Victor stood just inside the doorway leaning on the shopping cart, trying to puzzle everything out. Leeland stood on the front side of the cart where he’d dragged it inside the door. A few seconds later, Mother Rotelle walked in, set her rifle barrel up in the umbrella tree, and looked at the groceries.
“That seems like way more than I asked for, Victor,” she said.
“Well Mrs. Rotelle, I didn’t want you to run out, and I wasn’t able to get everything on the list. But, now I see how you were able to survive this long by yourselves.”
“How’s that deary? Survive what,” she asked.
Leeland looked puzzled at the entire conversation.
“You shoot as well as my friend John. And Leeland, do you often end up places and not know how you got there?”
“No, never,” Leeland replied.
Victor decided not to push any farther. Either they were both firmly entrenched in their dementia, or they were pretending and not going to let go. He liked them and decided to just play along.
“Alright,” Victor said. “Lets get these groceries put away, and then I need to be on my way. I’ve been gone from my son for far too long.”
“Oh, you have a son? What’s his name?”
Victor thought about lying, but he decided against it. He watched for reactions, switching his vision to see their auras. He looked to see what their actions would be. Their auras were as they always were, swirling rainbows of color. Most people’s auras were one solid color, or slashes of different colors. Both Leeland and Mrs. Rotelle’s were always shifting through all of the colors in big swirling patterns. It added weight to his thoughts that they may be suffering from dementia.
“Max,” said Victor.
“That’s a good strong name,” said Leeland. “What was your name again?”
“Victor Tookes, sir. It’s nice to meet you.” No change in either of their auras as he spoke. Either they really didn’t remember their dinner conversation or they just didn’t care, Victor couldn’t be sure.
He finished putting the groceries away while Mrs. Rotelle made lunch for them. One thing he missed about normal life was regular meals that consisted of more than one thing. Victor was so used to eating whatever food came out of the can he happened to open, even lunch consisting of Spam sandwiches and processed cheese-food were a treat.
When he was finished eating, Victor checked out for a minute in the middle of Leeland’s third telling of the time he arrived at the house just out of the army in the summer of ’53. ‘Kris, are you there?‘ he asked.
“Well hot damn, Mr. Tookes! Glad to hear from you again. Ya get a little cooked in Atlanta?” He could hear the smile in her voice and she continued, “That resonance idea was GOLD. I’m out if the hotel and there’s no sign of those pricks that took me. Or Laura.”
‘Great news. Where can I pick you up? I’m in Mobile now.‘
“Moblie? Damn, you work fast. I ran into another group of humans that have a settlement up in Tennessee and I’ve decided to go with them. I honestly think I could help them. And to be honest? I think it’ll be more…normal than the usual bullshit,” she replied.
His heart sank. I really thought after we connected, after we worked so well together she’d reconsider leaving me. I liked Kris a lot.
‘Nothing against you, but I’ve had my fair share of humanity saving.‘
‘Kris, if we don’t do it, no one will. We’ll never be safe, we’ll never be able to relax our guard. I’d rather be sitting back at the farm with my mom watching the crops grow too, but this is way bigger than both of us,’ I replied.
‘I get that. I really do. I’ve been in your head, Tookes. We’re all on the same side. Why can’t I do my own part by helping another group survive?’ She replied. “Besides, if you really need me, all you need to do is ask. You’ll always knows where I am.’
‘Do what you need to do. If you ever get in trouble, call Max. We’ll be there for you. Stay safe out there, keep your head down and try to find some happiness.’ I said, ending the connection. He tried to shove his anger down into its box. His team was now down two members. How was he supposed to keep them all together? Not that it mattered, he’d do this alone if he had to.
Victor opened his eyes, or rather, refocused them. They’d been open the whole time, staring into space. Leeland was looking at him strangely. “You alright son? Looked like you left us for a while,” he said.
“Oh yea, I’m fine. I was just thinking about getting back to my family. I really need to be going. Leeland, do you know where the east-west train tracks are, up in Montgomery north of here? My family is on a train heading west, and I need to get to the tracks before they pass through here.”
