Chapter Twenty One

Posted: March 9, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     Everything hurt.

     Maddie lay very still, blinking into the semi-darkness. The overhead light was off; a small lamp on the bedside table threw most of the room into shadow. She was surprised to note that it was still night – she could spy a sliver of moon through the partially open curtains.

     The space beside her in the bed was empty.

     Groaning, she sat up, the ache in her head a dull throb compared to the screaming agony of her arms and shoulders. She felt like she had when she was younger, immobilized after a weekend spent helping her father chop, lift and store firewood. They’d had no real need for the wood, but he was the type who’d rather spend the day doing good, honest work than be shut up inside, listening to the bickering between his wife and younger daughter. Maddie had worked alongside him for just the same reason, the labor a welcome trade for his companionable silence.

     Now, though, there was no sense of accomplishment to accompany the pain; no pride in a difficult task done well. Every movement reminded her of what she’d done, and who she’d done it to. And why.

     Unable to resist the pull, her eyes jumped to the other side of the room. Summer was gone – all that remained was a dark stain on the carpet. The bat had been cleaned and replaced on the hooks; everything that had been jostled out of place in the struggle had been carefully put back. Someone had also wiped down the walls, though a pale pink streak remained on the paint above the dresser. Her stomach rolled when she saw it.

     “Vinnie,” she croaked. Her throat was raw, dry as dust. “Vinnie!” she called again, a bit louder. When no one came, she swung her legs over the side of the bed, taking a steadying breath before she stood. Her knees felt weak, her thighs a little trembly, but she thought she’d be okay to walk.

     The living room, too, was dark; the television flickered, images Maddie thought were from the barricades filling the screen, though with the volume muted it was hard to tell if it was new or old footage. Her scalp prickling, Maddie looked around.

     No one was there.

     Her immediate thought was that they had left her; they’d waited until she was asleep and then fled. The fear was irrational – her sister and that coward Caleb might have ditched her, but she doubted that Vinnie would have agreed to such a thing, not when he had Grace to deal with in the somewhat hazy future. Besides, she told herself, You haven’t been asleep for that long. Maybe they’re out dealing with the…clean up.

     That was an even less pleasant thought; she shied away from it.

     Swallowing hard, she noticed again how dry her mouth was and shuffled toward the kitchenette. She fixed herself a glass of ice water, chugged, then made another, squinting against the freeze that spread up through her forehead. A third glass finally loosened her throat, washing away the taste of sleep and death.

     Leaning back against the counter, Maddie stared into the shadows of the living room; her mind circled back to what the others could be doing. They’d moved Summer’s body, that much was clear. But where? How did one dispose of a dead body without getting caught?

     Fear spiked in her belly. Maybe they had been caught. She saw it clearly: the three of them, wrestling the sheet-wrapped corpse down the building’s stairs, right into the arms of the cops, who’d no doubt been called due to all the screaming. They’d been arrested; jailed. She was alone now.

     Stop it. She rolled her eyes, exasperated with her ability to worst-case-scenario everything. Her mother had always said she had an active imagination. Grace hadn’t known the half of it.

     Never imagined this, though. Never imagined anything like this.

     Despite what she’d seen – what she’d done – Maddie had difficulty accepting this new reality. Zombies…it seemed so impossibly ridiculous. The rational part of her continued to conjure explanations, though her ability to believe them was now wholly compromised; if she found ways to excuse Summer’s behavior, sane ways that left aside the issue of the walking, snarling dead, then she had to acknowledge that she was a murderer. She’d beaten a woman to death, for no reason other than fear. That, too, was an unacceptable scenario.

     The pain in her head increased. She resisted the urge to stumble back to the bed, to hide under the blankets and pretend, for a little while longer, that it was okay. Wherever they were, they’d be back soon, she thought, and she couldn’t stand the idea of them looking at her. Judging her.

     She was so focused on her thoughts, the sound of the toilet flushing startled her into dropping the glass. Water splashed across the kitchen floor, ice cubes rattling over the linoleum and sliding under the fridge. The glass, shatter-proof, thudded hollowly at her feet.

     Caleb emerged from the bathroom. Catching sight of her, he cringed, shying away like a skittish dog. Maddie felt her fists clench, and forced herself to relax.

     “I didn’t know you were up,” Caleb said. He refused to meet her eyes, talking instead to a space just around her knees. “Vinnie wasn’t sure how long it would be.”

     “Where is he?” she asked. “Where’s my sister?”

     “They went out.”

     “With….with Summer?”

     He looked at her then, a quick piercing glance. “No,” he said. “They took care of that this morning.”

     It took a moment for his words to sink in. “This morning? What…” She took a step toward him. “How long have I been asleep?”

     He seemed to hesitate. “Two days.”

     Maddie reeled back, shaking her head. “That’s not true.”

     Caleb shrugged. “You can ask them. They’ll be back soon.”

     Two days. How was that possible? She’d thought for sure it had been only a few hours. No one slept that long, unless they were sick. Or…

     Panicked, she yanked her shirt up, searching her torso for marks. Caleb watched her dispassionately as she spun around, checking the backs of her legs, the soles of her feet.

     “He already checked you,” he finally said.

     “What? What?” She looked at him, chest heaving.

     “Vinnie,” he said. “He already checked you. Yesterday, when we couldn’t wake you. You’re clean.”

     “Oh.” She sagged against the counter, weak with relief. She felt foolish, a feeling that intensified when she realized she was standing there, being glared at by a 17-year-old, wearing nothing but a borrowed t-shirt and her underwear.

     “Uh…” She fidgeted, tugging the hem of the shirt down. “I should probably get dressed.” When the kid didn’t respond, she snapped. “Could you turn around, please?”

     He complied, smirking. “Don’t see why it matters. You already flashed me.”

     “Ugh.” Forgetting her jelly legs, Maddie dashed for the bedroom, not processing what else he’d said until she was at the door. “Wait.” She spun around. “He checked me?”

     Caleb glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah. Why?”

     Maddie had a vision of Vinnie running his hands over her sleeping body, lifting her shirt, turning her over to make sure no area was missed in his inspection. She shuddered. She was sorry for how she’d treated him, given he’d turned out to be right, and she certainly couldn’t deny the way her body reacted to him. But still…she hated the idea of him touching her while she was unconscious.

     “We’ll have to talk about that,” she muttered. “Why couldn’t Jessie do it?”

     “I don’t think she would have enjoyed it as much,” Caleb snorted. Before she could respond to that, the humor left his face; he glared at her again, eyes cold and hard. “I voted to kill you.”

     She recoiled. “I- I’m sorry about-”

     “No you’re not.” He took a step toward her, his expression blank. “You know what she was. We both do. But still.” He stepped forward again. “I voted to kill you.”

     Heart pounding, Maddie slammed the door in his face.

  1. mxcoot says:

    All I can say is oh wow, Caleb is a dick.

  2. Thea Landen says:

    Wooo, good to see this/you back!

    Come back, Vinnie, I miss you!

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