboards to the curtain that separated the room from the dining area attached to the kitchen. The narrow view through a gap in the velvet folds was just enough to watch Michael. He was cleaning the stove and cutting board. He stepped out of sight for a moment. She heard his footsteps fade. Gina worried he may be looking for her. She pulled herself up to her knees to break for the stairs.

Michael reappeared with a large garbage bag. He emptied the short kitchen can into it and sat it up on the counter. He rubbed his nose with his thumb and continued cleaning.

Gina saw blood smeared across his nose. He had blood on his hands from something. She considered the possibility of a cut on his hand, but dismissed it. The blood was dark red and semi-coagulated. Michael was far too fastidious to bleed that severely without his first aid kit.

He pulled Gina's pistol out of the garbage bag and placed it on the countertop. He removed the magazine and cleared the bullet out of the chamber. He rinsed the pistol off under the tap and dried it with paper towels. More blood transferred to the towels. He tossed the rest of the roll in the trash along with the bloody ones. He wiped the countertop down one last time and picked up the bag. Gina heard the scraping of keys against wood and realized he had the keys ten feet from her while she ate. He left the kitchen and looked in the utility room. He turned around and dropped the bag by the door.

"Gina, aren't you going to take a shower?" He shouted upstairs with his back turned to the stairwell. He waited for an answer; when he didn't receive one he spun around, glanced down at the bag, and walked to the landing.

Gina rushed up the concrete steps to the sanctuary, dashed past the pulpit, and knelt at the altar. She bowed her head just before Michael walked in.

She heard him sit down in one of the back pews. The wooden bench creaked under the load of his sturdy frame. He was waiting for her to finish praying.

'What a gentleman,' she thought. She lifted her head and opened her eyes. She blinked at Michael.

He raised his hands in surrender-like gesture. "I hope I didn't disturb you and God," he asked from across the room. He raised his voice only slightly so she might hear him from the back. He made no move toward her.

"No, we just finished," she returned with a smile. She was terrified beyond belief.

"Well, I was wondering if you were going to shower right now. I want to go out soon so I have the day to search for supplies."

She stood up and walked to him. "Well, would you like to take a shower first? I don't mind waiting." She was hoping for a break. Get the gun. Shoot him in the back of the head while he showers.

Michael cocked his head sideways and looked her up and down. He stared at her choir robe. He shook his head and stood up. "No, that's okay," he answered. "By the look of things, you need it worse than I do. That robe is dusty and you are sweating."

Gina looked down, horrified at her mistake. She dragged herself across the floor. The entire front of her robe was covered in years of dust; her hands were smeared with dust and sweat. A few small wooden splinters were sticking out of the robe near her knees.

"Where did you go?"

"I tripped in the back closet when I was looking for some more soap," Gina answered. Lies were easier to conjure now since she was admitted to the hospital. She walked down the steps. Better for her to play it off as if it were nothing than to stand there and allow him to examine her further. Damn, you're stupid. He is going to see right through your lie.

"I found some soap under the counter. It isn't body wash, but it will clean you up. I put it near the shower. Go ahead and take one."

Gina passed the garbage bag and spied her pistol and bullets fifteen feet away. She almost went for it when Michael emerged from the stairwell. She averted her eyes and stepped over the garbage bag as if it weren't there. She turned around and looked at Michael. "A little privacy, please?" She asked with a playful grin as she waved him away.

Michael's jaw dropped in shock and he blushed again. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said apologetically. He reached down and snatched the garbage bag. "I'll just take out the," he stammered.

"Trash?" She offered with a smile? Clumsy bitch.you will probably miss the first shot. Squeeze off two.

"Yeah," he said in schoolboy-with-a-crush tenor.

She shut the door and dropped to her knees. She saw him walk away with the garbage through the keyhole and heard him walk up the steps that were over the room she was in. She disrobed and wrapped her arm in a plastic bag he thoughtfully laid out for her. She quickly showered, hardly noticing the water was now clear from the start.

While she dried off, she heard Michael walk downstairs. She found a pile of her clothes folded neater than she would have done on the roll top desk. He had been through her things.

She dressed herself in the dim light and exited the room. Michael was seated in the dining area, waiting expectantly for her. He was holding her pistol in his lap. His rifle was leaning against his thigh. She almost froze at the sight, but forced herself to walk towards him. She didn't want to tip her hand now.

