Chapter 6

A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned

BY EDWARD BRYANT

There once was a beautiful young woman with long hair the russet gold of ripe wheat. Her name was Martha Malinowski and her family had lived in Fort Durham for three generations. Martha was nineteen and had spent her entire life in the border area where southern Colorado shades subtly from browns and tans to the dark green mountains of northern New Mexico.

Martha's eyes were a startling blue that deepened or paled according to the season and her mood. Her temperament had begun to darken with the onset of early winter snows, and so her eyes began to reflect that. Now they appeared the color of the road ice that formed on the headlights and steel bumpers of the pickups lining the parking strip beside the Diner.

She waited on tables for one, sometimes two long shifts each day at the Cuchara Diner. Occasional tourists speculated aloud that the Diner was more properly called the Cucaracha. Henry Roybal, the owner, would gesture at the neon tablespoon suspended in the front window. That made little difference to the tourists who rarely understood Spanish. The locals around Fort Durham simply referred to the place as the Diner. The Diner itself was a sprawling stucco assemblage that had been added to many times over the decades. Its most notable feature was Henry Roybal's pride and joy, an eight-foot-high neon EAT that flashed from red to green and back again while a blue arrow pointed down at the Diner's front door.

Martha Malinowski's fair features haunted the illicit dreams of many in the community. She was largely oblivious to this and to the dreamers themselves. She ignored the ones she did notice. Her cap was set for Bobby Mack Quintana, the deputy sheriff. Bobby Mack was always cordial toward her, but that seemed to be about it. Martha wondered if he was just too shy to express his feelings.

Then there was Bertie Hernandez who openly lusted after Martha. Crude, rude, and vital, his buddies and he were among Henry's best customers. Martha was never glad to see them coming into the Diner. But a job was a job, and business was business in this world of sage, scrub grass, endless horizons, and Highway 159. Someday Martha would have saved enough cash to leave this place. Or if Bobby Mack wanted her, then perhaps she would stay. She was practical about romance, yet still maintained her dreams.

The men watched the little old ladies tap and scratch ineffectually against the Diner's thick plate-glass front window, their clawed fingers fluttering like the wings of injured birds.

"Don't look too mean to me," said Billy Gaspar, a strapping young man in a red plaid lumberjack shirt.

"You don't know squat about zombies," said Shine Willis, who was a few years Billy's senior and half a head taller. "I was up to the Springs last week when a bunch of 'em came boilin' out of a Greyhound bus downtown. They're faster than they look, and stronger too. Especially if they been eatin' good." He chuckled.

Billy looked a bit livid. "People."

"Yeah," said Shine. "People."

Bertie Hernandez glanced up from his breakfast plate. "Gimme another side of bacon, Martha," he said. "Have Henry make it good and chewy." The radio above the cash register was blaring out the Beat Farmers' cover of "Sweet Jane." "An' turn off that shit. I want to hear something good."

"Like what?" someone said from down the formica counter.

"Conway Twitty," said Bertie. "Good shit."

The radio stayed where it was set. The Beat Fanners' record segued into Joe Ely's "Crazy Lemon."

"Better," Bertie said.

"What we gonna do about the old ladies?" said Shine.

"Where'd they come from?" Billy Gaspar said. His fingers twitched around the handle of an untouched mug of cooling coffee.

"Eventide Manor, most like. The nursing home." Shine grinned mirthlessly. "Musta found a zombie in the woodpile sometime in the night, I'd judge."

"We gotta kill 'em?" said Billy.

"Too old to fuck," said Shine. "Too tough to eat"

Billy's complexion seemed to slide from white to greenish.

Somebody closer to the window said, "See the second from the left? That's ol' Mrs. Davenport, Kevin's grandma."

"The one in the center," said Bertie Hernandez, "is my mother. Fuck her. Let's do it." He swung around on the counter seat and stood in one fluid motion. He slid the big .357 magnum out of its holster and checked the cylinder.

"Nice piece," said Miguel Espinosa.

"Six old ladies," said Bertie. "I figure I can handle them."

"You want some help?"

Bertie shook his head. "Not unless they take a chunk out of me. Then shoot me quick." It all sounded matter-of-fact.

"Why don't all of you wait for Bobby Mack?" said Martha.

"Bobbee May-ack," Bertie mimicked her. "Your fag cop heartthrob? Fuck him. Let him find his own zombies to blow him."

Nose level with Bertie's Adam's apple, Martha looked up at him. "Don't say things like that. Not ever."

Bertie looked at her steadily for a moment. "Just watch what I do to the deadheads, darlin'. If it makes you wet enough, maybe I'll take you over to Walsenburg tonight for a movie show and then the Motel Six."

"Bertie," said Henry Roybal. "There's no call for talk like that." The Diner's owner had stuck his head out of the kitchen. "And don't get any mess on the window. I washed it just yesterday."

"They're smearin' the glass, right enough," said Shine. "Pus, blood, all sorts of shit."

"Okay," said Bertie, looking away from Martha toward the old ladies beyond the window.

Martha stood rigid. Then she turned toward Henry, whose corpulent body was still wedged in the kitchen doorway. "Can you get hold of Bobby Mack?"

