Monday, February 2, 2009

Rendezvous: Chapter 13

The plan kicked off without a hitch. The rain had picked up a little, so the group was able to hide the noise of the ladders and get to ground level without alerting the zombies. Once safely down, Dee and Sam used their crowbars for hook-and-stomp maneuvers to dispatch the zombies on the way to the trucks. They noticed that black lichen was already growing on the outside walls, and the zombies were sporting mossy coats in places. Some had even developed mushroom caps.
The ride out of the parking lot was bumpy, both due to driving over last night's kills and running over the walking zombies who got in the way. Word of their departure quickly spread through Zed's ranks, and with Jack's help, Seamus was able to confirm that every zombie within eyesight was headed for the trucks. The group on the roof just had to stay quiet and hope that the zombies didn't lose interest in the caravan too soon.
"This is the most intense low-speed chase I have ever been on," Dee said to Seamus as they got on the street.
"I know, right?" Seamus radioed Jack once again as they neared the highway interchange. "Hey, are they still following us, or should we make another pass?"
"Nah, they seem to be concentrating on you pretty exclusively. Just stay slow, keep them in sight, and you should be fine."
"Ten-four. You guys stay safe."
"Thanks, you too."
Seamus placed the walkie-talkie on the dashboard, but kept it turned on until they got out of range of the store, in case of emergency. Sam was keeping pace with Dee, the other trucks staying about ten yards back. Once on the highway, Seamus yelled across for Cameron to keep an eye on the road ahead, and he'd make sure they kept within sight of Zed. Then he spoke to Dee.
"So what's going on?"
"Hm? What do you mean?"
"With you. Friday. When I came across you in the middle of the zombie mob, you looked like you were in some kind of trance."
"I was busy fighting zombies, Seamus." Dee's tone went flat. "I was probably just concentrating on the fight."
"Don't try to bullshit me. You were singing some song, it was like The Battle Hymn of the Republic, but it had different words. And it was in a minor key. Where the Hell did that come from?" Dee looked over at Sam's truck. Sam and Cam both had eyes straight ahead. She looked at Seamus for a long moment before speaking.
"Who else did you tell about that?"
"Nobody. I just want to know what the fuck's going on."
"All right," Dee said, lighting a clove. "Fine. But only if this stays between you and me."
"I can't promise that," Seamus said, lighting up as well. "If they don't need to know, I won't say anything. But if it endangers the group, then they have to know. The only reason I haven't talked to anyone else about this is that I didn't want to panic everyone. But unless you explain yourself -" Seamus stammered, not wanting to threaten her, but unsure of how else to communicate that there was no compromise on this issue. Dee, for her part, understood perfectly.
"Well, I don't know what to tell you, because I'm not sure of what's going on, myself."
"You're not doing yourself any favors. Start with what you know."
"All right, fine. Just - just give me a minute to organize my thoughts, OK?" Seamus answered by taking a long drag on his cigarette. "OK, I - Jesus. Look, when I was a kid - I was crazy, OK? My dad took me to a bunch of doctors, and they put me through a battery of tests, and what they saw was that I had vastly increased brain activity for a child my age."
"How old were you?"
"Like, three or four, I don't remember exactly. This went on over a couple years. Anyway, the conclusion they came to was that I learned extremely fast, but I made up things even faster, and like any kid, I got really wrapped up in the fantasies I was telling myself. I started believing them. Bullshit about past lives and whatnot. My mom eventually walked out, it was too much for her to handle. We took a trip to the library one day, I was in like kindergarten or something, and she found me looking up how to make pipe bombs."
"Look, what does this have to do with anything?"
"Well, the doctors didn't know what to do, so they put me on antipsychotics. I've been taking them ever since. They fuck you up, though, so they put me on a really low dosage and coupled it with some intensive therapy. Not like ECT or anything - just talking. But a lot of talking, with a lot of people. Eventually, I calmed down. But now I'm out of pills."
"So raid a Walgreen's and get more."
"Rosie and I tried, but that was the day the football team got us. We had already bagged the pills, and they assumed we were taking them for recreational use. We couldn't find them after we got out. I've been out since then. And there's been so much stress, I'm already starting to feel it. Like, everything is starting to seem really familiar, like it's happened before. That song - I know I never heard it before, but it doesn't seem like that to me. It feels like - it also seems familiar. But I know I just made it up."
"Yeah, you nearly fainted after fighting the zombies the other day. You said something like, 'Once you've seen one zombie apocalypse, you've seen 'em all,' or some noise. Is that all it is?"
"Mostly, yeah. Basically, I just don't know if I'm going crazy or not. Like, when the church started singing, I thought that was in my head, and when the zombies started screaming like people, I thought for a couple moments that I had just been making up the past week and projecting some delusion." Seamus took another long drag and reflected on the situation.
