[Note: Starting at Chapter 30 is only going to confuse you. If you haven’t read Oasis before, go back and start with Chapter 1: The last Shift.]
Life Just Isn’t Fair
Carl ran at me and pulled his hand back to strike.
His timing was off, and if I let him, we’d collide before he could throw that haymaker. Not that I was about to let either of those things happen.
I braced against the floor and drove the palm of my right hand into his solar plexus.
Carl made an audible “Whoomph” as the air left his lungs. He dropped to his knees and struggled to force a breath.
Something inside me was screaming for me to work him over now that he was defenseless. I could just kick him in the face, the way he kicked me. I could make him suffer the way he had made me suffer. The family would have to pull me from his broken and bleeding body.
It would have felt good, too, but I didn’t have time for that.
I pointed at him. “I could have just beat you senseless. Remember that.”
Two burly men stepped forward. They started to threaten me.
I figured they were just two of Carl’s sons talking tough.
I cut them off. “Look, do you want your Uncle Max to live or not? Your dad obviously just wants to be an idiot and beat me up and watch his own brother die rather than do anything helpful. If you want to do something useful, just hold him back while I get your uncle stabilized.”
I was actually pretty sure the Max wasn’t going to die, but nobody else seemed to know that. He still needed help though. I turned back to Max.
The family stayed quiet and watched while I went back to work. Within a few moments, a couple of kids with arm loads of medical supplies returned with most of the stuff I had ordered.
The first order of business was the arm. I reset the bone the same way I had done it before.
One of the young wives watching ran off and threw up.
As Carl caught his breath, his wife and boys led him somewhere to cool off.
At least they can be shown a little reason.
I cleaned and bound the puncture wound in his forearm, and then used some metal rods Beth had found and a couple of ace bandages to splint his arm. It would protect him well enough if he didn’t do anything terribly stupid.
By that time, the couple who had cooked last night arrived carrying a mattress.
We got him up on it, and got him covered in a warm blanket.
Even though everyone else was sweating there in the warehouse, Max’s skin felt cold and clammy.
Within a few minutes his pulse began to strengthen and breathing become more regular.
Max sunk into a deep sleep.
I stood up and left instructions for someone to always sit with him, and if he woke up to give him all the painkillers he wanted. I left to go clean up.
Beth followed me. “Are you doing OK?”
I turned to her and smiled. “I’m not a real big fan of your Uncle Carl.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “He never used to be like that.”
We walked the rest of the way to the bathroom in silence.
Something didn’t seem right with her.
I went in and washed up, and when I came out, she gave me a big hug. “Corbin, thanks.”
I held her close.
She began to cry. “My dad told me.”
I held her even closer for several minutes. As we clung to each other in the silence, a single thought crawled into my head.
What happened to the deads?
They had stopped pounding on the door a long time ago. There was now a group of at least fifty deads out there somewhere.
At length Beth stopped crying and pulled away. “So what happened while you were out?”
I explained everything that happened.
When I finished, she looked at me and said only, “Whoa.”
I shrugged a little. “At least when Max comes to, he’ll validate my story. And then Carl will have to give in a little, even if he still hates me.”
I told her I wanted to change clothes and see what was going on outside, so she went to organize supplies with a couple of her cousins.
I found my clothes laid out on my bed, clean and already dry. I changed and made a mental note to thank Aunt Janice.
On my way to the stairs, I checked on Max.
He was sleeping much more restfully now.
I also ran into Carl again. I suppose the warehouse was only so big, and it was bound to happen sooner or later.
It was uncomfortable as always. He just gave me the stink eye while I told him the whole story. When I finished, he just squinted even more and said, “We’ll see.”
On that happy note, I climbed up the stairs and went onto the roof.
I spoke briefly to the current guard, and crawled up to the edge so as not to draw any attention. Maybe I’d be able to tell where the deads had gone.
What I saw shocked me.
They hadn’t gone anywhere.
The deads were scattered about and standing perfectly still. They had only moved out of the sun, and were standing in any shadow available.
Just standing and waiting.
A million questions floated through my mind. Why don’t they still pound on the door like they did at the car dealership? When will they move again? Did they forget?
I went back inside to find something to do until nighttime.
I ended up helping Beth move supplies around. Once or twice I caught sight of Paul and Aunt Janice, but neither said anything, or even looked me in the eye as we passed.
I hoped they would get over whatever their problem was before Carl went on his next tirade. I needed some kind of support.
Around dusk, the pounding began again. At first it sounded like one set of fist, and then two.
By the time I got to the door, one of Carl’s boys was using an oxyacetylene torch to weld it shut.
Carl saw me arrive.
He lifted an accusing finger. “This is your fault!”
I just turned and left before another scene could happen.
Scared faces looked up at me as a passed by on my way to my mattress.
I laid down and tried to go to sleep.
As night set in, a new noise began. A low rumbling that seemed to come from everywhere. It took a minute for me to realize it was fifty pairs of dead hands pounding on the cinder block wall.
The sound was terrifying. It was as a constant reminder that I was trapped.
I must have eventually fallen asleep, because when I awoke, it was dark and someone was shaking me.
“Corbin, get up.”
It was Beth.
I pushed myself to a sitting position.
The moon wasn’t in a good place to cast much light through the skylights. I could barely make out Beth’s outline in the darkness.
“What’s going on?”
Beth groped around until she found my shoulder. “Listen, Max woke up about half an hour ago.”
“No, not good. He doesn’t remember anything.”
I felt a tiny bit of despair in my gut. Somehow, I hadn’t let myself consider that Max’s head injury could cause memory loss. Life just isn’t fair.
Beth leaned in closer and lowered her voice. “I heard the whole thing. I couldn’t sleep at all and I heard Max’s boy come and get Carl. I followed them and stayed hidden. Once Carl learned that Max had forgotten what had happened, he started filling his head with all sorts of lies. He told him that you probably blindsided him and broke his arm and now they’re going to get revenge. Once Max starts telling the story Carl fed him, no one’s going to believe…”
Beth was shaking.
I reached up and took her hand from my shoulder. I held it in both of my hands and tried to force myself to be calm.
“It’ll be OK. I’ll figure a way to…”
I stopped short as soon as I heard the sound of the approaching angry voices.
Beth backed away and hid behind a couple of crates.
I caught the light of a lantern approaching the turn where my aisle met the center aisle.
I laid back down.
In a moment or two Carl and a couple of others rounded the corner and marched up to me.
“Corbin, get up.”
I tried my best to fake like I’d been asleep and sat up. Beth had warned me, but I hadn’t been able to act fast enough for it to do any good.
Carl pointed that annoying finger. “Go sit by that shelf.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say, and I figured arguing was not my best option anyway, so I went over and sat by the large metal rack he had pointed out.
One of his boys came over and used several plastic zip ties to fasten my wrist to the shelf’s support. I didn’t bother to resist.
Carl sneered at me. “In the morning, the family will decide what to do with you. Just now that we don’t take backstabbing lightly.”
I held my tongue.
As soon as they were gone I struggled at my bonds. Maybe I could wear through them. But then what?
I looked out through the dark. “Beth, you still there?”
Where did she go?
My pocketknife was in my backpack.
I felt around as far as I could reach, but no luck.
And then, in the darkness, I heard the somebody clear their throat.
Who is out in the darkness? Is it Beth? Or is it more trouble? Keep reading to find out in “Chapter 31: Escape?“And remember, just as Mars Needs Women, Oasis needs readers. So be a pal and tell a friend.