Henry shook his head. "Tried. Can't raise nothing on the base station or the phone. Sheriff's number is busy. I figure everybody's calling to report a zombie or two. Sorry, muchacha."

"Back me up," Bertie said to Shine. "Just in case." The other man nodded and hefted his Remington pump. Bertie smiled at Martha. "Kiss for good luck? No?" He shrugged and called to the men lined along the counter, "Somebody decoy the fuckers long enough for me to clear the door."

At the end of the counter, a weathered cowboy in boot-cut jeans and a pearl-snap shirt strolled over to the front window. He stared into the faces of the zombie women for a moment, then he turned, skinned down his pants and mooned them. The zombies crowded toward the pressed ham.

"Gross," said Martha.

Bertie flipped the latch on the front door and crunched out onto the gravel. Shine relocked the door. "Don't nobody get in my way if he needs help."

"It's all yours, buddy," said Miguel Espinosa. "I don't want none of those ladies."

The zombies had evidently figured out that fresher meat was now outside and within chewing distance. Still, it took all six a few moments to lurch around vaguely and fix on Bertie Hernandez. Bertie held the magnum in the proper two-handed position and sighted down the barrel.

"Bertieee - " The squeal of expelled breath was loud enough even to hear inside the Diner. Bertie's mother lunged at her son. The muzzle of the .357 belched flame and the back of Mrs. Hernandez's skull exploded outward, the spray of blood and tissue coating the face of the zombie close behind her.

Inside the Diner, Billy said, "I didn't think they were supposed to remember anything human."

Miguel shrugged. "Reflexes, I'll bet. You know, like chickens when you pull off their heads."

Billy looked dubious.

Bertie blew away the faces of the next two zombies; ducked a fourth that had the smarts to flank him; then practically stuck the muzzle in the mouth of a fifth creature. The exiting slug nicked one front corner of the Diner's roof.

" Dios!" yelled Henry. "Be careful!"

Bertie had taken his eyes off the craftiest of the zombies. While he was watching the sixth go for him, the other survivor got in close enough to grab his gun hand. Then the last zombie wrapped her spindly arms around his lower leg and began to gnaw one Fry elephant-hide boot.

"Shit!" said Shine Willis, flicking the latch and pumping in a round as he slammed open the door. He had a clear shot at the zombie Bertie was fighting off with both hands. The old woman's head simply disintegrated and the body flopped backward, twitching as it hit the graveled parking apron.

"Jesus," Bertie cried. "I'm fuckin' deaf!"

Shine reversed the pump and swung the stock into the skull of the remaining zombie chewing on Bertie's boot. It took three blows before the creature's jaws stopped champing.

"Christ," said Shine, panting. "She's worse'n a Gila monster."

Bertie kicked free of the zombie's doubly dead body. "Shit, man, I had her - I had 'em both."

"Yeah, sure." Shine wiped the bloody stock of the pump on an old lady's flowered dress. "If I was a second longer, you'd be zombie jerky and I'd be obliged to blow your fuckin' head into the Arkansas."

Bertie said nothing; just thumbed some shells out of his right front pocket and began reloading the magnum. When he was done, he said, "Okay, bud, you got one on me. Let's go back in and I'll buy you a coffee."

"I need somethin' stronger than that," Shine said.

They both froze a moment when they heard the siren.

The county car slewed off the blacktop and into the gravel. Both Bertie and Shine jumped to avoid the spray of rocks. Bobby Mack Quintana got out of the car with his service revolver drawn. "What's going on here?"

"Fuck you," Bertie said. "Henry'll fill you in." He turned and walked back into the Diner, Shine following with the barrel of the Remington propped against one shoulder.

Bobby Mack stared after them. "Zombies?" he called.

"No shit, Sherlock."

The deputy took out a notebook and a ballpoint. He gingerly flipped over a body with his booted toe. He recognized the piece of face that remained.

Martha watched from inside. The body Bobby Mack was identifying was old Mrs. Hernandez. Martha had known her since she was a little girl. Mrs. Hernandez had read to her from the collection of P. G. Wodehouse books that had furnished Bertie's name.

Martha felt a sudden lurch in her belly. She barely made it to the ladies' room. As she hunched over the stool and heaved up her breakfast, she heard Bertie Hernandez complaining at the counter.

"Hey, Henry, get your buns out here. This bacon's waytoo done!"

"Bobby Mack, I want to talk to you," said Martha. Bertie and his friends were out back of the Diner in an open field, piling up the bodies of the six zombie ladies, dousing them with unleaded, and then holding out chilled masculine palms, calluses to the heat.

The deputy had reminded them about the recent state law. "'You kill 'em, you burn 'em,'" Bertie had repeated somewhat derisively. "Sure enough, Deputy Dawg, we're good citizens. We'll have a little zombie roast... work up a healthy appetite for lunch."

"I can't wait around for this," whined Miguel Espinosa. "I gotta go to work down to the Quik-Lube."

"Just shut the fuck up," said Bertie. "We'll do it," he said to Bobby Mack. The deputy watched for a few minutes, then went back into the Diner.

