This is Issue #39 of Dead Frontier by Walkerbait22, entitled Happy Birthday. This is the third issue of Volume 7.
Issue 39 - Happy BirthdayEdit
3 MONTHS LATEREdit
The road looks frozen in time. Not a single thing moves, except for Adam, a man from the O'Hare named Robbie, and Dwight. Besides the sound of their footsteps, they walk in utter silence. After a few attempts at making conversation, Robbie realizes Adam and Dwight are more focused on the task at hand: finding supplies to bring back. This has become a bi-weekly thing; every two weeks, Abe sends a few people out to stock up on anything useful. All usually goes well, but sometimes, they come up with nothing.
Robbie, a tall, lanky fellow in his mid-thirties, wipes the sweat off of his forehead and adjusts his hat. A country boy at heart, Robbie moved from Mississippi to Chicago in his teens once his formerly-a-preacher father got a new job in the midwest. His father’s religious background led Robbie to be an avid Christian, even now. Lots of people at the airport dismiss his views about God as a waste of time, but he doesn’t take offense; he just focuses on his duties to the Lord.
But being a man of God doesn’t mean you can’t kill what’s coming after you.
Robbie sees two infected shambling along the road ahead. These two are a bit faster than normal; probably recently turned. Dwight goes to unsheathe his knife, but Robbie stops him. “Naw, man. Watch,” Robbie says. He pulls his knife out instead and breaks into a slow jog toward the infected.
“What the hell is he doing...” Dwight mutters, and Adam shrugs. “Hey, man, don’t get yourself killed!”
Once Robbie gets close enough to the infected, he sets his feet and grips the knife’s handle. He focuses. He’s been practicing his knife throwing, but hasn’t been able to test it out on an actual infected until now. The knife spins through the air after a hard throw and lands right in the middle of the shorter infected’s forehead. He pulls out another knife and does the same to the other.
“How the hell did you learn how to do that?” Adam asks as they jog over to Robbie, who’s retrieving his knives.
“Practice, practice, practice. Then more practice,” Robbie replies. “ ‘For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.’ That’s what my daddy used to say. Guess that applies to knife throwing, too.”
“Your dad sure has a lot of sayings,” Dwight observes; whenever he spends time with Robbie, he learns at least one quote from the man's father.
“Mhm. But this one was his favorite, listen here: ‘ We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When--’
“ ‘When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves...’” Adam says, completing Robbie’s sentence. “Buddha.”
Robbie takes a glance at him as they continue to walk. "You know that one, huh?"
"Yep. My girlfriend loved that one," Adam replies. He instantly has sweaty palms. "She even got it put in a frame and gave it to me as a birthday present one time. That quote's practically engraved in my head."
"Oh," Robbie says. "I've known you for months, man, and I never knew that."
"Not something I really thought was worth sharing..."
TWO DAYS BEFORE THE OUTBREAKEdit
Adam holds down the "1" on his dialpad, then puts the cell to his ear. He taps his fingertips against the counter as the phone rings. "Hello?" says a female voice on the other end.
"Don't...look out...your window..." Adam says in a faux baritone, but a chuckle escapes his mouth.
"Oh, my God. Adam, really?" she says. She tries her best to sound annoyed, but Adam can practically hear her smiling. "I'm sorry...Sherma," he says again, in the same voice as before.
"You sound like you swallowed a nail. Did you swallow a nail?"
Adam laughs. "No," he says, speaking normally. "So, what're you doing?"
"Getting ready; I just hopped out the shower," Sherma says. "We are going out tonight, right?"
"Adam! Come on..."
"I'm sorry. I've got a paper to work on, and I've got work tomorrow and...just tons of other shit to do... I really should've told you earlier."
"Yeah, you should have." It doesn't sound like she's smiling anymore.
"Are you mad, Sherma?"
She pauses. "I don't know. I was just really looking forward to it. Forget it. It's not a big deal."
"Yeah, it is a big deal." Adam thinks for a second. "Okay, how about this: in a few days, I'll take you out. It'll be really nice, too. Five star kind of deal."
