Episode 48: Warning: Graphic Content
Maple Leaf Zombies - A free online illustrated zombie novel
A few arduous days later a weary Rodney sees something on the road ahead. Nope, not flesh eaters. At first it seems like just another illusion but thankfully, this time, it's more. A car approaches, stops and its two occupants, Vic and Big Mac Mike, emerge.
"Hey, you OK?" asks a visibly concerned Mike.
Almost completely sapped of strength, as well as the will to move, Rodney says nothing but nods to acknowledge the pair. He also continues to look around to make sure the dead don't creep up on them.
"You with anyone else? Where you from?" Vic inquires.
Rodney slowly looks back and points.
"Back, back there. Way back there. Been on the road for days. Nobody around, dead out here. Not sure where I am. Lost our car. My friend is dead. Not sure."
"I asked where you came from! You have a group?" Vic insists, having no time for games. It may be desolate out here but the dead can appear anywhere, any time.
"Yes, yes I am....what about you?" Rodney counters.
"I said where in the hell did you come from!" yells Vic.
"I, we, we ran way, escaped from a place. It's full of hate and evil. It's a monastery full of monsters now, long story. If I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. You don't want to go anywhere near that," warns the weary traveler.
Vic and Mike look at each other before telling the stranger he'd better go with them. They have a safe place about forty miles or so away and off the beaten track. Their leader, Leo McGregor, is going to want to talk to him.
"Wait, Leo? You mean Leo? That guy is still alive?" asks a surprised Rodney, who got to know the righteous dude at the monastery. Of course, Leo had left with Gareth and the others on that mission and never returned.
Seems like yet another happy reunion is in store, right? This is a wonderful coincidence.
If it’s fate, then it dealt Rodney a great hand indeed. He’s always believed we don’t create our own destiny but do participate in its unfolding.
Back at the dome, after the communal breakfast where the mood seemed rather festive, Leo and Patricia take a stroll at the gardens. Nobody minds that the temperature controls are acting up and it’s a bit on the muggy side today. There's so much green here, so much tranquility.
It smells so fresh and tasty. It's so pleasant, in fact, that it's a bit off-putting for Leo. The drought browned the hell out of everything on the outside, where Leo found his purpose, so this is a poignant reminder how things used to be before the world turned on its bloody head is rather odd.
They talk about what they've each been through and what could have happened had they not crossed paths in that lucky highway encounter.
They also chat about what can still happen. There’s all kinds of things that need sorting out here, in this wonderful new place which Patricia named Temenos, a sacred place separated from the rest of the world.
Well, the name is kinda catchy. As far as ironing out any personality conflicts involving the merged groups, that'll have to wait.
Leo skillfully diverts the conversation away from any talk of his former life. He wants to know more about her but her face turns doleful.
"I have, I mean I had, a little girl. My Emily. Don't really talk about her anymore. For the longest time I did, which was kind of, like, my way of keeping her existing. She died a couple of years ago, before the plague. Hard to keep track exactly. My world, all my hopes and dreams, they're buried in an Oregon cemetery. "
Leo takes hold of her hand. "Is that why you moved out to the bush, off the grid?"
She nods, locking her wide eyes with the unwavering leader of the colony, explaining, "Guess that's why I tuned out. My husband divorced me. My friends didn't know how to talk with me and started to avoid me all together. My life was gone, I guess. I suppose I was looking for something new, different, but the pain just followed me around. Funny, my ex is probably dead, either turned into a reanimated corpse or was eaten by them...stupid bastard."
Leo, feeling in tune with her heavy heart, wishes he had a clever inspirational quote but is coming up dry.
Grief’s many forms have a way of holding people hostage and there's no doubting she's a prisoner. He wishes she could find some resolution to move on, stop being a walking ghost. Maybe if he wished hard enough the universe would answer, no?
It's hard to believe it couldn't happen after having gone through a few pretty remarkable experiences including those chance encounters on the road.
There had to be something more than just blind luck. Maybe, just maybe, something more is at play.
"I'm sorry….and somehow you were really strong, helped my boys and all those people from those animal monsters. What you did, pretty amazing."
The compliment, however, deflects, as Patricia seems stuck in neutral, having pushed aside those old memories for too long instead of dealing in a more healing way.
"You know, I used to spend hours just sitting in her room, waiting for her to jump out of the closest or from under the bed, thinking she had pulled a fast one on me. She always liked doing that. I remember spending hours in her bathroom just staring at her tub. She used her water crayons to draw all kinds of artwork on the wall and I didn't clean the last bit off. When my husband scrubbed it off one day without my permission, well, that was the start of World War Three for us."
This is heart-wrenching, and kind of messed up, but what's Leo supposed to say? Everyone has their issues and is damaged here. Her face may be ever so slightly weathered as a result from trying to make it through this global annihilation thing and her own hell but, man, she's also kind of gorgeous, the pensive dude correctly assesses.
A thought strikes him. He pauses and looks around.
"Holy cow....just realized it's been exactly one year since I walked into all this, discovered the world fell apart. Wasn’t sure what day it was until I saw a calendar here. This place, it’ll be something really good, awesome."
"I believe you. It will, for sure," Patricia adds, "These are good people and I'll do whatever I can to help. I know we’ll have to fight…."
She's interrupted by some jackass who decides to start playing We've Only Just Begun by the Carpenters on the PA system. God, how inappropriately corny. Leo just loves her quirky smile. They burst out laughing before sauntering back to see what the others are up to in the recreation hall.
