A look at the gas gauge shows that our little siphoning trick back in Mt. Pleasant will need to be done again, and soon. I’m actually pretty surprised at how long it has lasted. Here we are driving into the city limits of Waukesha and I’m just now starting to feel the van slow and shutter.
Waukesha. That means we’ve got less than four hours until we get home, assuming nothing else slows us down. 5:30 am. I guess an hour and a half from Mt. Pleasant isn’t too bad, considering what all happened back there…and the roadways. Of course, I’d prefer to be going a heckuva lot faster, if at all possible.
The roads are empty here, showing very few cars from which to steal gas.
Just up ahead I see a few parking lots off the highway, connected to a hotel, a restaurant, and a gas station. Shouldn’t be too bad of a walk from here. Maybe about a hundred yards.
I pull the van to the side of the road as it jerks to a stop and begin preparing myself for the walk outside. While I put on my gloves, Guy startles awake.
“What’s going on?” he asks in hushed anxiety.
“Just ran out of gas again,” I answer calmly. “Nothing to worry about.”
“You’re not going back out there, are you?”
“I don’t think we have much of a choice,” I respond. I find the stress of the moment lift from my shoulders just by him showing recognition of what has happened in the world.
“But,” he begins to argue, then realizing he has no leg to stand on, says, “alright, fine. But you’re not going out there alone.”
Guy removes his jacket from behind his head, where he had been using it as a pillow against the window, and shrugs it over his shoulders. He gives me a stern glance to see if I appear ready to brave the new world outside.
“Yeah,” I answer his unspoken question. “Let’s go already.”
“Okay, and let’s be quiet out there, okay?”
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“Oh,” he says, a new thought occurring to him. “And you might want to take this,” he offers me the tire iron. It’s caked in something I can only describe as grotesque.
“But won’t you need it?”
“Naw,” he shakes his head. “I’m pretty good with my hands.”
“Alright.” I take a deep reassuring breath, “I guess it’s time to do this.”
“You said it, boy,” Guy says as he opens his door and jumps out. Stormy jumps down after him.
“Stormy,” I say sharply, “stay in the van.”
“Let him come,” Guy disagrees. “Dogs are much better at sensing danger than you or I would be.”
“Good point,” I reply as I open my door and exit the van. “Just keep an eye on him, okay? I’d hate to see him bringing along any human bones for the ride.”
“Gotcha,” Guy laughs as he rounds the van to my side. “How you feeling?” he asks as he holds his hand out to help steady me.
“A little wobbly, thanks.”
“Yeah, that can happen if you sit for a long time after being knocked out.”
“Yeah?” I ask, opening my eyes wider in an attempt to get my bearings.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll get your sea legs back before long. Speaking from experience, you know,” he says as he winks at me, lifting a hand to knock on his own head.
Stormy runs on ahead, sniffing out the path toward the parking lot as though he knows what our plan is.
“So, what do you think?” I ask. “We don’t want to try lugging that old shelving unit around with us, do we?”
“No,” he laughs. “Just grab the hose. See that gas station up ahead. They’re sure to have a normal gas container for us to use.”
“Oh,” I say reluctantly as Guy follows Stormy. I can’t help thinking about how every zombie movie I’ve ever seen has a moment when the group steps into a gas station. That moment always ends with at least one member of the team becoming someone’s dinner.
Guy stops in his tracks and looks back at me. “What is it, kid?”
“Nothing. It’s stupid, really.”
“In a world where the dead are walking, I’m not sure if there’s much stupid anymore.”
“I know, but, well, it’s just. Forget about it. It’s nothing.”
“Alright.” He turns away and walks off. I follow him slowly. “You know,” he whispers. I speed up to his side so I can hear him better. “We could probably just find a car here to take, instead of dealing with that gas guzzling moving van.”
“Yeah,” I agree. “We could. Seems dangerous, though.”
“How’s that?” he asks as he kicks over a chunk of ice.
“Well, we know the van runs fine and we have the keys for it and everything. Who’s to say that whatever car we decide to steal won’t break down a mile up the road? And car alarms. Would hate to pick out a car we think would be great, only to have it alert every one of those things in the area to our presence.”
“Plus, we’ve got to think about what we’ll have to do after we find Zelda. The moving van might work well as a mobile home.”
“What about that RV over there?” Guy asks pointing off to a beast of a house on wheels only 50 feet away.
“Could work. But don’t those things get horrible gas mileage, like even worse than this damned van we’re driving?”
“We’ll stick with the van then.”
Stormy returns to walk at our feet as we near the gas station. A soft whimper escapes his muzzle.
“Doesn’t sound like the little guy’s feeling too certain about this,” I frown.
“Nope. Guess that means we had better be extra cautious going in.”
“Or maybe we change plans?”
“Not a chance, kid. If we can get some gas cans, we can drag along a lot more fuel than if we just use that damned shelf. And it would be safer.”
“Alright,” I admit reluctantly as we stop just in front of the sign stating fuel prices starting at under three and a half dollars. “Does it seem weird to you that there’s a light on inside?”
“Can’t be, kid. The power’s out.”
“But look, there’s something flickering in there, I can see shadows.”
Guy squints at the building. It’s difficult to tell in the early daylight, but it is just possible to make out a faint shadow moving along the walls inside the station. “You don’t think it’s the glowing from one of those things, do you?”
“I don’t know,” I answer. “Seems like they don’t usually start glowing unless they’ve found something to eat, right?”
“All the same, we’ll want to keep an eye out. You still got that tire iron?”
I wave it in the air in front of me. “You bet. You aren’t really going to just use your hands, are you?”
