Without incident, we have the generator running and Guy has reappeared with the van. The pumps flow freely, filling the van quickly as well as all eleven of the additional gas cans.
“Anything else I can do for you boys?” Chris asks, now seated on a rocking chair situated outside the building. Stormy is snoring loudly on his lap.
“Anything else?” I reply in surprise. “You’ve done more than enough already. Is there anything we can do for you? Give you a ride somewhere maybe?”
“Ah, no. I couldn’t imagine leaving the shop at a time like this,” Chris answers. “I started this here service station to help folks get along on their way. Helping the two of you is exactly the type of thing I intend to do for as long as I continue livin’.”
“But there’s gotta be something we can do for you.”
“I can’t imagine there’s much in this world that a man like me could ask for anymore,” he says as he absentmindedly strokes Stormy. The dog yawns contentedly and nuzzles deeper into the old man’s belly.
“It seems to me that there’s really only one thing a man needs in this life,” Guy says firmly. “A good friend. You mind if our pal Stormy here stays with you? He sure looks mighty comfy on that lap of yours.”
“Well, if’n you’re lookin’ for a place to keep him, I can’t say that I’d mind.”
“Then it’s a deal,” I smile. “We should really head off,” I say, looking at the rising sun. “I promised my little girl I’d be home by ten.”
“Well then,” Chris smiles in return. “You’ve got some driving ahead of you.”
“Sure do,” I say as I climb into the passenger side of the van.
“Drive safe,” Chris waves.
“Good luck,” I reply.
“Take good care of Stormy for me,” Guy adds, leaning over me from his position in the driver’s seat.
I shut the door, not certain how else to end this conversation. We could very well be the last people he sees before he dies. Of course, he could be the last person we see before we die. I guess that was always a possibility, even before the zombies came. Just seems like a much more imminent one now.
We wave obsessively as we pull away from Chris’s service station. It seems the only way left to show our gratitude to the old man who has made our trip a heckuva lot easier.
As we return to the highway, Guy speaks out. “Well, that was weird.”
“Yeah,” I answer. “Here I had been expecting all sorts of terrible things to happen to us, and instead, well, that was just incredible, wasn’t it?”
“Sure was. Alright, why don’t you get some shut eye? We’ve only got about three and a half hours until we drive into Menomonie. You’ll wanna be as well rested as possible once we get there.”
“You sure you’re okay to drive?”
“I’m fine. A half hour is just what I needed to feel fresh. Plus, this is what I do for a living.”
“Drive long stretches on low amounts of sleep.”
“Really? What do you do?”
“I’m a truck driver. Why else do you think I got hired to drive some college kid out to school?”
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I’ve known the kid’s dad for forever. I guess he was too busy to drive the kid down himself. And, hey, I’m not one to turn down a few easy bucks.”
“I wonder what happened to that kid.”
“My guess is that he’s still locked away in his hotel room and will be asleep yet for another five or six hours. I didn’t get the impression he was one who cared about check out times.”
“I’d hate to be him when he wakes up.”
“I think the same could be said about pretty much everyone,” Guy sighs.
“Yeah…I guess you’re right.”
I pause to think about all that’s happened since I awoke just a few short hours ago. It seems like days, weeks even, since I woke to this madness. Thinking about that immediately brings my mind back to Zelda and my heart instantly begins to race. Even with how much has been going on, the urgency of my need to get to her has stuck out in the forefront of my mind.
If I could just get her on the phone and hear that she’s okay. My eyes burn and feel wet as my overactive brain begins running through all of the possible outcomes for my little girl. My mind swims with all of the things which could be happening to her at this very moment.
What if those things have already torn her apart? What if she is one of those things? What if I’m going to have to be the one who takes a tire iron to her skull to just get her to stop moving and craving the flesh of the living?
Go to Chapter Fifteen