When Martha asked to speak with him, he hesitated. "Official business?" he said.

Martha sighed. "You've got to be kidding. I just want to take a minute."

Bobby Mack looked doubting, then shrugged. "Okay, I can talk."

"Not here." She called to Henry in the kitchen, "Hey, boss, I'm taking my break." Without waiting for an answer, she led Bobby Mack out the door.

A cold autumn wind followed them a hundred yards across the highway and up a forested rise. The greasy black smoke curled over their heads. Martha wrinkled her nose. Bobby Mack Quintana looked fine in his tan uniform and Stetson. The black leather at his trimly belted waist didn't hurt.

"Just wanted to talk," she said, turning to face him. She had to tilt her face up to meet his dark eyes.

"Figured," Bobby Mack said. He smiled.

Shyly, she thought. Martha took a deep breath. "Would it be too bold," she said, "to ask why you don't like me?"

Bobby Mack looked stunned. "Don't like you? I dolike you, Martha. Truly I do."

"You don't ever show it." She had amazed herself with her boldness. She knew she should be tongue-tied, but the words tumbled out anyway. "I want you to feel kindly toward me, Bobby Mack."

The deputy started to say something, but stuttered the words. He took a breath and started over. "I don't want to overstep what's right. I figured you and Carl Crump - "

"Carl Crump?" she said incredulously. Just what did Bobby Mack think was going on between her and the high school principal's son? "He's just a - just a horny jerk, just like - " His father, she started to say, but clipped off the words in time. No use aggravating things. She knew the Crumps square-danced with Bobby Mack's folks on Friday nights. " Carl?" she said again. "Why do you think he and I - ?"

Bobby Mack seemed to be blushing. "Well, he was saying..."

"Who - Carl Crump?" The deputy nodded. "No way," said Martha. "I may not make much money at the Diner, but I've got some standards."

"And pride," Bobby Mack almost whispered.

"That too." Martha reached out and lightly grasped his hands. Their fingers touched warmly. "Any other gossip you want to ask me about?"

Bobby Mack met her eye. "No," he said.

She could have called him a liar, but didn't want to. She didn't want to think about it, but knew there were men in the town who talked about her, speculated, perhaps even claimed to have touched her in the dark, in the backseats of their cars, in the balcony of the movie theater in Walsenburg, on the grass along the bank of -  "Okay," she said. It had never happened. But God knows, she had turned them down. They had said all the things that seemed harmless on the surface, but she knew meant something else if examined closely enough.

"Nice day," he said, as the shifting wind whipped corpse-smoke through the trees and into their faces.

Martha started to laugh and cough at the same time. When she could speak, she said, "No, it isn't."

Bobby Mack laughed too. "No, you're right. It's a bad day, a rotten day, except for this." His fingers tightened on hers.

She screwed up her courage. "Bobby Mack, do you think you might like to go out tonight and do something?" Smoke from the pyre curled over their heads and up into the pine branches. His fingers tightened so fiercely, she feared he'd bruise her. Yet she didn't mind.

"Yes," said Bobby Mack. "I get off patrol at six. Yes," he said again.

After a long moment they both smiled and began to walk back toward the Diner. The day was sufficiently overcast, Henry had turned on the neon sign. EAT, it flashed. EAT, EAT, EAT.

Bobby Mack checked in the county Ford by six and picked up Martha at the Diner in his Suzuki Samurai.

"How about the Lanes?" he said, glancing at her and then back at the road.

"Sure. That's fine."

"We can't bowl tonight," he said.

"I heard on the radio. The meeting's at seven."

"We should have time to eat."

"You want to stay for the meeting?" she said.

"I've got to. Sheriff's orders."

"Oh," she said.

" Shit!" Thump- thump. The Samurai bounced over something lying humped on the road. "Sorry about my language, Martha."

She ignored that. "What was it?"

"Looked like a dog." With a hunk taken out of its head. That's what he didn't say. "It was already dead."

"Poor thing." She stared out the side window. "It was all curled up the way Mrs. Hernandez was this morning."

Bobby Mack didn't say anything.

"This morning," Martha said, "is that how it's going to have to be from here on out?"

"I wish I knew." Bobby Mack's words were clipped. "The word from the legislature is that Bertie can do that sort of thing. Anyone can. They're looking at what happened back East. You don't argue with zombies. You just shoot them in the head."

"They can't all be bad," said Martha. "There have to be some that remember being alive."

"Maybe they do," answered Bobby Mack. "Maybe that's why they're so pi - irritated."

Martha was clearly not satisfied. "I don't think I could kill one if it was somebody I'd loved."

"Hard to say." Bobby Mack swung the Samurai off the blacktop. "I reckon we'd do most anything if we were pushed." The parking lot of the Chama Lake Lanes wasn't crowded. He parked by the row of elms bordering the near side of the lot.

"Not if I loved him," Martha muttered.

"Huh?" said Bobby Mack. "Sorry, I wasn't listening."

"Nothing. Let's go eat."

* * *

The cheeseburgers and fries were what she could have eaten anytime at the Diner, but these were prepared by a different cook. They tasted terrific. A Coke apiece. Hot fudge sundaes for dessert.