“Oh yea, its about two and a half to Montgomery, but just over the boarder in Louisiana the tracks turn south and run down to Naw’lins. We can be at those tracks in Hattiesburg in under an hour.”
“Would you be willing to drive me to the tracks?” asked Victor.
“Oh, sure. Nothin’ to it. Let me know when you’re ready. Probably gonna have to gas up the truck though,” Leeland said.
“I’ll cover the gas, its the least I can do.”
“That’s a deal then, son. Let me know when you’re ready.”
“I’m ready now, just need to thank you both for your hospitality. I needed this night here,” said Victor.
“It was nothin’ deary, it was our pleasure to have you. Safe travels,” said Mother Rotelle, hugging Victor tightly. She laid her head on his stomach, as she hugged him. Once again he was astounded at how small she was. He hugged her back as best he could.
“It was a pleasure having you with us, son,” said Leeland holding out his hand. Victor took Leeland’s hand for what must have been the twentieth time. Before he could shake his hand, Victor felt the cold of travel surround him. A millisecond later he was shaking Leeland’s hand standing on a rail bed.
“Thanks for the lift,” Victor said. “Be safe when you head home, I don’t want you to doze off like you did on the way up here.”
“Oh, it’s always better when I’m driving. Nell always says I there must be an off switch on my ass that gets tripped when I’m in the passenger seat,” said Leeland turning to walk away. He’d gone about five steps when he yelled back, “Stay safe Victor Tookes.” And then he was gone, leaving only that familiar black mist.
Victor looked around. He was standing at an intersection where a small road crossed the train tracks. There weren’t any buildings in site. He was surrounded by hay fields. There weren’t even crossing gates at the intersection, just a diamond shaped sign facing away from Victor about a hundred yards up the road in either direction.
Victor slowly got down on his knees near the train tracks and put his ear to the steel. It had always worked in the old cowboy movies, but he couldn’t hear anything on the tracks. ‘Maybe they are still too far away,’ Victor thought to himself. He turned around and sat down on his backpack. It was a little lumpy, but far better than sitting on the road. He sat for the better part of an hour, getting up to listen to the tracks every ten minutes. He started to worry, which lead him to thinking about Kris leaving the group. That lead into Leo leaving, and that lead to Victor getting angry.
Like always, Victor shoved his anger down into a box specifically built in his brain to handle excessive and unnecessary emotion. A box he kept promising he’d open one day, and deal with. For now he needed to be busy, so he strapped his pack on his back and struck off up the road towards the nearest farmhouse. The house was up on a small rise, about half a mile from the tracks. It was the only thing he could see from where Leeland had dropped him off, so that was the target. He told himself it was to get out of the cold. It couldn’t be more than a few degrees above freezing. Victor was wearing lots of layers, but the constant breeze was blowing right through them all.
It took him about fifteen minutes to walk to the house. He moved slowly and deliberately, walking down the middle of the road looking through the tall grass for any sign of the undead. When he got to the house, he looked it over thoroughly. It was old, probably antebellum, although Victor was no expert on architecture. The wooden siding had once been painted white, although now it was mostly gray weathered wood with white flecks of paint. The shutters were still mostly black, and the tin roof looked like it had been painted within the last several years. It had a huge bi-level porch that wrapped around three sides of the house. On the back was a small addition, probably a wash room or a laundry room.
Victor slowly stepped up on to the front porch, trying to avoid stray creaks that a porch this old was bound to have. He failed miserably at that task. The porch creaked with every step. The whole area was eerily silent, there were no birds, no crickets, no grasshoppers chirping. It sounded like his footsteps carried for miles. That should have struck him as odd, but he was concentrating all of his energy on listening to the inside of the house. The front door was unlocked, and opened easily. The inside of the house was dark, and it took his eyes a couple of seconds to adjust from the bright sunlight outside.
Sitting in an ancient wingback chair in the middle of the parlor to his left was Joshua Frye. In one smoothe motion Victor pulled his gun and fired two shots. his aim was true, but Frye was surrounded by some sort of shield. Frye still had an aura, and hadn’t ever let on that he was a super.
“I told you he’d shoot first,” said Frye.