This is Issue #72 of Dead Frontier by Walkerbait22, titled Afterlife. This is the finale of Volume 12.
Issue 72 - AfterlifeEdit
Duke, having been one of the few people to volunteer to clean out the lobby after dark, sees a body begin to stir near the hotel's entrance. The pin-striped suit, the grey hair, the thick moustache, and the purple neck tie all indicate it to be Cash, his skin and eyes taking on the trademark lifelessness of the infected.
"Damn," Duke mutters to himself and shakes his head. He pulls out his knife and walks over the few dead bodies left to get to Cash. He kneels down over his former colleague's body. Infected Cash reaches out to Duke with a half-detached hand.
"You were a cool-ass dude," Duke says. "Too bad you had to go out this way. You deserved better than this, man." He sighs. "Nothin' I can do now..."
Without a moment's hesitation, he digs the blade of the knife into Cash's forehead.
The mass funeral the next day doesn't take long: the names of the dead are read, loved ones cry, some people say a few words. Cole feels sick to his stomach when Marsh has the audacity to speak of the deceased in front of the crowd.
"To the relatives and friends of the dead, I'm truly sorry. It's a shame a travesty of this magnitude could have been prevented, with just a little precaution," Marsh says. "But the past can't be reversed and we can only look toward the future. Under my guidance, you'll live a much more safe and secure future. I vow to never let anything like this happen again, so I'll be instituting some....what some may call slightly 'drastic' changes. Anyone over the age of twelve, training three times a week--at least--is mandatory. No questions asked. Anyone over 15 and healthy is liable for completing at least one run a month. Again, no questions asked. Also, a few of you’ll need to fix up the wall out back where the infected breached.”
“...Bullshit,” Cole mutters under his breath.
“Adults: you're tasked with the building of gates around the hotel’s perimeter,” Marsh continues, “and you're responsible for having a gun or any other weapon on you at all times. Simple rules. Easy to follow. Consequences for breaking them will be decided at a later date, but for now, just stick to the rules and everything will run smoothly."
Billie is ready to head back in after the funeral, when someone calls from behind her. She turns, and Hector waves, approaching her with a pretty young woman at his side. Both of their eyes are slightly moist and red. "Billie, hello," he says. "I--um--I never got to introduce you to my older sister, Adrienne. She was the woman you pulled from the escalator. You...saved her life."
"Yes. Yes, you did. Thank you," Adrienne says, her eyes tearing up a bit. She grabs Billie's hand and shakes it vigorously. "I cannot thank you enough."
Billie suddenly recognizes her as the first woman she pulled up, and smiles. "I was just trying to help," Billie says. "I'm glad you're doing okay."
"As am I," Hector says.
A week passes, and Alexander is barely seen leaving his room. Frustrated and embarrassed, he's gone into seclusion; his previously loyal followers have left him in the blink of an eye, and now he's public enemy number one. Lucy, on the other hand, recently decided to roam freely throughout the hotel, ignoring the occasional dirty looks she receives.
Cole is enjoying breakfast with Billie, Devon, Alec, Jake, Adam, Lienne, Chloe, and Griffin when Marsh appears behind them. "Good morning, everyone," he says cheerfully. He places a firm hand on Cole's shoulder and smiles. "How's everyone?"
"We're just dandy, Stacy," Lienne says with a smile.
Lienne notices his cheery demeanor falter for a fraction of a second, but his forced smile is back moments later. "You know that's not my name," Marsh replies.
"Is it not? It's an absolutely beautiful name, you know. Fits you perfectly. Stacy."
"You're funny. Know what's funnier? You're next in line for a supply run."
"I went last week!" Lienne protests.
"Don't care. You're scheduled for next week, too. And the week after. Sound good?"
"Lienne..." Adam warns.
"No, no, let her keep going," Marsh says with a laugh.
"Marsh, I think we'd like to enjoy the rest of our breakfast. In peace," Griffin speaks up. "Would that be okay with you?"
"Of course. I sincerely apologize that I interrupted your breakfast. Please, continue." Marsh waves to Lienne and goes to grab some food from Joe.
"Man, he used to be s-s-so c-cool," Jake says when Marsh is out of earshot, and takes a bite of oatmeal. "Now he's a t-total dick."