By seven o'clock the bowling alley had started to fill with the citizens of Fort Durham and the surrounding countryside. It was clear there would not be enough chairs in the area on the riser behind the alleys, so old MacFarland, the owner, handed out pairs of bowling shoes to the later arrivals. They had to seat themselves on the polished hardwood of the lanes.

"Looks like most everybody's here," said Bobby Mack. "Sheriff's over there, so's the mayor, most of the county commissioners."

Martha had noted all those, but also Carl Crump, both junior and senior, not to mention Father Sierra and Pastor Beecham, the latter accompanied by his wife. Both the pastor and the priest had come onto her - at least that was what she'd suspected. She was unsure how else to interpret their words and actions on separate occasions. It seemed tragic to her, sadder, somehow more shocking than something like the propositions of Principal Crump or his son. But the weirdest thing -  She hardly wanted to think about that at all. The true strangeness was the overture she had received from Mrs. Beecham, the pastor's wife.

For an entire semester after that, the final term of her senior year, she had attempted to dress even more conventionally than she had before. It didn't seem to work. She could still interpret the smirks and smiles.

Mayor Hardesty levered his plump self upright behind the lectern. "Let's get this called to order, folks. Sooner we get started, the sooner we can get home and do whatever we need to do." The room quieted. "I figure you all pretty much know what's going on from listening to the TV and radio, and after hearing the Health Department lady at the meeting last week."

"Nobody believed her," said Bobby Mack in a low voice.

Martha knew that was true. At the time, the zombie stories on the hourly KNBS news had been just that -  stories. It was like a war in Central America or a volcano blowing up in Asia. You just couldn't believe in some things unless you actually saw them. Otherwise they weren't real.

The zombies were real enough now. The morning had proved that. Mayor Hardesty mentioned the massacre at Eventide Manor and briefly outlined Bertie's morning exploits at the Diner. "We all have to be heroes like that," said the mayor. "We've got to watch out for each other and do more than just our share."

"And arm civilians with automatic weapons," Bobby Mack said sarcastically into Martha's ear.

The mayor went on. It was an attempt at being inspirational. Then the time for questions came. Someone spoke up from the rear of the snack area.

"How long's this zombie thing gonna last, anyway?"

"Probably about as long," said the mayor, "as it takes for the army to get mobilized, come on in, and kick some butt."

"After what happened out at the old folks' home, what about maybe putting up some roadblocks? You know, like a quarantine."

The mayor smiled politically. "You folks probably saw the news shows tonight. Both Denver and Albuquerque are in pretty bad shape. But fortunately for people out in the sticks like us, the zombies don't drive much."

" Somebodygot here and wiped out Eventide Manor."

The mayor looked as if he were strenuously attempting to think on his feet. "Maybe it was a virus or something." He shrugged. "Something in the air or the food we been getting - "

"Not a good move," said Bobby Mack, voice low. "He's just blowing smoke. Zombies can't infect you by sneezing or letting you use their towels. They've got to bite you."

Martha shivered and laid her hand across his.

The room started to dissolve into chaos. People shouted questions and opinions, paying no attention to the mayor's gavel. "Let's get out of here," said Bobby Mack. He kept hold of her hand and led her toward the door.

Martha saw stares following them, appraising expressions. Neither of the Crump men was smiling. Nor was the priest or the pastor and his wife. They hate me, she thought, somewhat startled by the epiphany. They want me, but they hate me too.

Outside, the chill night air took away the sweat and the stale cigar smoke. There was no need out here for them to hold hands, but they did it anyway. About halfway across the parking area, Bobby Mack let loose of her fingers and trotted on ahead.

"Hey! What the hell are you guys doing?"

When Martha caught up to him, she realized that Bertie Hernandez and his cronies were having some fun.

"We're havin' a tailgate party," said Bertie. "What's it look like? That we're stringin' us up a zombie?"

That was, indeed, what it looked like. Billy, Miguel, Shine, and the rest were gathered around Bertie's jacked-up old red Chevy pickup. The truck was parked under the elms. The tailgate was down, and on it stood a thoroughly bound man Martha didn't recognize. But then he would have been hard to identify in any case. One ear dangled freely, barely attached to a tattered strip of gray skin. Dark liquid hissed and frothed from ragged lips. Several twists of shiny barbed wire, wound around his head the long way, from crown to jaw, kept the man's mouth shut.

Bertie saw them both looking at the wire. "Gotta keep him from biting. This here's a zombie, comprende?"

"You're going to lynch him?" said Bobby Mack. "That's murder."

"Gotta be alive to be a murder," said Shine Willis, grinning.

"Mutilating a corpse, then," said the deputy.

"Come on, Bobby Mack, get off it," said Bertie. "You know as well as me that there ain't no laws at all protecting these things. It isn't like they're endangered species or whatever. They just gotta die, that's all."

"Who - who is he?" said Martha.

"The guy who got to the old folks' home," said Bertie. "I guess he was the one who was supposed to deliver the butt paper and towels. From the Springs, probably. Me and the boys went up to the home to check it out after lunch. We found this guy down in the basement munching down the last of Doctor Jellico's feet. There were pieces of some of the other people in the home too."