"You cannot afford a five star restaurant."
"True. It probably won't be five star. Three star, at the most,” Adam jokes. But, actually feeling pretty terrible, he apologizes again. “I’m sorry. I know you were really looking forward to tonight.”
“It’s fine. Really. As long as you make up for it later.”
“I will. Cross my heart.” They say their standard goodbyes and I-love-you’s, and both hang up. Adam sets his phone on the counter and looks above the sink, where the Buddha’s words are framed. Under the elegant print is a signature: Love, Shermadine.
Adam smiles. He’s going to make up for it this time.
When Adam, Robbie, and Dwight return, later that night everyone gathers in the cafeteria. "Haaappy Birthday to you!" everyone roars. Cole blushes a little as they sing to him. It's his 25th birthday, and in front of him sits a ugly Styrofoam cake covered in vanilla frosting. 25 candles jut out at different angles.
Everyone claps when the song is over. There haven't been many new additions to the airport for the last three months. Around ten people have been found and assimilated, bringing to total to about thirty. One of those newcomers, Kyle, sits across from Cole. "Sorry the ‘cake' looks like shit," Kyle says. "Gotta work with what ya got, you know?"
"No, no, it's great," Cole lies. The cake's not the prettiest thing in the world, but he appreciates the sentiment.
"Blow the candles out, make a wish, yadda, yadda," Adam says.
"Okay." Cole takes a deep breath and blows out all 25 candles. There's more excited clapping and cheering; whenever a birthday or holiday comes around, they try to have as good of a time as they can, given the circumstances. Hannah, who's sitting next to him, whispers a "Happy Birthday" and gives him a kiss. Then, the party starts.
A few hours into the party, when the kids are ushered away and the drinks come out, Cole is maneuvering his way through the cafeteria. The music plays loud, a repetitive club song that reverberates through the area. The tables have been pushed to the side, leaving a lot of room in the center. A few people crowd around, chugging beer, and Cole passes by a table where Dwight, Tyler, and Mulligan take a few shots. "Don't be a fuckin' pussy, bro!" Dwight teases Tyler. "Another one! Come on!" He even sees Finn and Billie making out in the corner.
He finally sees Hannah laughing with Adam and Chloe. He comes up behind her and puts both hands over he eyes. "Guess who."
"I don't know," she says. "...Madonna?"
"Close enough," Cole says, spinning her around and giving her a kiss on the lips. Chloe clears her throat. "Hey, Adam, we should, like, totally get another drink, right?"
"We should, like, totally do that, Chloe," Adam agrees. They scurry away, making sure to smirk at Hannah and Cole before they do.
"Come on," he says, smiling. He takes her by the arm and pulls her way, pushing past the partiers toward the showers. They enter and slam the door shut, with Cole locking it behind them. The opposite side of the large room is lined with showers covered with glass doors.
Cole’s light beard tickles her face as he puts his lips against hers. Hannah clumsily pulls off his shirt, barely breaking, and accidentally pops him in the head with her elbow.
“Ow,” he says, laughing and rubbing his head.
“Oh my God, are you okay?” she asks, holding in chuckles.
“I’m fine.” He pulls her into another kiss and they stumble past the row of showers. While Cole is sliding open the door of one of the showers, something catches Hannah's eye. She squints, toward the end of the room, and slowly walks toward the crimson colored liquid seeping from under the shower door.
“What’re you doing?” Cole asks, peeking out of the shower after turning on the water.
“You see that?”
Cole looks to where she’s pointing and sees the dark red. There’s no mistaking what it is; he’s seen that same color too many times these past months to not know. They walk side by side toward the blood, the tense silence hanging over them like a dense fog.
Hannah gasps when she sees the body, although the dirty shower door makes the corpse’s owner unrecognizable. Cole feels his palms go sweaty as he holds his hand on the handle, getting ready to slide it open. He does, and Kyle stares back at him, his throat slit and a pool of blood at his feet.
