“How’s he doin’?”
The sound startled her, but she recognized the voice. Kurisu looked over her shoulder and smiled at her husband. She puckered her lips, awaiting her morning kiss, which Jamar gave with zero hesitation, as he always did. Even in this hell, she still had that to look forward to each day.
“His fever is still up,” Kurisu said, dabbing Kris’s brow with the dirty, wet rag the savages had the decency to provide them. The kid had hardly said a word since he was bit two nights ago; he slept most of the time.
“That zombie really did a number on him,” Jamar said. He glanced at the thick bandage covering Kris’s forearm. Kurisu had wrapped the wound fresh only yesterday, but already it was mostly a dark crimson. The zombie had taken a giant chunk out of his arm, a far bigger wound than any of them—or even Tony and his ilk—had expected. “Do you really think he isn’t turning?”
“He’s not,” came a gruff voice from the corner of the room. Kurisu and Jamar turned together and looked at Arthur.
“You’re up early,” Kurisu said in the cheeriest voice she could muster, which wasn’t very cheery at all.
“Haven’t been down,” Arthur replied. He sat up with a grunt and a few cracks from his back. “I swear I haven’t slept a wink since all this shit went down.”
“Same here,” Jamar agreed. “Feels like we’ve been trapped here forever.”
“By ‘shit’ I mean the apocalypse.”
The veteran glanced at Sky. She was the picture of peace, curled into a fetal position by Kris’s feet, using her folded hands as a pillow, nestled in the enormous folds of her gray sweatshirt.
“She’ll sleep through anything, huh?” Arthur said to no one.
“It’s endearing,” Kurisu said in her defense. “We need that kind of innocence.”
“Innocence?” Arthur let out a single, dry laugh. “The poor girl’s boyfriend turned into a zombie while she was out. Kris killed ‘im before he even knew who he was.”
Kurisu and Jamar looked at each other.
“There ain’t any innocence left in this world,” Arthur continued. “No room for it.”
“I disagree,” Kurisu said. “We’ll find a group someday—a good group with kids and babies and puppies, people who live in harmony away from all this.” She squeezed Jamar’s hand for reassurance, and he squeezed it back.
“Unless Tony and his band o’ bastards kills us first,” Arthur muttered. He stood and stretched before walking up to the door and pounding it with his fist.
“What is it?” came an impatient voice from the other side.
“I gotta take a shit,” Arthur grumbled.
The door opened, and an armed man motioned for Arthur to follow. The door closed and locked behind him.
Jamar spoke as if Arthur had never interrupted him. “So, if he isn’t turning, what’s with this fever?”
“I think anyone would be feeling a bit under the weather after losing so much blood and…flesh,” Kurisu said with a shudder.
“You think it might get infected?” Jamar asked, cocking his head. “I don’t know shit about medicine.”
“Arthur poured enough whiskey on the wound to kill an alcoholic. I think he’ll be okay. He’ll push through.” She dabbed at Kris’s brow again, which had already begun sweating once more. “Why do you think we haven’t heard from Tony yet? What’s he waiting for?”
“Well, if he kills us before Kris turns, he’ll never know that our claims about the antidote are true,” Jamar said. He kept it vague on purpose; the group wasn’t about to betray themselves by speaking openly about the antidote being a lie just in case the room was bugged. “But in Kris’s condition, Tony thinks he’s a dead man walking. Or lying, guess.”
“After two days?” Kurisu said. “I thought most people turned within an hour.”
“Kris is a big guy. Maybe Tony thinks that’s slowing the process down. Doesn’t matter, though; he won’t be able to deny shit when Kris starts struttin’ around good as new.”
Looking at Kris, Kurisu wasn’t sure that was ever going to happen.
Sky yawned and rolled over. Her eyes fluttered, and she shot up. “Shit,” she cursed while rubbing her eye. “How long was I out?”
“Six, seven hours,” Kurisu said with a shrug. Noticing Sky’s shock, Kurisu laid a hand on her knee. “It’s okay,” Kurisu reassured her. “You needed the sleep.”
Sky kneeled by Kris’s head and took the rag from Kurisu to do her share of dabbing. “How is he? Did he wake up?”
“No,” Kurisu said. “He’s been out like a light.”
Sky pressed the back of her hand to Kris’s forehead. “He still feels warm.”