"He was a fag," said Shine.

Martha and Bobby Mack stared at Shine.

He shrugged. "Dunno really. But all the bodies he'd been chewin' on were men. Let the ladies go after he killed 'em. That's why they were all down to the Diner."

"Enough of this shit," said Bertie. "Bobby Mack, you gonna interfere, or can we get on with it?"

"I guess the governor says you can kill him if you burn him. But hanging's not going to do any good, is it?"

"It is," said Bertie, "when you use piano wire for the noose." He banged on the Chevy's fender. The driver gunned the engine, then popped the clutch. The truck lurched forward, leaving the zombie kicking.

With the creature's weight, it didn't take but for a few seconds before the wire loop twanged into a knot and the zombie's head and body took separate falls. The head bounced a few feet away, the eyes blinking. Miguel Espinosa gave it a hard rap with an irrigation shovel.

"Hey, Martha," said Bertie. "You still want to go on over to Walsenburg with me tonight?"

"I never said I wanted to go."

Bertie walked over to stand in front of them. "You gonna go out for a ride in the deputy's rice-burner?"

"I'm going to give her a ride home," said Bobby Mack.

"See that's the only ride you give her."

"Bertie - " Martha started to say.

"I mean it." Bertie showed a toothy smile. "It's the best for you or nothing, you know?"

"Go burn your corpse," said Bobby Mack. The two men stared at each other. Bertie lowered his eyes first.

Over beneath the tree, the men were playing kickball with the head.

Bobby Mack took Martha home the long way. "Probably shouldn't use the gas," he said. "Don't know when the tankers'll stop coming here. But I don't want to call it a night yet."

"Me neither," said Martha. The Samurai had bucket seats, but she did her best to lean into his shoulder.

They drove south, almost to the New Mexico line, stopping short and turning around when they saw the police flashers and the leaping flames from something burning on the road.

"It's either their state patrol or ours," said Bobby Mack. "I'm off duty. I figure they've got it under control, whatever it is. Those boys have firepower."

He drove north again, taking the county road south of Fort Durham that wound into the hills to the west of town. Headlights, one out of adjustment and too bright, paced them. Bobby Mack squinted at the glare, then pulled off on a hilltop turnout to let the other vehicle by. A black Ford quarter-ton roared past. "Looks like Billy Gaspar," Bobby Mack said. "Wonder what the heck he's doing up here?" The sound of the truck diminished.

They stayed in the Samurai and looked down at Fort Durham's scattered lights.

"It always looks bigger at night," Martha said.

"Lot of things do. I guess that's why most folks think the dark's scary. When I was a kid, I used to wake up in the summer around three, four in the morning. I'd set a mental alarm. Then I'd sneak out of the house and just explore around the ranch. The greatest thing was the milk cows. They'd be just standing there in the moonlight, big and quiet and warm."

Martha looked sidelong at him. "There weren't any zombies then."

"Not here, at least. I expect there were the first zombies, back down in Jamaica or wherever they come from."

"Radio says these aren't the same thing. I was listening to NPR - "

"You listen to public radio?" He sounded surprised, yet pleased. "Me too."

"I'm not stupid, Bobby Mack. Yes, I was listening to NPR. They had a voodoo priest on who was really mad about his people being blamed for the zombies."

"Can't say as I'd blame him."

She hugged herself. "I don't want to talk about zombies."

"It's pretty much all anybody's gonna want to discuss for a while. Biggest thing to happen in this town since I don't know when."

A long minute went by.

"Bobby Mack, do you ever think about getting out of here? Going somewhere else?"

"I did that," he said. "I went away to college."

She laughed, but gently. "A couple hundred miles to Fort Lewis College in Durango isn't a long way."

"You didn't say longway."

"You know what I meant."

After a while, he said, "I don't know if I'd like it anywhere else."

"I know what you mean." Martha unhugged herself. "But sometimes I wonder what it would be like to find out."

"To go to California or something," he said, "it'd get lonely if you were by yourself."

"Yes," she said quietly. "I get lonely right here."

He sounded surprised. "You were always the prettiest girl around. Lonesome?"

"You don't know much about me, do you?"

"Reckon I was scared to find out," he said.

"No reason for that." Martha gently touched the side of his face. "No reason at all."

He shrugged slightly. "Like I told you, I heard things."

"They were wrong."

He touched her hair, her face, her lips. "I need to think about this."

"Do you?" she said, looking at him steadily in the glow from the dash lights.

"Yes, I do."

She touched his cheek with her lips. "There may not be much time."

"What's that mean?"

"I don't know," she said. "Just a feeling."

"One way or another," he said, "there'll be time." He leaned forward and flicked on the headlights. "I'd better get you home. I don't want your folks to raise Cain."

"Bobby Mack," she said, amazed again at her boldness. "Just one hug? One kiss?"

He nodded, and then held her and kissed her. And drove her home.

"That's funny," said Martha as they drove into the Malinowski yard four miles north of town.

"What?" Bobby Mack coasted the Samurai up near the house and turned off the lights.