They continue to get to know each other quickly. Her little idiosyncrasies don't seem all that peculiar, except for her admission she loves onion rings but always pulled the onions out and never ate them.
In a hallway they pass Andrew who's hogging an old-school Galaga video arcade game in the hallway. Leo's boys both eagerly watch and demand a turn.
Left out of the conversation is the former head of this facility, Olivia, who was so distraught that she slipped away in the middle of the night a couple of days ago, prompting Leo to double the guard.
Later in the rec hall, when Patricia is gone to check up on the boys, Leo remains, sitting with Keron who's enjoying a nice bowl of tomato soup. It's a bit weird this friendly fellow dumps a load of sugar in it, but to each his own.
The sound of people laughing is a welcome change for the older gentleman but the price to keep things this way may be more than he can bear. And nobody speculates what caused the outbreak anymore - no bloody point.
"You’re my family, this is my family now. Your way, I know it's the only way for now. Just wondering if we'll be like this if that threat, those people at that monastery place, is gone. Can we go back or are we, you know, busted forever, this community?" wonders Keron. We’ll be a bunch of survivors but it won’t be a community no more.”
It's clear to Leo that Keron doesn't understand the price it will take to complete this new society. Keron's a nice enough guy, but a soft sap. The dude leans back and folds his fingers together.
"It's cool we have this place, made it this far. It can be a family. Just don't want us to get too comfortable, soft, you know. The undead are still crawling around out there and there's those animal things. There might be other people out there who want to take what we have, so everyone's a threat now. We've got some guns and ammo but not enough. I guess, maybe the biggest threat we'll face after the cardinal is gone will be other people," Leo notes.
Keron pauses, then adds, “We need to grow in love, in compassion and in humility, or we're just broken. We won't be any better than what's out there, that dark waste. I'm hoping....well, never mind."
"I get what you're getting at," Leo responds. "Maybe one day, but not now."
They ignore one of the former cameramen who sits slumped at a table by himself. Leo and Keron instead both take a moment to admire the giant, colourful mural hanging in the rec hall, artwork that's meant to be whimsical, beguiling and uplifting.
Keron smiles and turns to Leo, “Your boys, they’re adorable. They happy here? They adjusting to this place? Sure seems like it.”
Leo smiles back, “They sure are. They’ve really taken a shine to their uncle Andrew, hanging off him like cats on mice. Kinda cute, I guess. They really love Patricia too, you know.”
“I heard about their mother, your girlfriend, now one of those things. Awfully sorry about that,” Keron conveys.
“Not my girlfriend,” Leo returns as he reaches and takes the spoon from Keron’s hand to try the soup.
Then, Leo requests Keron carry out a task, which immediately wipes the melencholy off the older man's face.
"By the way, Andrew had asked but I said no. I wanted to save the fuel, not overwork the generators. We have a lot of people here. Now, I decided we should let the kids use the five pin bowling lane here. Maybe one day a week, a tournament. Mind organizing that for me?"
The smile on Keron's face is worth it. "That sounds great, can't wait. Well then, we're going to make it, right?"
The dude leans forward, assuredly explaining, "Of course, I just know it. Besides, don't take me for a nut, but it's god's will I deliver these people to a safe life. I'm his hand and nobody can go against the will of god."
What is god? Where does gravity come from? What and where is dark matter? Why is there more matter than anti-matter? Leo has the answers, and will cut through the usual religious jargon to a more universal truth.
A girl’s giggling suddenly catches Leo’s attention. He turns to see Vic walking down the hallway with his hand on the small of a teen’s back. Leo leaves it alone, for now.
Keron and his leader are soon joined by Avril and Fred, who want to provide an update on the food situation, but they're interrupted by young Eric, who was assigned afternoon guard duty.
Rushing to Leo's table, he has news Vic and Mike have found someone on their scouting expedition, someone who escaped from the terrifying monastery. Now this will be interesting!
Soon, a large crowd has gathered around the table where newcomer Rodney is seated. Leo stands in front of him. His face dirty and body smelling as if it hasn't had a shower in weeks, Rodney devours a salad while describing how he and his friend made a getaway following the arrival of more blood suckers.
"Leo, it's terrible there. It's not like it was before. I can't even describe it. Me and Trent, yes, we took off. We didn't know where to go. Anywhere but there. There had to be other people out there, we thought," the guest explains. "This place, I can't believe it. It's great! So many people, so many people!"
"Kinda cool, eh? Don't know if there's other places, other places at all. We have so much here, kinda crazy a place like this exists when there's so much dead all around, but here we are. We can make it here, all of us," Seth says. “You’re welcome to stay.”
"Today's delusion is tomorrow's destiny, I suppose," Rodney offers.
The others are eager to talk to Rodney and welcome him into their fold. Leo rubs his beard and remains silent, sensing this new guy seems somewhat guarded. It's as if he's holding back. The dude can't believe nobody else is picking this up.
Perhaps it's just paranoia, needless suspicion of anyone not part of the group.
He knows this guy and he seemed pretty solid, although this fellow also seemed pretty gung ho about the idiotic doctrine the cardinal was spewing.
White gives the guest a tour of the sprawling facility before escorting him to his new quarters. He tells the newcomer that everyone is in agreement with Leo's methods.
"Something wrong, Leo?" asks Jules in a hushed voice after the reception. "You think something's up with this guy? He seems all right."
"I don't know, yet, so keep an eye on him for me," Leo orders.
Story by Sandor Gyarmati