"Tell me about it," Griffin says. "Power does that to people. I mean, you guys saw him before. He welcomed you with open arms, smile and everything I bet. Then Charlotte, James, and Porter kicked the bucket and he just..." He points to the side of his head and twirls his finger in a circular motion. "Crazy. Loco. You've got fucking twelve year olds with guns and shit. He's paranoid. Power hungry. And it's too bad."
"He needs a good kick to the balls," Devon decides.
"Try that. See how it works out," Chloe says.
"Maybe one day. Can't say I'm not tempted. Maybe we should get Hiro to deal with him. He did a pretty good number on Cole."
"You're never gonna let me live that down, are you?" Cole asks, laughing.
"Never. You didn't even get one punch in? Come on. Alec has one less hand than you; I'm sure he would've at least tried."
"Thanks, babe," Alec mutters through a mouth full of food.
"I did try. A little. Whatever. How about we forget that whole fight ever happened?" Cole suggests.
"What fight?" Devon says with a grin, and Cole gives her a thumbs up.
In the medical room, Chloe is trying to aid an old woman with stomach pains, but finds it's hard for her to concentrate. When Griffin enters and goes about his business on the other end of the room, she beckons him.
"Yeah?" he responds.
"Could you help Mrs. Maslow for me? I need to go do....something," Chloe says.
"Sure. Everything okay?"
She assures him everything's fine and leaves, looking for a way to calm her nerves.
A week has passed since the tragedy, but the anxiety she felt trying to aid all of those injured people still lingers. Her hands shake, her heart rate increases from just thinking about it. And remembering the worst part--telling someone they've been bitten or scratched--makes her insides churn. So she grabs a cup of coffee and roams around the hotel to clear her head before returning to Griffin. By the time she gets there, Mrs. Maslow is gone, and he's sitting at his desk.
"Got you some," she says, handing him a styrofoam cup full of instant coffee. He nods a thank you and takes a sip as she sits.
"So, Michael J. Fox," Griffin says, "what's the deal?"
Chloe laughs and raises her eyebrows. "Michael J. Fox?"
"Yeah. You've got the whole shaky hands thing going on. Nervous for prom?"
"You're not funny."
"If I wasn't funny, you wouldn't be smiling. Am I right?"
He takes that as a yes.
"So, what's got you all fidgety?" he asks.
“Is it really that hard to guess?”
"Not really. You're still shaken up--pun intended--about last week. I get it. I am too, and so is everyone else. It'll be fine. All this anxiety and shit you're feeling? It'll pass."
"I know it will," Chloe agrees. "Eventually. But it's like I..." She scratches her head as she tries to think of a way to explain. "I wasn't a medical doctor like you. I've never told someone 'Hey, look: you're gonna die.' I've never had to tell a parent their kid is doomed. And last week, I did just that upwards of twenty times. Not a very easy thing to deal with. I’m just unnerved by the whole thing.”
“Understandable,” Griffin says with nod.
“You’ve seemed pretty fine with everything.”
“Eh...for the most part. I’ve done it before; and you get used to it, as bad as that sounds. And once you’ve had to, y’know, tell a loved one, doing the same for anyone else is like swatting a fly or something. It’s terrible...but true.”
“You had to tell a family member they were going to...”
“Die? Yeah. Now you’re wondering who, I bet.”
“Sort of,” Chloe says.
Griffin downs the last of his coffee before deciding to speak again. “It was--wow, I’m gonna regret bringing this up--but it was my boy. My son, Luis, I mean. There was just a ton of chaos, and one of the infected ended up getting hold of his arm. Thought we were good, but then I saw the scratch and...I don’t know, my entire world just crumbled right then are there.
“We got away, eventually,” Griffin continues. “But he kept getting worse and worse and sicker and sicker. He kept asking what was the matter with him, and I just told him I didn’t know. But I knew. I knew that was it. Then a few hours before he...passed, he just asked me straight out: ‘Am I gonna die?’ So I told him. I told him don’t be afraid, that there’s nothing we can do about it now, all that stuff.
“And then this kid, this eight year old, he’s stronger than most of the grown men I’ve met in my life. He told me he wasn’t even afraid. Said he could be with Mom now, and grandma. Only problem was he’d miss me and Lucky too much. Lucky was our dog, by the way. Always promised we’d go back to the house to get him one day. Day never came, of course.
“So I saw the whole thing. The fever took over, heart stopped. But the one thing I promised myself was that I’d never let him turn into those fucking things so I...dealt with that. I miss ‘im. Words can’t even do it justice, but I miss him. Love him more than anything in the world, and I wish I could change things but...” He shrugs his shoulders. “What are you gonna do?”