"Yard light's off. Dad just replaced the bulb last week."

"Maybe he turned it off."

"Never does that when he figures I'm going to be late." She shrugged. "Maybe he expected I'd come home right after the meeting."

"Don't get jumpy," said Bobby Mack, grinning. "You're with the deputy sheriff, remember?"

"I remember." Martha got out of the Samurai. Bobby Mack started around the front of the vehicle to meet her. The night was only a day removed from the new moon, and the darkness was deep.

"Give me your hand," said the deputy. "I don't want to break a leg. I figure you know the terrain."

At the front step, Martha fumbled in her handbag for a key. "What with the zombies, Dad said he was going to start locking up at night." Once she had key in hand, Martha leaned up toward him. "Good night, Bobby Mack."

Whatever he was going to say was lost as they both heard the sound of something heavy, lurching and crunching in the gravel behind them. An indistinct shape loomed out of the darkness.

"GRRROARRRR!"

Clawed hands reached for him.

"Sweet Jesus!" said Bobby Mack, trying to get in front of Martha and reaching at the same time for his holstered pistol. Arms grabbed him from both sides and he was held immobile in the night. The creature in front of him staggered close and Bobby Mack smelled alcohol.

"Evenin', Deputy Dawg." It was Bertie Hernandez.

"Hey, man! It's okay, it's okay." Billy Gaspar's voice in Bobby Mack's ear. "We just didn't want you shootin' no one." He let loose of Bobby Mack's right arm. Someone else set free the left.

"You bastards!" said Martha. "What are you doing?"

"Just checkin'," said Bertie. "We're the PDA monitors, just like in high school. Wanta make sure the neckin' don't go too far, unnerstand?"

Bobby Mack said angrily, "I ought to - "

"Oughtta what, college boy? Just a little joke." Bertie turned heavily away. "Just a little joke. Okay, guys, let's go."

Bobby Mack started for him, but Martha grabbed his arm. "No, Bobby Mack. This isn't the time."

Bertie and the others were laughing uproariously by the time they piled into Billy Gaspar's black Ford. It had been parked around the angle of the house. Billy floored the pedal and the truck whined away toward the blacktop. The night swallowed the laughter.

Bobby Mack and Martha stared after them. The deputy realized his fingers were still clamped to the flap of his holster. He took his hand away.

The yard light went on, bathing the whole area in mercury vapor glare. Mr. Malinowski stood framed in the doorway, yawning and rubbing sleep from his eyes.

"Hey, you kids! What the hell's going on out there? Some of us are tryin' to sleep."

Martha and Bobby Mack exchanged looks. She reached up arid touched his lips. "I'll see you at the Diner."

Talk at the Diner in the morning centered around two things, football and zombies. The preseason game between Denver and the Seattle Seahawks had been canceled just before kickoff. The rumors mentioned locker-room atrocities and half-devoured tailbacks.

"Musta been Seattle zombies," said Shine Willis grimly. "'Bout the only way they could beat the Broncos." No one contradicted him.

"Okay, ace," said Bertie. "Listen up. I got a little question for you."

Everyone listened up, especially Shine.

"So can animals bite you and turn you zombie?"

"You mean like dogs?" said Shine. "Get bit by Cujo? Beats the shit out of me."

No one knew, but everyone had an opinion.

"I was wonderin'," said Bertie, "'cause when I come out of the trailer this morning, the Jergensons' mutt came for me and I had to put him down. He looked like he'd already been dead a couple days."

Billy Gaspar looked glum. "Cripes, all we need is for every critter to be set against us."

"I wouldn't worry," said Shine. "The Jergensons' dog always looks like twenty pounds of shit. Probably just didn't like your looks. You shower this morning?"

The men along the counter laughed. A bit nervously, Martha thought. She dispatched the plates of hotcakes, eggs, potatoes, bacon, toast. Poured the coffee. The real stuff. No one here drank decaf.

A rough hand gripped her wrist. The coffee pot sloshed. "No more for me," said Bertie. "I'm tryin' to cut down."

"Let go," she said.

He sat there; she stood waiting. A silent tableau. The men stared, then went back to talking. But glances kept flickering toward Martha and Bertie.

"Tipped a few with Carl Crump real late last night," said Bertie casually. "He talks real interesting."

"I doubt that," said Martha. "Now let me go."

"No." The thick fingers did not relax. "He says you got a little mark under your left titty. Looks like a bird. That true?"

"No." Martha switched the steaming coffeepot to her right hand. "Let me go right now or you're going to get this all down your front."

In the sudden silence, the radio playing John Hiatt's "I Don't Even Try" seemed to blare out. The men at the counter no longer pretended to look away.

"If you'll go down for Bobby Mack," said Bertie, "then how come you won't do nothing for me?"

"Carl's a liar," said Martha evenly.

Bertie looked into her eyes intently. "Sure," he said, and let her wrist go. "Maybe tonight we can go to Walsenburg?"

She didn't know why she said it. "I'd sooner fuck a zombie." She said it so low, no one heard but Bertie. He stared at her.