“Worryin’ about him isn’t gonna help anyone,” Jamar said with a comforting smile.
“What else am I supposed to do? Stare at a wall until Tony and his goons come in and gun us all down?”
The door flew inward and Marko, one of the goons, shoved Arthur inside. The redhead pointed at Sky, then Kurisu. “You two: Follow me.”
“Like hell we will!” Sky shouted. “We have to take care of Kris!”
“In case it wasn’t clear, I wasn’t giving you a choice,” Marko shot back. When neither Sky nor Kurisu made an effort to stand, Marko strolled in and grabbed Sky by her hair. She shouted out in pain and anger as Marko pulled her to her feet. He used his free hand to point the submachine gun in his hand in Kurisu’s face. “I said, ‘Up!’ Now!”
Kurisu obeyed, her hands trembling. She looked at Jamar.
“Where are you taking them?” Jamar demanded.
Marko smiled before turning his gun on Jamar. “You have my word your two little lady friends will be just fine.” With that he shoved Sky out the open door and pulled Kurisu with him, leaving Arthur to smoke and Jamar nearly frothing at the mouth.
Kurisu had a good idea what awaited her and Sky as the gun in their backs pushed them forward, up the stairs, and down a dark, narrow hallway. She’d seen enough movies, read enough books, and heard enough stories to know a group of aggressive, armed men plus two young, defenseless women equaled bad news. She reached for Sky’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
Instead of being led to a bedroom, however, Marko guided them both to a kitchen—and not an empty one, either. There women and kids inside, all of them working to prepare food. Children peeled potatoes and stirred mysterious pots of food while the women cut vegetables and cooked on the gas stove.
“Holy shit,” Sky muttered. She turned to Marko and looked him in the eye. “You have whole families here.”
“Sure do,” Marko said. “And as long as you’re eating here, you’re gonna help prepare food. Now get to work.” Before Sky could say anything else, he turned and left.
Kurisu glanced at each person in turn. They’d hardly seem to notice her and Sky’s presence. She had no idea where to begin.
“Kurisu,” Sky whispered. “I’ve never cooked a thing in my life.”
“I’ll help you,” Kurisu said.
An older, plump woman with gray hair and a floral skirt who’d been grilling some sort of meat on the stove stopped her cooking to Kurisu and Sky. “Good morning, ladies,” she said with a smile, wiping her greasy hands on the dirty apron draped over her large bosom. “Name’s Molly.” She pointed to Kurisu and then Sky, saying, “You must be Kurisu and Sky.”
Kurisu and Sky only looked at each other and nodded.
“Well, come on in!” Molly said with a wave of her hand. “You can help roll some meatballs and grate some cheese. First things first, though: We wash our hands.”
Kurisu was afraid to speak. Something about Molly’s motherly attitude and ignorant disregard for Kurisu’s and Sky’s situation seemed…off to her. Still, she did what she was told and washed her hands with a sponge in a soapy bucket of cold water. Sky did the same.
Molly told them they were making a stew and set them to work. Sky took the cheese grating job, naturally, while Kurisu rolled up meatballs.
“What the fuck is going on?” Sky muttered under her breath when Molly was out of earshot. Kids ran back and forth across the kitchen and the women gossiped quietly like they’d all forgotten the undead were walking and a group of innocent prisoners were in the basement, one of them halfway to becoming a zombie himself.
“I don’t know,” Kurisu said, concentrating on her meatballs. “Just…keep your voice down.”
“Dude, I dunno what all this is, but all I know is I want nothing to do with it.” Sky glanced around as she absentmindedly grated the block of cheddar, seemingly looking for a way out. “Think we could make a run for it?”
Kurisu shot her a look. “And leave the others?”
“We can escape, lose them, find the RV, stock up on gear, and come back, guns blazing.”
“I think you might be legally insane, Sky,” Kurisu said. “The moment we escape, Tony will kill Arthur, Jamar, and Kris, and that’s after they chase us down and shoot us in the back.”
“So, what, we’re just supposed to cook these sick fucks their food and wait to die?”
Kurisu shook her head. “Once Kris wakes up, Tony will have to let us go in exchange for the antidote.”
“Oh yeah?” Sky said, entirely unconvinced. She lowered her voice until it was barely audible. “And how exactly are we going to give him something that doesn’t exist?”
Kurisu had no idea.