[Note: If you are new to Oasis, go start with Chapter 1: The Last Shift]
The Best Policy
It was dark enough that I couldn’t quite see who it was.
I was certain of one thing, though. They didn’t want to be discovered. I figured it wasn’t in my best interest to embarrass them too much, but I still just had to know who it was.
Once I had backed up to the beginning of the aisle, I faked a stubbed toe to make some noise.
Up ahead a woman gasped.
I marched forward. “Is someone there?”
In my rush, I almost ran headlong into them.
They were still holding on to each other.
I took a step back. “Op, sorry.”
They immediately separated.
It was Paul.
I looked over at the woman.
So that’s what he stopped himself from saying earlier.
Janice stepped forward and touched my arm. “Corbin, please don’t tell Carl.”
I wasn’t quite sure how to play this. I thought about it a moment and came to the conclusion that it would do me no good personally to raise a stink about it. And I knew that the inevitable results of their actions would come around to bite them soon enough. It always does.
I took another step back. “Don’t worry, I don’t want to cause any more trouble here than I absolutely have to.”
Paul wrung his hands. “So what happens now?”
“I have two requests.”
Janice raised a hand to her mouth.
Paul put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you going to blackmail us?”
“No. I just have two requests.”
In the dark I could see Paul’s jaw tighten. “What?”
I turned to Janice. “Well, first I was wondering if you could wash the rest of my clothes.”
I held up my backpack.
She breathed a sigh of relief and took it. “Oh, oh, of course.”
I turned to Paul. “And if you could show me where my air mattress is, I’d really appreciate it.”
Morning came a lot faster than I’d have liked.
Light was coming in through the skylights above. Somewhere in the warehouse, there was plenty of commotion.
I got the feeling that arguing was just part of the Cooper family.
My body was as stiff as ever, but at least the throbbing pains seemed to be gone.
By no means had I caught up on my sleep yet. At least I was feeling human again.
I did a quick check of my bruises.
Most were starting to turn green and disappear.
I creaked out of the bed and found my way to breakfast.
Cold cereal with reconstituted powdered milk.
Carl was here and there, issuing the day’s orders.
Paul and Beth appeared to be huddled over a stack of papers.
Beth looked around and noticed I was up. She winked and then came over.
“How are you feeling?”
“Maybe not one-hundred percent, but worlds better than yesterday.”
She leaned over and gave me a peck on the cheek. “Good.”
Carl saw us talking and came straight over.
He thrust a finger at me. “I want you to take guard duty on the roof until after lunch. Go.”
I had to bite my tongue. I knew he was trying to be a jerk and separate me from anyone who might be sympathetic. It didn’t matter. He was in charge, and if I wanted to stay, I had to play by his rules. I’d already been through this at my apartments.
“How do I get up there?”
Carl ignored me and walked off.
Beth pointed into a distant corner. “Way over there.”
I stood up.
“One more thing.” She hugged me, leaned close to my ear and lowered her voice. “Do you know what’s up with my dad? He’s been awfully jittery today.”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe it’s just everything that happened yesterday. But still… I don’t know. He’s tried to tell me something three times, but can never find the words. Sometimes I actually wish he were more like his brothers. Anyway, I’m worried.”
“Give him another chance to tell you.”
“Tell him if he doesn’t, I will. I’m pretty sure I know what it is, but he should tell you personally. And if he still won’t, I’ll tell.”
She looked bewildered.
I didn’t want to give her a chance to dig, so I stepped away and headed for the stairs.
On the roof was a man in his early twenties.
He walked up to me. “You my replacement?”
“Just keep an eye out for any of those things. Shouldn’t be much of a problem for you.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
“At night they’re wandering around everywhere. But during the day they only come out if they’re chasing one of us.”
He signaled the end of the conversation by turning his back and heading for the stairs.
I went up closer to the edge and walked around the building.
The roof was hot, but at least it was quiet. He had been right. I saw a couple of the infected standing in shadows of nearby buildings. But that’s all they did. Like they were waiting for something.
It gave me the creeps.
After I had finished a couple of loops, a gray haired woman appeared at the door to the stairs. She was carrying a jug of water.
I knew she was Bill’s wife. What was I going to tell her? Did Carl send her up here to make me feel guilty? Did she come up her to get revenge? The wife of the man I…
And then it hit me. My stomach dropped and I felt my heart pound. I didn’t kill anybody. The virus did. By the time they lost control of their bodies, they weren’t infected any more. They were dead. The only thing left was an empty shell and the virus.
She walked toward me. She looked a little shaky.
So what am I going to say to her?
I have to tell her the truth.
She handed me the jug. There were tears in the corner of her eyes. “What happened to my husband?”
I stared off into space for a moment. “What did Carl tell you?”
“The only thing he said is that Bill is gone. No one else who was out there will talk about it. I think he’s threatened them.”
She set her jaw and stared at me.
Why didn’t Carl tell her? There’s no way he’d be protecting me. Maybe he was planning on using it against me later. Or threaten me with it to keep me in line. And how did he get the others to be quiet, too?
“Corbin, I deserve to know.”
I looked her in the eye. “You’re right.” I took a deep breath. “Two nights ago I found myself without shelter, so I broke in to a storage shed. Soon after, your husband arrived at his shed. He had been bitten and was in pain. There was nothing I could do, so I stayed put.”
Another deep breath.
“He was rifling around for something but the infection got worse. I heard him scream as it took his life.”
A tear ran down her cheek.
“Only this virus doesn’t just kill, it takes command of your body. In the morning, there was confusion as Beth and your husband’s brothers showed up. The shell of the man who had been your husband went after Beth. There were more of these walking deads coming at the group.”
She covered her mouth. Tears ran freely down her face.
“I came out of my hiding place and… I stopped him from infecting Beth. The virus cannot use his body to spread itself any more.”
She lowered her head and began to sob violently.
I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t know if she held me at fault or not. There was no way to know. My heart went out to her. I reached out and wrapped my arms around her.
“I’m so sorry.”
She didn’t resist.
I held her head to my shoulder and let her cry.
I tried to come up with some words of comfort, something that might help. The lump in my throat stopped the sound from coming out.
After what seemed like an eternity, she got a grip on herself. She pulled away and again looked me in the eye.
I shook my head and looked down at my feet. “I’m sorry.”
“I mean it.”
She did her best to dry her eyes and then went back inside.
It was to be the only time I ever spoke to her.
The things I had seen and done over the last few days tore at my insides. I was full of questions. How long can we hold out? Why has Oasis been abandoned? What was going to happen to me?
I took another lap or two around the edge, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread.
The sun was high and I had finished and sweated out most of my water by the time my replacement showed up.
When he did, he shot me a dirty look and only said five words. “Carl wants to see you.”
Keep reading to find out what abuse Carl has in store for our hero in “Chapter 26: Fuel To The Fire“