August 3rd, 2008

mutant enemy

500 words

I pulled to a stop and cracked open the passenger side window. "Is everything alright?"

The man leaned down, and I saw brown eyes through the opening and days of stubble through the glass. "Yeah," he said in an unconcerned voice. "Wouldn't mind a lift, if you're headed east."

"Where's your car?"

"I'm walking. Just gotta hit Fort Denver for some supplies."

"Seriously? No car? Hop in." I leaned over and yanked the door handle.

He stepped back as the door swung out, then leaned back down, making no move toward the car. "It's only fair to warn you. I've got two handguns on me. If that's a problem, I don't blame you for leaving."

The sense of duty that had compelled me to stop for a man alone in the woods kept me from stomping on the accelerator, but it didn't prevent the awkward silence. I tried to recover: "Hey, out here with the zeds, who could blame you?"

"Away from the cities, the danger is really overstated." He shrugged and lifted his coat to show a holster at his belt. "You need to stay armed, but they don't travel in packs."

The sight of the actual gun again halted conversation. "Uh," I hedged, "truth be told, I'd be more comfortable if you kept them unloaded in the car."

"That's fair." He unslung his backpack, fished a pistol from the holster and a second from under his arm, and removed both clips, making a show of zipping them into his pack's main pouch.

"The chamber too," I said, remembering an old gun safety video. He pulled back both slides to show the guns were empty.

"I'll ride shotgun if you hit a swarm," he said. "And if we don't make it to the fort tonight I'll keep you safe camping."

"Don't be crazy," I said. "I'm not stopping outside the walls."

"You just did, didn't you?" he said with a smile, and sat in the car.

I'd just barely started the old Chevy rolling when his smell hit me. I wrinkled my nose and rolled down my window. "Not a smoker?" he asked. "Sorry."

"It's okay," I said, trying to sidestep to the usual hitchhiker formalities. "I'm Dave."

"Jim," he said, putting on his seat belt. "I didn't smoke until this started. Then I discovered it was nicer to stink of tobacco than to stink of a week's worth of B.O."

"Try sponge baths."

"I was in Phoenix on Z-day. We lost water when the dam blew. It was tough just finding enough to drink. We spent our zed watches reminiscing about being clean."

I smiled wryly. "Kansas City flooded."

He laughed. "We should have been so lucky. Zeds don't swim."

"They wade just fine," I said, and changed the subject. "Do you tell everyone who stops about the guns?"


"How many rides has it cost you?"

"Three," Jim said, and shrugged. "All we've got is each other, now. Each other, and trust. That's bigger than any ride."