[Note: If this is your first time here, you’d better start with Chapter 1: The last Shift. Thanks for reading.]
I couldn’t tell which direction it came from.
Somewhere behind me. I turned around as best I could.
A lighter flicked in the darkness and Paul’s face came into view.
He lit a candle, and finished coming out from behind the same crate Beth had used for cover.
He raised a hand like he was signaling cars to stop. “I sent her back to her bunk. I’m not going to let you get her into any more trouble.”
He sounded tired, almost hollow.
I couldn’t blame him too much. He was under a tremendous amount of stress. To cap off the problems caused by the deads, his poor personal choices were catching up.
I looked him in the eye. “So why are you here?”
He clenched his jaw for a moment. “I don’t have a lot of time. I’m supposed to be heading up to start my watch right now. I just need to know your answer to two questions.”
I shrugged. “OK, shoot.”
“What are your intentions with Elizabeth?”
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the question, but I was. He is her dad, and Carl probably spins all sorts of lies about me.
“To tell the truth, I don’t really have any ‘intentions’ for her right now. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my life has been sucking pretty bad lately, and I haven’t had a lot of time or desire to daydream about romance. The bottom line is that she is the only real friend I’ve got right now, and I appreciate her support.”
Paul chewed on that for a moment and then nodded. “And what happened out there today?”
I wondered if he had already heard the “Corbin’s a backstabber” version that Carl was telling.
I couldn’t think of any story that would be more believable than the truth, so I went with that.
“Your brother shot that monster rifle at the first dead we saw. The noise attracted more, a lot more of them. We needed to clear a path, and I guess he thought he was being clever so he tried to use a propane tank as a as bomb. When he shot it, it just took off like a missile. It hit him in the arm and he hit his head. I got him back and made sure he got the first aid he needed.”
I nodded at my hand tied to the shelving. “Then I got the hero’s welcome.”
Paul frowned and looked down. “Carl says it was different out there you know. He saw it from the roof. He is the head of the family, and everyone’s going to believe him in the end.”
Paul shrugged. “And I don’t know what to believe.”
I felt a desire well up inside me to slap Paul and tell him to grow up.
After all, he knew I was telling the truth. He was just too weak to stand up to his brother.
“So where does that leave me?”
He stared off into space for a moment, then nodded and reached into his pocket. “It leaves you with a choice.”
He wouldn’t look me in the eye. “You can escape on your terms, or you can be kicked out on his.”
He pulled something from his pocket and dropped it on the floor next to me.
He pointed up. “I’ll put a candle in that skylight when the east loading doors are clear.”
I Looked down and picked up the object.
A box cutter.
He blew out the candle. “I’m sorry Corbin, I wish things were different.”
I heard only quiet footsteps as he left.
I toyed with the box cutter for a moment and thought about my options.
Most of the family would believe Carl over me. Especially if Carl had been on the roof. That meant I would be punished in his way and on his time. That meant I’d be kicked out regardless of where the deads happened to be.
Or I could escape now and trust Paul to give me a clear signal.
Either way I’d end up back on the unforgiving street. A nagging dread washed over me giving me the impression that no matter what I did or where I went, I would be rejected. I would be unprotected. I would be alone.
This fear was coupled with an ever-growing hatred for Carl and his bigotry. If he was anywhere near reasonable or intelligent, I’d be fine right now.
But he wasn’t. He was just another idiotic bully, scared of losing power and incapable of accepting anything that didn’t fit with his view of the world.
I decided that in the end my only real option was escape.
Maybe I could find him asleep first, and leave him with a parting gift.
My violent fantasy was interrupted by a shuffling noise coming my way. I had another visitor.
It’s the middle of the night. Don’t you people sleep?
I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough time to cut away the stupid plastic chords before my next guest arrived, so I slipped the box cutter into my pocket.
The moon was finally getting high enough to cast a little light through the skylight.
In the dimness I could make out an athletic female body.
Must be Beth. What’s she doing back here?
As she approached, she flicked a lighter.
The small lighter cast just enough illumination for me to tell she was upset.
“Corbin, we’re leaving. Hold this.” She handed me the lighter.
I fired it up, and she pulled out a pocket knife, then made short work of my chords.
I let the fire go out and she grabbed my arm. “We’ve got to go, now.”
She was shaking and her voice was wavering. “Please.”
I thought she might burst into tears at any moment. What happened?
“Hold on, I’ve got to find my backpack.”
“It’s not here.” She swallowed hard. “I stashed it outside one of the East doors on my way back to my bunk. I wanted to make sure Uncle Carl couldn’t get a hold of it.”
We made our way into the maze of aisles.
“You sure this is a good idea?”
She stopped for a moment, made several short gasps and fought back the tears. “You’ve got to go, and I’m going with you.”
I put a hand on her shoulder and did my best to look her in the eye in the dim light. “What? You don’t have to come with me. And I don’t have to go right now, either. We’ve got a couple of hours before dawn…”
She shook her head, then buried her face in my shoulder. “No, it’s got to be now.”
Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, though. She was hiding something.
“What is it, Beth? What’s going on?”
She pulled away and pulled on my left hand, leading me on.
We turned a corner and I thought I could see the outline of a door at the end of the aisle.
She was sobbing now, and making way too much noise.
We’d have to hurry before we lost our chance.
When we were about ten feet from the end of the aisle, she let go and sped up.
What is she doing?
I had known something wasn’t right. I knew she’d been hiding something.
After I took two and a half more steps, I found out what.
Read on as Corbin finds himself alone again in “Chapter 32: Betrayal Pains.”I think Oasis would be a good movie. Don’t you? So if you could let Hollywood know and as them to stop by, I’d really appreciate it.