Sunday, July 9, 2017

Chapter 5: Hidden Treasure

Jess and I made short work of our trip into town. Finding the cache wasn't hard since the place had one of our markings on it. Our group were the ones who put it there in the first place, after all. The food itself was in a bank. I'm not sure who placed the supplies, but I couldn't help chuckling that our hidden treasure was secured in a place once meant to protect wealth. It still was; only the nature of the wealth itself had changed.

Jess and I made our way into the bank through the front door. We'd been drilled with the locations and facts about every cache, so we knew the key to the front door was sitting on top of the small brick ledge over the door itself. Whoever had set the bank up as a supply drop had cleared it first, found a way to secure it, and recorded the details. That was our standard procedure. If a place couldn't be secured--if it didn't have a lock and a key, basically--it wasn't up to our standard. I guess a manager must have died here, not that you could tell upon entering.

The supplies were kept inside the desks withing the offices lining the outer wall of the lobby. It wasn't a ton of food, mostly bags of deer jerky. One good thing about the sudden extinction of most of the human race--and yes, I realize that's an awfully dark cloud to hunt for silver linings on--is that the population of game exploded. The territory covered by animals like deer grew ridiculously over the last seven years.

"Found the keys," Jess said as she straightened from digging through the bottom drawer of a nice mahogany number. "Looks like it's a pickup truck. For some reason I thought the car here was, you know, an actual car."

I shrugged. "You have a better memory for that kind of thing than I do. When was the last top-up?"

Every vehicle we hid had to undergo a little routine maintenance. We as a collection of communities might be able to produce new gas from the Texas oil fields, but that didn't mean the stuff stayed good forever. Part of the job meant leaving basic information with the cache about how long the fuel had been sitting.

"Six months," Jess said with a frown. "Even odds it'll start at all."

I shook my head. "Fuck. If we have to walk the whole way to the cabin, we're probably going to die. Where's the truck? Does the note say?"

Jess tossed me the keys, the small paper tag attached to them fluttering as they jangled through the air. Right below the tiny lettering recording the top-up was a single faded line that said the location was a garage across from the bank. I glanced through the barred window and saw an old-fashioned roll-up door not forty feet away. An equally ancient and beat-up key had 'garage' written on it in loopy script.

"I guess I'll check it out," I said. "If you want to gather up the supplies."

I didn't wait for an answer. Instead I turned and left, freeing her of the responsibility of choosing. Jess would have taken the more dangerous job--a marginal label since the zombies were still at the other end of town--just to avoid any hint that she wasn't willing to do her part. I just needed a little time to myself, and the walk would help keep my joints mobile.

As always when walking outside of any protective wall or barrier, the part of my lizard brain responsible for sensing danger turned itself up to eleven. Back before The Fall, I was a huge fan of zombie fiction. The idea of walking around the apocalypse like a badass, ready to bash in skulls at a moment's notice, appealed to me as much as anyone who'd done a marathon of the best movies in the genre.

The reality sucks. I wasn't listening hard and scanning the area so I could show everyone how awesome I am by performing some super creative kill. I twitched at the scrape of old leaves on the pavement because they could have been the footfalls of a dead, starving cannibal. Or could have covered those footfalls. Or been caused by them.

The possibilities behind the flicker of any random shadow, the creak of unseen metal, the scent of any dying thing, were endless. The outside world was an infinite mousetrap, a Rube Goldberg device built by a vengeful and insane god. Even the short trek across the street was enough to send my glands into overdrive. From the perspective of anyone watching, I had to look crazy. I looked around constantly, spinning in place twice over those dozen or so yards. If we're being totally honest, a policy I'm in favor of in most circumstances, at best I resembled someone deeply addicted to hard drugs worrying over the next fix.

I didn't fumble the keys when I got to the garage. What I felt wasn't fear. Or rather, what fear I did have was contained and directed. The monkey on my back was anxiety, which thank all the saints didn't erode my ability to react rationally.

That's a good thing, because there were two zombies waiting for me when I rolled up that door.

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