Trouble Part I

This is the next installment in the post-zombie-pocalypse story of Evie and Owen. The previous posts can be found here.

         Evie shifted in her blankets, wishing she drank enough to pass out. She never liked spiced rum or the cottony taste it left in her mouth. A hang-over would be even worse in the morning with Vanessa’s screeching. She closed her eyes, wishing for one of Thad’s warm beers and the oaky smell of the bar mixed with stale tobacco smoke, the sunlight filtering in through the grimy windows, and the faint buzz of the neon signs on the wall.
         Evie remembered sitting at Thad’s bar when she was no older than sixteen, her worn tennis shoes swinging as she perched on the tall bar stool. He gave her ice cold coca cola in a frosted beer mug and chased off any creeps that tried to bother her. Sometimes, along with the coke, he gave her a damp rag or a cup of ice–letting her nurse a split lip or a bruised cheek. She remembered the way the dim bar lights shone off the top of his balding head—like wet mud, she always thought. His round face was seamed with lines, almost black in his dark face and his crooked teeth always flashed white in a big smile for her. She hoped he was doing okay—that he was still holding down the bar.
         She stared at the dark ceiling above her; sleep fled in the wake of her reminiscing. Her gaze wandered over to where Owen sat at the very edge of the circle of firelight. It smoothed the new lines creased the corners of his eyes, the dirt, and the way his cheekbones were more prominent. It glazed his skin bronze as he tapped his machete idly against his thigh, keeping watch in case any tweakers surprised them again. She rolled over, hoping that hiding her view of him would silence her thoughts. She thought she heard a rustle and risked another glance over her shoulder. Vanessa prowled across the stage to Owen.
         “You should get some sleep,” Owen said quietly, before she spoke. “You’ll need it tomorrow when you three move on.
         “Move on? We just got here!” She said. “You’re not really worried about the stumblers are you? They’re all practically deadened by the cold, they’re easy to avoid–easier to kill. It’ll be better with us with you,” Vanessa said.
         “You and your body guards?” the smirk was audible in his voice.
         “Hardly,” she laughed.. “Edgar was in LA working on a script when it all went to hell. He thought of me for a part. Jessamy found us along the way. He was alone—on vacation and lost his family or something,” she waved her hand in the sleeping boy’s direction.
         “You’re real broken up about the kid.”
         She shrugged.
         “You’re exactly the same as I remember,” Owen turned to face Vanessa.
         Evie, now wide awake and unashamedly eavesdropping, perked up her ears. Here it was. She tasted salt and rust, realizing she was biting the inside of her cheek.
         “Oh?” the single syllable sounded obscene.
         “You don’t care ’bout nobody, never have, never will. Alls you want is someone you can use up,” Owen said evenly.
         “I don’t–”
         “You know exactly what I mean. Don’t think for one minute I give a damn,” Owen shifted again so his back was to her.
         “Time was when you gave more than a damn,” Vanessa didn’t bother to keep her voice low.
         Evie could see, even in the dim light the muscle that jumped in his cheek. Rolling over, she looked into the fire. Across the dancing flames she met a pair of dark eyes. Jessamy was awake, too.