"Well, if that's all it is, then - I don't know. I mean, you seem to have a pretty good handle on things. I'm not gonna tell anyone. Not unless you start acting nuts. It wouldn't help anything."
"Thanks. And, actually, I'm kind of glad you know, now. Rosie was the only one who knew before, but - Christ, I mean, I love her, but I don't know if she'd be able to call me out if I snapped. Now that someone else knows, you'll be able to keep an eye on me."
"Yeah." Seamus watched the zombies slowly pursuing them. "Hey, there was one other thing that freaked me out. When you were fighting the zombies, you were - I mean - it looked like you knew where they were coming from, but without seeing them. I'm pretty sure I saw you nail a guy behind you without even looking."
"Maybe. I don't know. Why?"
"What do you fucking mean, maybe? Were you doing that, or weren't you?"
"I mean that I don't know. Sometimes, when I get in a fight, I just - it's like, I don't exactly lose control, I just lose track, you know?"
"No. No, I don't."
"Well, when I fight - I mean, I practically grew up fighting. I got in a lot of trouble at school for it. I was always tall for my age, and boys would make fun of me for it, and I wouldn't take their shit and I'd fight them. I'm better now, but when I get in the thick of things, it's like this red mist just creeps in from the edge of my vision. And then - it's hard to describe. It's not a danger to anyone else, as long as you don't attack me. But if I was really hitting people without seeing them -" Dee trailed off and took a long drag.
"Then what?"
"I know, I was just collecting my thoughts. Look, the Japanese have this term, 'sakki' - not to be confused with 'sake,' that's rice wine - what it means is 'the palpable desire to kill.' There's this school of martial arts, the one that Cam and Kev and I studied, they focus on that."
"Bullshit. You're telling me you can read minds now?"
"It's not mind-reading, and it's not bullshit. I mean, back in the day, they didn't really have any better terms for it, and the term just survived as a matter of convention. Like how electric current is shown going from positive to negative, when in reality it's the reverse. Anyway, as you develop in your training, you learn to get an awareness of what's going on around you, and at a certain point, you're supposed to be able to pick up on cues from your enemy that they don't even know they're sending. It's like mind-reading, in the sense that eventually it's supposed to become second nature, and your opponent isn't supposed to be able to tell the difference."
"You're serious? What if someone is able to - I don't know, do whatever so you can't pick up on it?"
"Yes, being able to mask it is also part of the training. It's basically so you can blend in with a crowd, or go unnoticed. The idea is that you slip under the instinctive radar. It's actually one of the tests they've got - the grandmaster of the order stands behind you with a sword and masks his sakki, and then just focuses it all at once right as he swings. You're on your knees, facing away, eyes closed, and you have to get out of the way. Too early, and you panicked - too late, you get chopped in half."
"That sounds like a myth."
"I did it."
"Really?" Seamus didn't even try to hide the contemptuous suspicion in his voice.
"Really. Cam and Kevin did it, too. I was freaking out when I first kneeled down, it seemed like I was sitting there for a year, panicking, thinking my teacher was going to swing at any moment. But I eventually calmed down, and quieted my mind, and then I felt - it's strange, it's like right then, I knew exactly what people mean when they say 'butterflies in your stomach,' you know? That was the only time I'd felt that. But I just knew it was time to get out of the way right then, so I did."
"As he swung the sword?"
"Yes. I mean, it was a dulled sword, so he would have whacked me pretty hard on the noggin, but it wouldn't have killed me."
"So that's what you were doing, in the middle of the crowd?"
"Maybe. I think so. I mean, zombies send a lot more cues than a trained martial artist. If you look closely, they do a little shuffle-step right before a lunge, they also inhale sharply and then grunt as they go into motion, there are a lot of little things like that. If you pay attention, you can pick up on them even when you're not looking at them."
"Huh." Seamis stared out the window, flicking the butt of his cigarette after one last hit. It was a lot to swallow - but, like the zombies and the bombed power station, he had seen it happen with his own eyes. He had no better explanation at the time. He'd have to keep a close eye on Dee, though. If she was on medication and had run out - fucking antipsychotics, of all things - she could be a big problem. But while she kept a grip on reality, she was a very valuable asset. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
The zombies were approaching the highway from every direction, tangling themselves in barbed wire fences and stumbling in ditches, hearing the sound of the truck engines from several hundred yards off but unable to catch up. Hopefully, their pursuit stayed this close all the way to their exit, then they could gun it to The Home Depot and lose them. If that worked, Zed would be on the Northeast side of town and would have to spread out all the way back to the Southwest side before he was a threat again. Seamus just hoped their luck held out that long.

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