Chapter Eleven

Posted: November 10, 2013 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     Three hours later, Maddie wondered if they’d have been better off walking to her sister’s place.

     Horns blared around them; angry drivers shouted at each other, as if cursing someone’s mother would make the traffic move faster. Vinnie sat rigid, gripping the wheel – he’d given up yelling the hour before, and now the car was filled with a charged silence. Maddie glanced at his white knuckles and clenched jaw, considered saying something reassuring, then thought better of it. She turned her attention back out the window, to the task she’d assigned herself when it became obvious the three of them weren’t going to pass the time chatting.

     She was counting masks.

     The news had said they weren’t required, but it seemed many people weren’t taking chances. She saw old women, children and men in power suits, all wearing cloth masks over their noses and mouths. A young mother strolled by, a carrier strapped to her back, the baby inside wearing a too-big mask that rode up over his eyes.

     So far she’d counted 200; as time had passed more and more faces in the crowd were obscured by the cloth. She wondered if they should get masks of their own, once they got to Jessie’s. If they got to Jessie’s. She was beginning to think they’d sit in this car until they started coughing.

     Feeling hot, she reached out to roll down her window.

     “Don’t open that!” Caleb lunged forward, grabbing her arm.

     “Don’t touch her,” Vinnie growled, not taking his eyes off the road.

     “Sorry.” He released her quickly, then leaned between the seats, his voice adamant. “Just, don’t open the window.” He looked past her, at the people cramming the sidewalks. It seemed she wasn’t the only one who’d been watching the masks.

     “I need the fresh air,” she argued. “Air gets in anyway, doesn’t it? Through the vents?” Getting no answer, she reached out again.

     “Madelyn.” Vinnie shook his head, just a little.

     Rolling her eyes, Maddie dropped her hand. Caleb flopped back in his seat, relief clear on his face. “This is stupid,” she told him, peering into the backseat. “It’s a car, not an air lock.”

     When neither man replied, she crossed her arms, irritated, and looked back out the window. She was counting again when Vinnie finally spoke.

     “He ate her.”

     She jerked her head around. “What?”

     “I heard the cops talking. They tried to be quiet, but I heard them. His daughter – he ate her.”

     Caleb leaned forward, fascinated. “What, like Dahmer?”

     Vinnie shook his head. “No. Like…” He glanced at Maddie, quickly, and she understood.

     “Oh,” she said softly. “Like that.”

     She stared down at her hands, an ache in her throat. She hadn’t thought about Chrissy yet; hadn’t allowed herself to, not since Vinnie had told her. She wanted to be home first. She didn’t want to cry, not in front of these strangers.

     When Vinnie’s hand reached out and grabbed hers, she looked up, surprised. He stared straight ahead, still not meeting her gaze, but his thumb stroked her fingers, gentler than she’d have imagined. She squeezed back, pathetically grateful.

     “He must have heard you knock,” he continued, looking at Caleb in the mirror. “That’s why he came out. The sound must have caught his attention.”

     “Don’t blame that on me,” Caleb said. “She was his neighbor. He must have been pissed, came for her next. A grudge or something.”

     “That’s not how it works.”

     Maddie tore her attention away from the warmth of his hand to focus on his words. “What does that mean?”

     Vinnie finally looked at her, his face tense and serious. “The photographer – Dave? Did he have a grudge?”

     Maddie shook her head. “That was different. His mind wasn’t right.”

     “He was dead.”

     “Yes. But we got him back, and that’s why he…he was confused…” She trailed off, uncertain and suddenly afraid.

     “He was dead.” Carefully, Vinnie removed his hand from her lap and placed it back on the wheel. “He was dead, and then he wasn’t, and then he ate your friend’s face. He bit people. He scratched. And now they’re all dead too.” His eye twitched. “Right?”

     “I don’t understand-”

     “Yes you do!” he shouted. “Watch the damn news! ‘Drug-fueled rampage, 6 people dead.’ ‘Woman shoots husband after he attacks and bites son.’ ‘Bodies missing at the county morgue.’ It’s all on the news.”

     “That’s always the news,” Maddie argued. “Somebody is always on drugs; somebody always gets shot. People die all the time.”

     “Not like this,” Vinnie said. “This is different.” He slammed his hand on the wheel, making her jump. “Why don’t you see it?”

     “You said…” Maddie chewed her lip, thinking. “You said you had to. Mr. Webber – you said you had to shoot him in the head.”

     Vinnie nodded. “It’s the only way. After they come back.”

     Caleb caught the snap. “You mean, like…zombies?”

     Maddie laughed automatically, mind skittering away from what she was hearing, but when Vinnie nodded again, her jaw dropped. “You can’t be serious.”

     “He was dead, Madelyn.” He was earnest, sincere, with no hint of the madness Maddie expected to see. “He died. You saw it. And then he came back.”

     “Oh my god.” Her stomach rolled. “Oh my god. You killed him. You killed both of them. Because you thought-” She turned to Caleb. “He’s insane!”

     “But – the news. I’ve seen it too.” Caleb hesitated. “That old guy – how did he tear down your door?”

     Maddie closed her eyes, picturing Webber, seeing his face as he’d advanced toward her, snarling. He hadn’t looked right, that much was true. He hadn’t looked right at all. The way he’d kept coming, what he’d done to his daughter – that wasn’t right either. But this…

     “No.” She shook her head firmly. When Vinnie reached for her hand again, she recoiled, pressing herself up against the passenger door. “No.” Her fingers scrambled, searching for the handle. She had to get out, get away from this car.

     The click of the door lock made her stomach drop.

     “Open the door,” she said, wishing her voice didn’t sound so unsteady. “Open it, or I’ll scream.”

     “You could do that,” Vinnie said, his voice so agreeable she felt like the crazy one. “I’d let you out, if you did. But Madelyn – are you sure you’d rather be out there than in here?”

     She looked out the window. It was rush hour now, and the sidewalks were jammed with people heading home. She’d never seen so many people out walking before; the loss of mass transit meant they were all dumped out here, pressed up together as they all tried to move. As she watched, she saw what he’d wanted her to see – people stumbling, and stopping, in the crush of the crowd. People coughing all over each other.

     When she met his eyes again, Vinnie smiled and patted her knee. She flinched at the touch. “I’ll get you home,” he assured her. “I’ll get you home, and then we’ll just…see.”

     She turned to Caleb, imploring, but he kept his eyes down and avoided her gaze. Should have left you behind, she thought savagely. He seemed to wither under her glare, to withdraw into himself until he looked years younger, like the kid that he was.

     Miserable, she pressed her face against the window, focusing on the feel of the cool glass against her cheek. She was trapped in this car, with a kid and a madman, no way to get home. She couldn’t expect the kid to help her. She couldn’t rely on her sister either, once they finally made it to her.

     Maddie realized she had no one to rely on but herself.

     I am so fucked.

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