         There was no way to tell it was morning—the only illumination in the windowless club came from the faltering fire. Evie could hear the wind wailing outside as the blizzard continued. She knew it was morning because she was awake—her body trained after months of light sleep to wake at daybreak. She sat up, groaning as she cracked her stiff neck and rubbed a sore spot on her shoulder. The blankets provided little padding from the wooden stage. She ghosted out of her blankets and prowled around the room, looking for anything she could scavenge. When that failed, she opened her pack and sorted the contents, careful not to rouse any of the other sleepers. Owen must have stayed up most of the night, but the bottle of rum that lay beside his lax hand was nearly empty. She started when he snored–a familiar sound–and shook her head. A soft step behind her made her turn, a knife leaping to her palm. Jessamy held up his empty hands.
         “Sorry, habit,” she said, turning back to the pack.
         Jessamy sat down, watching as she sifted through the debris of found objects at the bottom.
         “You’ve a lot of stuff,” he said, his accented voice soft.
         “Some of this has gotten me out of some tight squeezes,” Evie said, surprised that he spoke. She kept her eyes on the tangled twine in her hands.
         “Why won’t you tell us your real name?” Jessamy’s eyes looked very young in his hollow face.
         “How old are you, kid?” she asked.
         “Seventeen. Why don’t you like your name?”
         “Who said I didn’t?” Evie put down the twine–it only snarled further.
         “I don’t like mine,” he offered, looking at her expectantly
         Evie rolled her eyes, and relented. “It’s a silly name. Someone watched too many soap operas.”
         He waited.
         “It’s Evie.”
         “Evie,” he tested it on his tongue. “It’s nice.”
         “Less nice than when it’s shouted at you all day,” she pressed her lips together.
         “Before you get hit,” Jessamy nodded.
         Evie stared at the too thin face, the circles under dark, hungry eyes. She nodded, once. Jessamy looked over her shoulder and she knew where his eyes would go. She didn’t follow his gaze.
         “I won’t tell them. Our secret.” He paused, “Vanessa’s trouble.”
         Evie didn’t answer as he stood and walked back to the fire where the others were just beginning to rouse.

Turbulence

Our dynamic duo, the complicated couple, Evie (also known as E if you want to stay in one piece) and Owen are on their way to California, escaping the tweaker infested swamps of Louisiana. Catch up on the story here.