Martha turned away and walked back to the kitchen, trying to move straight and true, and not bolt. Once out of sight of the dining room, she rubbed at the quick tears. She felt a raw pain. Her wrist. She turned it over and saw the angry-looking black-and-blue marks. They looked like the wings of a bird.

Bobby Mack didn't come into the Diner for his mid-morning coffee stop. About eleven Martha called to Henry Roybal, "Hey, anything on the scanner? What's going on out there? Anybody hear tell of Bobby Mack?"

"Nary a word about your young man, Martha. Lots of other stuff, though."

She balanced a tray of dirty dishes and flatware into the kitchen. Jose, the dishwasher, took it away from her, grunting as the load clattered and splashed into a steel sink full of soapy water.

"What do you mean, other stuff?"

"Don't know, really. Lots of code things, like when they know people are listening and the sheriff don't want anything to hit the grapevine right away."

As if on cue, the police scanner crackled and hissed around a call: "Sheriff central, this is patrol three."

"Patrol three, come in."

"Hey, affirmative. Kenny and me, we got a confirmed patch of veggies just off county one-fiver at the Centennial Ditch. Must have been holed up in the First Baptist. We're gonna take actions as ordered."

"Veggies?" said Martha.

Henry Roybal nodded. "All mornin'."

The scanner crackled. "Patrol three, don't do nothing stupid."

"Central, can you send us backup?"

"That's a negatory, patrol three. Things are jumpin' all over the county."

"We copy, central. Do what we can. Got my old AK47 in the trunk. Worked on Charlie. Figure it'll harvest a whole row or two of veggies."

"My God," said Martha.

"Repeat, patrol three. Stay cool. We already lost a coupla harvesters this morning."

There was a silence on the scanner. Then the voice of patrol three said, "We know that, central. This one's gonna be for Dale and J.B."

Henry Roybal expelled a long breath. Martha looked at him. They both knew exactly whom the voice was talking about. Town cops. They hadn't come in for coffee either. Bobby Mack, she thought, staring intently at the scanner. Say something. Report in. Please.

"Hey, central, we got civilians back of us. It's Reverend Beecham and some others." There was a pause, and then the voice got fainter as though the speaker were sticking his head out the car window. "Hey, Pastor! You need some help? The cavalry's here - "

A strangled scream filtered through the scanner.

A second voice shouted, "Central, they're veggies too - " A crackle of shots. Another scream. Indistinguishable noises. Scratching. A sound like something chewing on the microphone. Silence.

"Patrol three, what's goin' down? Report, patrol three - "

Martha rushed from the kitchen, trying to blank the sounds from the speaker. Bobby Mack. At least he wasn't patrol three.

The radio on the shelf was playing Nick Cave's cover of "Long Black Veil."

"Why don't you give us some news!" Martha cried at it.

"Mayor Hardesty don't want none of us to panic," said Bertie Hernandez. His pals and he had evidently entered the Cuchara Diner in the last minute or so. They'd tracked in some of the thin skiff of snow that covered the Diner's parking lot. Brown water pooled on the tile floor.

"I think maybe I'mabout ready to panic," said Martha candidly. "I want to know what's going on."

"Don't worry, darlin'," said Bertie. "We'll take good care of you, somethin' happens."

"You didn't see Bobby Mack out there this morning, did you?"

Bertie and Shine Willis exchanged glances. "Not lately," said Bertie. "He's a smart boy. I 'spect he's okay, but probably real busy. You won't see him before tonight."

"Just what's going on out there?" said Martha. "For God's sake, tell me!"

"It's the zombies," said Billy Gaspar.

"They're spreadin' faster'n AIDS," said Shine.

"Yeah," said Bertie. "Looks like maybe all they got to do is bite you, not even kill you. The bastards are all over town, lotta people you and me both know."

"We killed a bunch of them," said Billy Gaspar. "But there's so many - "

"Now," said Bertie, "we got to hole up and rest. Diner's as good a place as any. Anyhow, I figure we got to have lunch. What's the special?"

"Meat loaf," said Martha.

Billy Gaspar groaned. "I don't think my belly can take that."

"Eat or be eaten," said Bertie with a grin.

"This is KHIP," said the radio, "the kay-hip country voice of the southern Colorado empire. Pueblo to Durango, we bring you the absolutely latest news..."

"Shut up," said Martha tightly. "Just tell me what's going on."

The recorded opening trailed off, and there was a moment of dead air. The announcer, when he came on, sounded dead tired and scared shitless. "This is Boots Bell at the kay-hip studios north of Fort Durham. I've got a whole raft of announcements and they're most all life and death, so listen up."

"We're listening, goddamn it," said Bertie Hernandez, sounding as tightly wound as Martha. "Get to it." The boys hadn't gone out much during the afternoon. They'd stayed close to the Diner, bringing in weapons from their trucks and drinking a lot of beer. A few of the other regulars had drifted in. There was very little traffic on 159.

Boots Bell riffled some papers over the radio. Then he said, "The main thing is, stay indoors. Lock your houses. Anybody comes to your door, check 'em out good. All of a sudden, there's dead folks walking everywhere. This is no joke, no test of the emergency broadcast system, nothing like that. It's the real thing."