Guy walks to the nearest pump, pulls out a nozzle, and shakes it in his hand before finally returning it to its location. He looks around in all directions until his shoulders slump. “Guess this’ll have to do.” He picks up an abandoned propane container lying on its side. “Won’t be perfect, but it’ll do in a pinch.”
“We ready for this?” I ask, not feeling too confident.
“As ready as we’ll ever be,” Guy smiles. “Stormy, you stay here,” he tells the dog, who responds by sitting next to the gas pumps, still whimpering away.
Guy walks to the door and gestures for me to join his side. “Okay,” he whispers, “just inside the door here, right under this window, you can see the gas cans. I’m going to open the door on the count of three, when I do, grab as many as you can and run back out. I’ll stand guard while you do it, then you do the same for me, okay?”
“Got it,” I say, clutching the tire iron in my hand even tighter.
“One,” Guy says, placing his hand on the door, “two,” I bend my knees, ready to do this as fast as I’ve done anything before in my life, “three!”
The door swings open and I run past Guy, sliding along the linoleum floor to the selection of gas cans. There are at least ten of them down here. I wrap my right hand around the handle of two of them; my left can only get around one while still being able to hold my weapon. I consider dropping it when I hear a grunt from the other side of the room. I jump to my feet in terror and, slipping on the icy linoleum floor, run around Guy and back out the door.
He flies around the corner now. I’ve got the door propped open against my back. My eyes flail wildly from corner to corner as I try to find the source of the sound. I hear another groan.
“Guy,” I urge quietly as he stands and looks at the other automobile related items against the wall, “let’s go already!”
A rustling sound is followed by the collapse of several plastic-wrapped items which land at Guy’s feet. He drops the propane tank on the floor behind him and escapes the building with six gas tanks in his enormous hands. “Stormy, come!” Guy yells, causing the dog to be hot on Guy’s heels. I’m directly behind the two of them, not even daring to look back and see what new danger we might have awoken within.
A brief three seconds away from the danger and the air fills with the unmistakable sound of a single, solitary, gunshot. Both Guy and I instinctively stop in our tracks, hands going above our heads as we drop the red plastic containers. The tire iron clangs against the ground and we turn to look at what new threat has found us. I can’t help but be concerned that the gunfire might attract even more danger than whatever we’ve already managed to find for ourselves.
Behind the barrel of a large rifle currently aimed in our direction, is the face of a grizzled old man. He speaks firmly in a tired voice, “What the hell do you two think you’re doing?”
I stare at the man in confusion, not certain how to respond to a situation so foreign from life just 12 hours ago. Guy is also quiet.
“I said,” the man repeats, “what the hell are you doing?”
I clear my throat, deciding I should do something, even if I have no clue what rules apply to such a moment as this. Stepping forward as I begin speaking, the man waves his rifle, causing me to return to my original position.
“I’m sorry, sir. We were under the impression the place was empty.”
“So, just because you think my shop’s empty, that makes it alright to come in and take whatever you want?”
“Um, well,” I stammer, “no sir, but since the, well, you know, since there’s the whole—“
“Get to it, boy,” the man urges.
“Right,” I continue, “well, we just thought that considering the current circumstances, that it was probably possible that, well, you know, that you might be—“
“That I might be one of those ugly fuckers who keep trying to eat everybody?”
“Right,” I sigh in relief that he is not somehow oblivious to the current state of affairs. I had a hard enough time trying to convince Guy, and he wasn’t pointing a gun at me.
“Fair enough,” the man says, dropping his rifle to his side. “Can’t say I’ve got too much use for those canisters anymore anyways. You boys’ll need some fuel though, won’tcha?” At the sight of the man dropping his gun, Stormy runs to him, yipping at his heels. The man bends over and picks the dog up. Stormy nuzzles into the man’s chest as though it’s where he was meant to be.
“Well, we were figuring on siphoning out the fuel from the nearby cars,” Guy joins the conversation. “There’s gotta be more than enough gas here to get us going for a while.”
“Now why would a couple of smart fellers like yourselves want to go and do that for when I’m sitting on a giant tank full of fuel as we speak.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want to put you out or anything. It’s easy enough for—“
“Nonsense. This here’s a fueling station. If’n you boys need some fueling, you’ve come to the right place.”
“Are you sure?” I ask, still not certain how to take the sudden change in demeanor from this man.
“Hey, ya’ll don’t seem like you’re intendin’ on doing me any harm. Besides, with a storm like we’re having, you’ve gotta have somewhere important to go. Especially with them deadies out and about. I’d like to say I could help you out with that.”
“Sir, you have no idea how much this means to me,” I answer.
“To us,” Guy agrees. “Thank you, Mr., ummm–”
“Call me Chris,” he says. “You guys got a vehicle somewhere that you could bring around and get up next to one of the fuel pumps?”
“Yeah,” Guy answers, “but we ran out of gas on the highway.”
“Just on the other side of the grass there,” I clarify.
“Okay,” Chris replies as he disappears inside the store. He returns with another one of the red containers and shoves it into Guy’s arms. “This should be more than enough to get you in here. I’ll get the generator running so we can get these pumps back up long enough for you to fill your car up and get your way.”
“Generators?” Guy asks. “Won’t those be loud enough to attract all sorts of those zombies?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve been cleaning them up ever since they started appearing earlier this morning. Ain’t much of them left around here. The ones which do crop up aren’t too much trouble to deal with.”
“Okay,” Guy says. “Why don’t you stay and help Chris out, Bert?”
“You sure you’re going to be okay?” I ask.
“If Chris is right, I don’t see any reason why not.”
“Well,” I say, picking up the tire iron from where I dropped it. I hand it to my bulky companion. “Why don’t you take this along with you, just in case?”
“Sure thing, kid. See you both in a few minutes.”
Go to Chapter Fourteen