Abe sits in his office, leaning back in his chair, lost in thought. The dance music from the cafeteria is just a hum. There's a knock on the door, and through the window he sees it's Amy. She smiles, and he waves her in.
"Not interested in joining the party?" she asks. She holds two beers and places one of his desk as he sits.
"No. No. I'm too old for...parties," he says.
"No, you're too serious for parties. Maybe if you, I don't know, let loose a little, had a beer or something...Like when we were younger."
Abe sighs. "Too bad I'm not young anymore."
Amy looks at him, concerned. She reaches across the desk and grabs his hand, squeezing it tight. "Are you feeling okay, Abe?"
"I"m just...I don't..." A natural, confident speaker, he gets frustrated when he stumbles over his words. "I lead these people. They look up to me, and respect me. But I can't...share everything with them. Does that make any sense? We...we aren't going to be able to have these parties forever because we'll run out of food soon. Or water, or ammo. Or whatever else we need. I can't tell them that."
"Then what are you going to do about it?"
"I was thinking more frequent supply runs. Maybe once a week? Just as a precaution."
"We're doing fine, Abe. Look, you can't dwell on this stuff all the time. You'll drive yourself crazy."
"I know, I know. But when everyone looks up to you it's hard not to."
Amy pauses. "Have you heard from Thomas? They...they should've been back by now...right?"
"I...no, I haven't. I've been here, waiting for them to radio in, but nothing. Was hoping they'd come back with some more people...I'm going to send some people out tomorrow, probably, if they don’t come back by tonight. If everyone isn’t hungover.”
“You haven’t heard from them? At all?” Amy narrows her eyebrows.
“Earlier, I did. The last thing I heard from Thomas was some kind of wooded area they were flying over yesterday. But since then? Nothing.”
“Maybe their radio just went out, or they got caught up somewhere...” She thinks the worst--four men missing and a lost helicopter--but she doesn’t mention it. She already knows Abe is thinking it and doesn’t want to dampen his spirits even more. She notices he hasn’t touched his beer at all. “Not in a drinking mood? It’s your favorite.”
“Thanks, but no.” He stands and rubs his aching back. “I think I’m in more of a sleeping mood.”
“Of course you are, grandpa,” she says, smiling, and wraps her arms around his neck. She pulls him into a kiss when they hear a frantic banging on the office door. They look out the window and see Cole and Hannah, seemingly scared out of their minds.
Abe rushes to open the door. “What is it?”
Cole swallows hard. “Kyle’s dead. I--I don’t know what happened. He’s in the showers and there’s blood and he...his throat--”
“Dead?” says Abe. “What the hell do you mean he’s dead?”
“He’s in the showers with a fucking slit throat!” Hannah says.
Abe pushes past them and moves through the terminal to get to the showers. He opens the shower door on the far end, and he sees Kyle’s body sitting on the tiled floor, staring up at him. Amy appears behind him and covers her mouth and gasps. “Oh my God.”
Another one. Three months ago Abe found Emma’s body and wanted to keep it a secret. But now, he has no choice. Three people have seen it, and he knows there’s no way they’ll keep their mouths shut.
“Shut down the party,” Abe orders.
After about 15 minutes, he is able to gather everyone in the terminal. Some of the drunkards are pissed, but they listen as soon as Abe talks. There’s gasps and a few cries from some of Kyle’s closer friends, and the general mood in the room is shock.
“This was not a suicide,” Abe says. “This was not a breach by the infected. This was a murder. If you know anything, or were responsible in any way, come to me directly. No one will know, and we will sort this all out.” The latter part is a complete lie. There’s no way a second betrayal like this will go down smoothly with Abe.
It takes a moment in the uproar of realizing there is a potential murderer in the midst, but Abe eventually transitions into a new topic. He explains the situation with Thomas and the three other missing airmen: Lucas, Jane, and Rowan. If they don’t come back by the morning, or he isn’t able to contact them via radio, a search team will be sent out tomorrow. “If you’d like to volunteer, it’d be a great service. Just come see me and we’ll figure something out. Thank you.”