Cessna

          “Damn thing’s not much bigger than a car,” E mumbled as the Cessna 206 buzzed towards them.
          She hated flying—even in the fancy commercial jets—this tin can did not inspire confidence.
          “Relax, love, he’s a pro—been flying for years,” Owen pinched her shoulder and grinned.
          Evie crossed her arms and scowled, trying to hide the way her fingers were shaking. Tweakers? Fine. Uninfected hungry for a different kind of flesh? No problem. Planes? Hell. Owen enjoyed seeing her out of her element, he always did.
          “If we die in this thing—-” she raised her voice as the plane rumbled closer on the abandoned interstate.
          It was an empty threat, death by crashing and burning in a sardine tin with wings was probably better than being eaten alive by tweakers. E tried to convince herself that was true. As the Cessna bumped to a stop, she wasn’t sure.
          “You did promise to be with me til death do us part,” Owen held his hand over his heart.
          “Just get in the plane and let’s get this over with,” Evie shoved past him. “Bastard,” she muttered.
          A bedraggled man hopped down from the pilot’s seat, tossing his headphones behind him. He spat out a stream of putrid tobacco juice and grinned. Evie saw that several of his teeth were capped in gold and silver. It was not a welcoming smile.
          “Well, ‘ello, and who might you be?” he dusted of his hands on his grimy pants and a faint cloud of dirt rose.
          “This is Evie,” Owen’s fingers crept around her waist possessively.
          The pilot’s eyes lit with understanding and he let out a low whistle.
          E raised an eyebrow at both of them and Owen grunted as a well-placed jab with her elbow caught him just beneath the ribs. He had a scar there and the tissue was always sensitive. She smiled at him and stepped away as he pressed a hand to the spot.
          “Now that we’ve all been introduced…” she pointed at the plane.
          “No, we haven’t,” the pilot stuck out a dirty hand. “I’m Greg.”
          “Fine. Now let’s get this flying tuna can in the air, huh?” E moved towards the plane.
          “Whoah there, missy, not s’fast. What do you mean by calling Lolita here a tin can?” Greg looked genuinely affronted.
          “Lolita?” E looked at the dirty Cessna. “I called it a tuna can, not a tin can. Now, I think I insulted the can, though.”
          “Now, look here—” Greg’s tobacco-stained lips pulled back from his teeth.
          “Greg, mate, didn’t I tell you this one’s got a mouth like the business side of a water moccasin?” he clapped Greg on the shoulder. “She don’t mean nothing by it. ‘Fraid of flying,” he said in a stage whisper.
          E could have cheerfully shot both of them then and there. Owen must have seen something of that thought in her eyes because he pulled Greg away a few feet, obviously placating him.
          “Lolita,” E looked over the plane again.
          Now that the engines were off it seemed even smaller, as though the sound bulked up the little craft. She peered inside. The cloth seats were ripped, foam spilling out in places across the seats like vomit. She pulled away at the smell–maybe it was. There was mildew on the gray fabric and some suspicious rusty stains on the floor and walls. She thought longingly for a moment of the clean interior of a big airliner, the smiling stewardesses and the tang of a Bloody Mary to loosen her up. She was still thinking of shining little airline bottles of alcohol when rough hands grabbed her and boosted her into the plane. She staggered unceremoniously over the seats, her pack slamming painfully into her cheek. Disentangling herself, she watched as Owen hoisted himself into the co-pilot’s seat and hung the headphones around his neck. He grinned back at her and she answered with her middle finger.
          “You said she was a feisty one,” Greg shook his head, giving E a look laden with distrust. He patted the control panel lovingly, “Jus’ wait til you see what this baby can do.”
          E tugged ineffectually at the seat belt before realizing there was no place to secure it. She tucked her hands between her knees and tried not to fidget.
          As Greg went over the controls, checking each one with agonizing slowness, he chattered to Owen, content to completely ignore Evie.
          “Hear tell of anyone else from the good ol’ days?”
          “Nope,” Owen swiveled to look at Evie. “Evie here took up with Chett for a bit, though. Didn’t ya, love?”
          “Chett? Chett Ramsey? That was one sick sonofa—”
          “We ran together for a bit. No ‘took up’ about it. The rest of our group ended up as tweaker meat one way or another,” E bristled at Owen’s choice of words. “Then it was just him and me for a bit.”
          “Until you killed him,” Owen prompted, lips twisting in a poor imitation of a smile.
          “Killed Chett? Whaddya do that for?” Greg interrupted his check again.
          “He turned, so I put him down. Just like I would’ve done any other stumbler,” E said.
          “Damn,” Greg said, shaking his head.
          “Why, I’d do it to Owen here if he even thought about turning,” E continued, leaning forward now to rest her chin on Owen’s seat.
          Greg cleared his throat and pulled on his headphones. Owen’s still hung around his neck ; he stared at Evie, flat grey eyes unreadable.
          “Alrighty, ladies and gents, we’re ready for takeoff. There ain’t no seat belts, so no wandering around the cabin. The oxygen masks might work but if we go down we’re screwed anyway, so just keep your hands and feet inside,” he glanced at Owen and Evie. “And away from other passengers and the pilot.”
          “Better safe than sorry, I always say. ‘Til death do us part.’ Ain’t that right, baby?” She smiled sweetly at Owen.
          She realized her hands were no longer shaking.

photo

One Way Ticket

Part III in Evie and Owen’s story of surviving the government-created zombie apocalypse. Part I & II can be found here.