As Lienne steps out of the truck, she kicks a Pepsi can to the curb. Her second run in two weeks. Bullshit. But Billie, Cole, Alec, Adam, and Duke agreed to tag along to give her some familiar company, Wrigley and Hector included.
They’re forced to walk now that they’ve reached the streets clogged with cars, but the K-Mart they’re traveling too isn’t very far. “Ugh, fuck this fucking Marsh guy. Why can’t people just be nice?” Lienne groans.
“We should...get Wrigley to shit in his room,” Billie suggests, and they laugh.
“Is that your master plan?” Adam asks.
“It’s genius, no?” she responds with a mock French accent. She looks to Hector to see his response, but he stares straight ahead, his eyes never leaving the road.
“Or just call him Stacy all the damn time,” Alec suggests. “His head will fucking explode.”
“Ass kickings work, too,” Duke points out and there are murmurs of agreement.
The trip takes a little over fifteen minutes, and once they strategically clear out the infected in the parking lot, they split up into twos to cover more of the large store. Cole predicts they’ll probably find a decent amount of food, maybe some water, but nothing to last them for a substantial amount of time. He takes the rear of the store with Billie; Alec and Lienne take the other end; Adam and Hector; then Duke and Wrigley.
“Yo, so, can you teach me a bit of French or something?” asks Adam as he walks along with Hector.
“Maybe another time,” Hector says concisely, and they walk in silence the rest of the time, Adam’s attempts at making conversation failing.
In the back of the K-Mart, towards an aisle filled with perishables, Cole tosses a few stray cans into his bags and zips it up. In the aisle over, he hears Billie rustling with something. “Hey, Starfire, you find anything?” he calls over.
“What?” she responds.
“Did you find anything?”
“I heard that part. What did you call me?”
“‘Starfire?’ Oh. Jake lended me some of his comic books. You know, DC comics? Teen Titans? And you’re last name is Starr...No?”
“I...just don’t call me that.”
“Come on, you don’t like it?” he asks as he moves to her aisle. She’s kneeling over to put a can of tomato sauce in her satchel, but stands when she sees him.
“Not particularly. But whatever makes you happiest, Cole.” She yawns and proceeds down the aisle, glancing at the mostly empty shelves.
“Alright. Starfire.” He regards the row of shelves opposite to her. “Sleepy?”
“Sort of,” she says, fighting back another yawn. “Sleep is being a total dick lately. Nightmares and all that great stuff. But I’d do anything to be out of the same building as Marsh. So here I am.”
“Same here. But I’ve barely gone a night without a bad dream in...months. So it’s pretty much just an annoyance now.”
She agrees. “They don’t even scare me, or make me sad anymore. I just want to fall back to sleep. With everything last week I feel like I should be...sadder. But I’m not. I just feel empty and weird and angry...I dunno. Does that make sense?”
“I understand. I thought I’d be all depressed and devastated but it was more a feeling of ’This again? More dead people?’ Robbie being gone is the only thing really hitting me hard.” He sighs and inspects a hardcover book. “I feel like a terrible person for saying this shit.”
“Don’t. It’s the same thing with me. You see so much death...and it just becomes a thing you’re used to,” she says. “Maybe we’re just crazy.”
He laughs. “That’s the most logical conclusion we can make. But one day, I feel like I’m just gonna have enough of it. Of bad outweighing the good. It’s frustrating. And then you get close to someone, and they die, or they betray you or something happens and I’m just gonna be done with it.”
“Well, are you?”
“I mean, I feel like I’m on the brink of just being like ‘Fuck everything’ and running off to be a hermit. If I don’t love anyone, I can’t get hurt! Right? Ever feel like that?” he asks.
She stops and crosses her arms, leaning her back against the shelf. “Sometimes. But that’s all we’ve got left. Friends. Relationships. We run away from all that, then we might as well be dead anyway.”
Cole lets her words sink in for a few seconds, and decides he agrees. And, right then and there, he has the strongest desire to just kiss her.
So he does.
She accepts it readily, and finds her fists have clenched around his shirt collar, trying to pull him just a little closer. That line between friendship and something else has been crossed, and he feels like it’s the right thing. At least, he hopes it is.
He breaks away and looks to her for confirmation. She nods, but as he goes to kiss her again, a gunshot rings throughout the store.