Kris stared down the icy-steel barrel of a nine millimeter handgun.
An old man in olive drab military garb with more scars on his face than wrinkles furrowed his brow. He took a long drag on the bent cigarette that hung from lips hidden behind a groomed, snow-white beard. He adjusted the sniper rifle hanging from his shoulder. “Drop the bat, tubby,” he growled.
Kris let it slip from his fingers and put his hands in the air.
“The knife too, sweetheart,” the veteran ordered.
Sky grimaced, pulled the knife from its sheath, and set it gently atop the pebbles. “We’re not bad guys,” she said.
“Maybe I am,” the vet shot back. “Ya ever think of that? Now drop your gear and face the wall.”
“Shit,” Sky whispered. She and Kris pulled off their packs and palmed the wall, one on each side of the rooftop door. The old man slid his hands up and down Kris’s legs, arms, chest, and butt. He only patted down Sky’s bulky sweatshirt.
“You think because I’m old I must be deaf, huh?” the soldier asked as he crouched and began rifling through Sky’s belongings. “‘Trigger-happy grandpa,’ my ass. Hoodlums like you are the reason I don’t have kids, ‘grand’ or otherwise.”
“Come on,” Sky began. “We’re just trying to leave the city. We didn’t wanna cause any trouble.”
“Well, trouble found ya, and now ya gotta deal with it. What are you two shits doing on the roof anyway?”
“E-e-escaping, sir,” Kris stammered. He immediately regretted speaking and looked at his feet. He could feel his palms sweating against the rough, concrete wall.
“You have a knack for it, I see,” the veteran mocked. He moved onto Kris’s packs. “Don’t know why you’re bothering with that bite on your hand. How much longer you reckon you got left, porky?”
“He was bit yesterday,” Sky answered. “Almost twenty-four hours ago.”
“Bullshit,” the soldier exclaimed. “I’ve been up on this roof watching these flesh-eating maniacs all night. The longest anyone survived a bite was half an hour, tops.”
“Half an hour?” Kris whispered to himself. He looked toward Sky and caught her eye.
“You really are immune,” Sky whispered with a smile.
“Immune?” The veteran stood. Kris heard him approaching, then felt his wrist caught in the man’s vice-like grip. The veteran pulled the bandage close to his face. He sniffed it and growled. “Huh. Least a couple hours old.” He let go and stepped back.
Kris rubbed his wrist and looked at his wound like it was a badge of courage. He was fat, friendless, and far from home, but he was alive. Right now, that’s all that really mattered.
The old man pulled off his beret and wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve. “Alright, kids, you’re clear.”
Kris sighed and allowed himself to relax before picking up his bags and weapon. Sky did the same.
“Not very good at first impressions, huh?” she said.
“The world turned to shit overnight and you expect me to be cautious around strangers, especially a bit one?” The soldier let out a dry laugh that turned into a fit of coughing. Kris offered him a water bottle, but the old man waved his hand. “Did you drink outta that?”
Kris shrugged with his head. “Uh, a sip or two, yeah.”
“You may be immune, but you’re still probably carrying whatever disease these freaks have. Keep your shit away from me.”
“Oh, shit,” Sky cursed. “I hope that’s not true.”
“Didja help bandage his hand?”
“You get any blood on ya?”
“You wash your hands?”
“Then you keep your shit away from me, too.”
Sky held her head in her hands. “Fffuck!”
“I-it’s okay,” Kris tried to assure her. “You only ate a Hot Pocket, with a fork. If you were infected, you’d have turned by now.”
“Oh, God, this is a nightmare,” Sky groaned as she held her head in her hands. “To constantly worry if immune people around us still carrying the infection? It’s a nightmare.”
“I’m more worried about those fuckers down there,” the veteran mumbled. “So what’s the plan for you two whippersnappers, anyway?”
“Um, we’re trying to get out of the city,” Kris answered.
The veteran laughed, holstered his pistol, and equipped his sniper. He started walking back to his original perch. Sky and Kris followed and noticed the old man had set up a small camp on the corner of the rooftop. He had a tent, a sleeping bag, one oil lantern, two boxes of rations, and two metal ammo boxes. “Good luck with that, sport. Have you even seen the ground?”
“That’s why we’re on the roof, grandpa,” Sky muttered.
“Watch your mouth, sweetheart. You’re talking to an armed marine.”
“Pfft. I know your type. It’s exactly why I’m not scared.”
“You ‘know my type,’ huh?” the veteran continued. “Well, missy, did you know I served two tours in ‘Nam? Fifteen confirmed Charlie kills with nothing but a shaky spotter and this baby.” He patted his rifle’s scope.
“Um, th-thank you for your service, sir,” Kris said.
The sniper stared, his expression a mix of amusement and annoyance. He looked to Sky for answers. She only shrugged.
The vet raised his eyebrows and took another heavy puff, changing the subject. “You got names?”
“Sky. He’s Kris.”
“You got last names?”
“Garboski, sir,” Kris answered.
“I’m, uh, just Sky.”
The veteran didn’t push the issue. He pulled his cigarette from his mouth and spat. “Sergeant Arthur B. Caldwell, at your service. My friends call me Art.”
Sky gave a halfhearted thumbs up. “You got it, Art.”
“Call me Arthur.”
“Right. So, Arthur, why are you taking potshots at the undead?”
Mr. Caldwell finished his cigarette and flicked the butt away. He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a pack, put another stick to his lips, lit it, puffed. “No better target practice than a shambling corpse.”
“What if they can be cured?” Sky asked.
Arthur let out a single, dry laugh. “Optimistic, huh? Most of those things down there are already half eaten, their guts and blood long gone. Even if they could be cured, I’m sure they wouldn’t wanna be.”
Sky gave a solemn nod. “Right.”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better get back to my post.” With that, Arthur sat on his lawn chair with a grunt and surveyed the streets below through his rifle’s scope.
“You mean you’re staying?” Sky said. “You’re not coming with us?”
“What does it look like, missy?”
“But what about food and shelter? You need water and clothes and, judging by the smell, a bath.”
Mr. Caldwell groaned. “I’ve been doin’ fine on my own. I’m not gonna—” A loud bang interrupted him. “The fuck?” He turned toward the roof access door.
The door shook as another bang echoed across the rooftop.
“Oh, no,” Kris whimpered.
“Oh, crap,” Sky whispered.
“Oh, fuck,” Arthur cursed. “Run!”
The trio ran west along the rooftop as the door burst open and a flood of zombies poured from the stairwell.