The Walkie Talkie crackles. Joe’s voice sounds like he’s radioing me from the moon. “Meet me at the Panera.” He doesn’t say my name much, anymore. He doesn’t say “Hi” or “See ya later” anymore, either. Just directives. Go there. Get that. Watch out for the Green Slugs. Blah, blah. I would give my left tit to hear him crack those asinine jokes that annoyed the hell out of me in the old days. I would pretend to eat a Gordo-tick egg, if I thought it would elicit a smile. Not that Gordo-tick eggs are easy to find, at this point.
“The one by Walmart Crater, or near the Stickling graveyard?” I’ve been using my bike as a Slug squish-er this morning. There’s an old sewer drain by the river bed where the purple ones have been congregating lately. The purple ones are only poisonous if they are ingested. And they’re as slow as a Zombie herd. I just ride over them- Thunk! Thunk! – until the odious slime has become a smeared figure eight. It doesn’t matter how good I squish them. They will just re-coagulate again in a few hours. Ah, to be a Slug.
“…. at the Crater…” Well. Okay then. I rev the little electric engine on my bike and it sputters to life. I need an outlet anyway, so Crater Panera is fine with me. “Un momento,” I radio to Joe.
I ride along the old Freeway. Even though the Zombie stench is strong, I prefer to see miles in every direction. And Sticklings like to shoot fire arrows from the wooded areas, so concrete is usually best for travel.
This is the longest Joe has taken to get back here. Usually he goes off for two days, maybe three. When the world first popped, we stuck together through the worst of it and managed to survive. Neither of us would have lived without the other. But Joe is restless. He wants to go somewhere. Find something. And when he is here, he looks haunted. Like I am haunting him. So I let him go without a fight. And in return, he’s brought back lots of cool stuff on his walkabouts. Like this nifty electric bike.
I pull into the old building rubble of Walmart Crater. Humans can be found in this area, because a single wall of the Panera still stands erect. And it has a power outlet. That works. They huddle around the wall, with their mostly broken gadgets, just like when the world was alive and humans still had lunch, or got coffee, and needed to recharge their phones. The only way I can tell they are human and not Zombie is by sniffing the air. Zombies smell like death. Humans smell like despair.
Joe is jostling through the humans to claim the power outlet. He has a car battery in his hands. There is a dusty Jeep pulled up over a mangled coffee table with a decimated sun umbrella. He sees me and motions me over. He is sweating.
“Nice of you to come home,” A human reaches for Joe’s battery and I shove them away. Joe looks different. There is a fist sized bulge under the neck of his shirt. My heart drops. “What the? Joe? What the hell is going on?”
“I can explain,” he says, but I don’t wait. I rip the shirt from his neck. There is a Copulating Slug attached to him. It pulses and undulates seductively, Joe’s heart blood intermingled with its own sludge. Based on the size, it’s been copulating with Joe for months. “I…I wanted to tell you.” Joe says. He strokes his Slug’s eye stalk. The humans around us decide that now is a good time to find a rock for the night.
I retch all over my hard-won Altra sneakers. I had fought with a Rotting Gordo-tick for those damn things. And now they are ruined. “How could you? Doesn’t this life of ours mean anything to you?” I unlatch the gun from my hip holster.
“It was an accident. I didn’t mean for it to happen,” Joe puts his hands in the air, “It just did.”
I raise the gun level to Joe’s face. Four eyes look back at me.
“C’mon, Tess, don’t be so naïve.” His voice grows hard. “You know this is where it is all going anyway. It’s inevitable. It’s the future.”
“It’s not my future,” I say, and shoot.