"Well, I checked over your gun and other supplies. You should be all right until I get back. I don't think you'll need your pistol, but you never know."

She held out her hand for her pistol. She fought the urge to shoot him after he gave it to her. Damn! Kill him! Take it from him and blow his dick off! She calmly inspected the magazine and chamber. He hadn't chambered a round, and she didn't want to alarm him by racking the slide. She had to make him believe she was perfectly comfortable with his leaving her alone, and could handle herself in a crisis.

Michael and Gina walked upstairs to the front door again. Gina listened at the door for any undead stalking about. When she was satisfied, she motioned for Michael to unlock the door.

Michael opened the door and tossed the keys to Gina. He winked and let a sly grin cross his lips. "Be back tonight, hopefully with some usable supplies. Be ready for me. Don't make too much racket to attract the dead."

She returned the grin and locked the door. Too easy, maybe he knows something is up, she thought.

Gina rushed up the steeple stairs to the bell tower. She realized there she didn't have a chance against Michael in a physical contest even if her arm wasn't broken. She would have to outthink him and kill him quickly. Despite his hospitality and gentle nature, she detected something far more sinister lurked beneath his clean-cut image. True, she lived in a turbulent and bloody age, but something was wrong with the clean-up scene she spied through the curtains.

Gina saw Michael standing below at the Chrysler. He tossed his backpack inside on the long sofa-like front seat. He checked his watch and slid into the car. Gina shot glances to her left and right to watch the horizon. She marveled at the lack of undead stalking about. She pretended for a moment the nightmare was over and dreamt of returning home. Her mind wandered back to the days of her pink-painted bedroom walls and shag carpeting. She smiled at the thought of her kid brother Samuel sitting "crisscross applesauce" on the floor playing Atari in front of the television in the furnished family room basement. She imagined running her hand along the wall in the stairwell where her father hung the shag carpet remnants in a quilt-like fashion to help soundproof the basement. Her father had crazy ideas. Thankfully, Gina's mom ensured her husband kept his home improvement ideas underground.

Her mind shifted against her will. The imaginary wall morphed into a smoother, yet equally soft surface. The air became tinged with the tang of bleach and medicine as it chilled sharply. She was standing in the padded cell of her hospital room again, and the dead were chewing their way through the ward.

The Chrysler thundered to life below her, shocking Gina back to consciousness. She was thankful Michael inadvertently returned her from her daydream-turned-bad. She had considered shooting him before he got into the car, but couldn't bring herself to it. She was still having a hard time merging his unknown dark side with the man who had helped her out since last night. She realized she had to work harder at ignoring everything and killing him before he did something to her. Now you did it, you fucking whore! You are going to get extra punishment for that one! He is going to get you when you least expect it!

Michael drove East to Lakeville.

Gina questioned herself and wondered if she could be wrong about him. She pondered if her own suppressed psychosis had reasserted itself again and conjured a spell of paranoia against a man who had the potential to keep her alive should she lose the ability to do so. The doctors told her parents her mind was dangerous if idle. Gina converted the doctor's prognosis to the modern dilemma and figured when she wasn't under stress or in danger of being eaten her ailment had the potential to act-up. Perhaps Michael's arrival has been more detrimental to the mind than he has been beneficial to her in all other regards?

She shook the possibility away from her mind. She chomped firmly on her lower lip and cursed herself for faults she couldn't control. Her opportunity had lapsed. She would have to wait for Michael's return before she could really be free. Gina checked the skies for an approximation of the time and guessed it to be somewhere around ten. Her belly was full and warm from the breakfast he prepared and she was comfortably dressed in the clothes Michael laid out for her like a faithful butler. She had hours to prepare for his return.

She intended to go downstairs when she spotted another group of zombies lumbering like drunken hobos down the street toward the church. The sound of Michael's huge engine must have acted like a dinner bell to the undead on the fringe of the rural area. She shot the four zombie silhouettes without thinking. She weighed her options afterwards. If she shot the group at a distance before they got too close it may prevent more from approaching. Perhaps they were the only local dead?

The other option terrified her to the core: her gunshots echoed across the land; the sound reaching further than Michael's ancient car did.stirring-up zounds of the hungry and rotting-beckoning them to come and embrace her.

Gina was getting a headache.

-- PAGE TWO --

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