         Owen ran one of Thad’s filthy bar towels over E’s bare arms and legs. She rolled her eyes as he carefully examined her skin to make sure there were no open bites or scratches. Owen had seen her in less clothing before. It was critical to make sure no tweaker blood came in contact with her own. Satisfied that the gore wasn’t a danger, he handed her the towel and stripped off his coat and shirt.
         “There’s hardly any blood on you,” she muttered as she eyed his skin for new wounds.
         Scars rippled across his chest and shoulders and distorted the muscles on his back. They were all healed, white against his caramel skin. E bit her lip. She recognized the gash on his shoulder and the misshapen circle where a bullet pierced the flesh of his bicep. The others were unfamiliar to her.
         “Check anyway,” Owen said over his shoulder.
         E ran the rag over the few smears of rust on his back and arms, unable to look away from the scars seaming his back. They looked like claw marks.
         “Clean,” she said, turning and tossing the rag into a pile of others.
         Thad and his boys already checked for bites and washed up as best they could in the squalid bathroom. E pulled on her pants, feeling better once she wore more than just her thin t-shirt.
         “Knew you still had it,” Owen said, almost in her ear.
         She whirled on him, tugging the hem of her shirt down ineffectually. He already saw the scorpion tattoo, twin to the one on his arm, just above the tops of her over-sized jeans.
         “Getting a tattoo removed right now is ’bout as easy as getting a divorce,” E said.
         Owen crossed his arms over his bare chest and smirked at her. E blushed again and swore. She’d seen him naked more times than she could count, no reason to blush like a teenager. She returned to the bar and her mug of warm beer, downing it without hesitation. The tweakers went down easily. Thad’s boys were well-armed and decent shots. Owen took down two for every one anyone else killed. It took them less than an hour to make sure the whole pack was dead. Thad would burn the bodies once several hours passed without a tweaker sighting.
         “That thirsty, love?” Owen closed the distance between them.
         E sidestepped the arm he tried to drape over her shoulder and reached for her jacket where her several knives were strapped in the lining. Owen grabbed her wrists instead, and his fingers tightened when she tried to pull away.
         “Let me go, Owen,” E said quietly.
         His grey eyes narrowed for a moment, but he released her, holding his hands up in surrender.
         “You’re all alone, Evie, love. Don’t think I don’t know it,” he leaned against the bar, his voice even as she pulled on her jacket, feeling safer knowing her knives were close at hand. “Heard you was running with Chett and his crew. Last anybody heard they was feeding flesh-eaters and the crocs in the swamp.”
         E shrugged, “Maybe they are.”
         “You were with Chett then?” Owen’s asked.
         “He was the last one after a big group of other uninfected ambushed our camp. Bastards,” E said. “He cut his leg and let some tweaker bleed all over him when we were in the swamps, so I put him down.” She checked the buckles and straps on her pack, making sure everything was secure. “Alone isn’t something new to me, Owen.”
         She looked him in the eye, and grinned when he looked away first. She picked up her pack and walked towards the door. Thad would understand that she didn’t wait to say goodbye.
         “I’ve got a mate with a plane,” Owen’s spoke so softly she almost didn’t hear.
         “Well, looks like you’ve still got that same luck goin’ for you,” Evie said.
         “There’s a spot, if you want it.”
         E turned slowly, “How the hell you get a plane?”
         “This mate, I helped him out of a bad spot a while back. He said he had a plane–a Cessna–and that if I got to the old diner off the highway north of here, he’d come and take me to California. Said he heard people out there know of safe houses, compounds,” Owen’s eyes never left hers.
         His voice held the same husky excitement she remembered whenever he said he had a lucky break coming, that he could just feel it.
         “Your man’s little plane is gonna fly us all the way from here to California? Well, damn it, let me make sure I got a swimsuit,” E said.
         Owen’s eyes flickered at her tone and she felt a grim satisfaction that her words touched him.
         “You can’t stay here, Evie. The south’s overrun—they say it’s better out there, that they got it under control quicker.”
         “I heard Los Angeles fell in a week, that San Francisco was gone in two. You telling me that California is our best bet? I’d rather die close to home,” E tried not to think about dying at all. She wasn’t going to be food for some flesh-eating tweakers no matter where she was.
         “We might die in California, we’ll definitely die here. C’mon, Evie, just try your luck with me again,” Owen moved between her and the door.
         E exhaled, mind racing as she found all the holes in his ragged plan. But, she knew he was right. She saw more and more tweakers every week; the packs were getting bigger. People said they liked the warm, damp weather. Owen saw her wavering and took a step towards her.
         “California has boats and maybe more people with planes—we could go anywhere from there,” he had her cornered.
         “I’ll get on your plane, but when we land I’m gone,” she said.
         Owen’s satisfied grin almost changed her mind, but she set down her pack and walked back to the bar. Thad left a bottle of Jim Beam on the counter when the tweakers attacked and she unscrewed the top and took a long pull. As the bourbon burned its way down her throat she could only hope this wasn’t a one way ticket to disaster.
         With Owen, she never knew.