"Damn straight," said Shine Willis.

"If you've got weapons," said Bell, "keep them loaded and handy. Shoot for the head. That's about the only way to kill a zombie."

"Hey, what about fire?" said Shine.

" - or burn 'em," Bell continued. "Remember they're quicker than they look, and real strong. They generally run in packs. If you see one, there's probably another ten sneaking up behind you."

Jose dropped a pan in the kitchen and half the guys at the counter twitched.

Bell said, "Here at the station, we've received word that the National Guard'11 be moving in as soon as they finish mopping-up operations in Walsenburg." He hesitated. "Reckon that'll come after they clean up the Springs. And in Denver - well, we don't have much word at all." Papers rattled for a few moments. "We're keeping a map at the station of all sightings, so if you spot a zombie, give us a jingle and we'll pass the news along." There was a second voice, indistinguishable. Then Bell said, "We've already got so many reports of zombies, we can tell you it isn't safe to be anywhere outdoors in Fort Durham. Period. Sheriff and police officers are doing what they can, along with community volunteers. But if you don't have to be out, then don't go out. Not for any reason." Bell's voice cracked slightly. "The station manager just told me something, and I agree with it. If we stick together, we'll come out of this okay. Remember that."

In the Diner, the men with guns held them tight and exchanged looks.

"More news when it comes in," said Bell. "Now let's listen to some music." The speaker began to twang the opening chords of Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man."

"At least," said Billy Gaspar, "they're not playing the Grateful fucking Dead." He tried to grin, but the effect was ghastly.

Martha set her tray down on the counter and went to the phone behind the cash register. She dialed her parents' number, knowing of course they're all right, but just wanting the reassurance. All she got in the earpiece was the soft buzz of a dead line.

* * *

By three o'clock, the first zombie appeared in the Diner's parking lot. It was Mrs. Dorothy Miller, who had been the head cashier at the Stockman's Bank.

"For Chrissake, kill her," said Bertie, waving Shine and Billy toward the door. "They're probably like ants, sending out scouts. We don't want the rest to know there's all sorts of food here."

The men nodded and went outside, Shine first. Billy put the butt of the 30.06 deer rifle against his shoulder and slowly squeezed off a round. The bullet went squarely through Mrs. Miller's left eye. The zombie flung out its arms and spun around. Shine raised his Remington pump at close range and blew Mrs. Miller's head completely off.

Shine and Billy dragged the body around the corner of the Diner and out of sight; then they came back in and shared a pull off Miguel Espinosa's flask of home brew.

Martha hardly noticed. She kept listening to the radio and badgering Henry Roybal to keep close track of both the CB base station and the police scanner. "Anything?" she'd say on her trips into the kitchen.

"Nothing," Henry would answer. "Listen, Bobby Mack's probably way too busy to use his radio. Try not to worry."

In the dining room, KHIP was playing Gordon Light-foot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

"Christ," said Shine, "who picks the music? I wish to hell Henry had a jukebox."

"But he don't," said Bertie. "We're just gonna have to make our own entertainment." He caressed the rifle lying across his lap. Then he looked up toward Martha and held out his cup.

Martha stared at him and started to turn away.

"Please?"

She thought about it a moment and then brought the pot over.

His expression was earnest. "Listen, Martha, if we all get out of this, think maybe we can start over?"

"No." She resisted the impulse to start laughing hysterically. "We can't start over what we never began in the first place."

Something seemed to smolder in Bertie's eyes. "I'm really on my best behavior now."

"I know that," she said quietly. "But I'm being honest with you."

"Me too," he said. "I really want you to be my girl."

She shook her head.

"Final word?" he said.

-  dangerously, Martha thought. He sounds like he'll do anything. She nodded. Yes.

"Well, shoot," said Bertie. "I guess the only thing left is to fuck you till you can't see straight. Or walk straight, neither."

"Try it," said Martha, "and I'll kill you."

"And I'll come back," said Bertie. "And keep fucking you. Bet it doesn't do no good to kick a zombie in the nuts. What do you think?"

"I think you're disgusting." Martha held the handle of the coffeepot tightly. The temptation to blister his face so that it looked like a basic zombie visage of torn and rotting flesh was nearly irresistible. She turned away.

"I'll wait," said Bertie toward her back. "After you're done waitin' for Bobby Mack, I'll still be good and hard."

Without turning, she said, "I can wait too."

"Not long enough for the Deputy Dawg."

She whirled. "What do you know?"

Bertie ostentatiously licked his lips.

By six o'clock it was getting dark. Henry Roybal came out of the kitchen and switched on the EAT sign.

"Think that's a real good idea?" said Shine.

"You think zombies can read?"

"They could when they were alive," said Billy.

"They're animals," said Henry flatly. "Beasts. Probably color-blind too."

Nobody pushed the issue. The neon on the roof fizzed and crackled. The glow on the snow outside the window cycled from red to green.

"Maybe we should make a break for it," said Miguel Espinosa. "Head for New Mexico."

"Doubt there's anything different there," said Bertie. "May as well stay where there's lots of food and booze." He winked at Martha. "And a pretty lady."

"I got a full tank of gas," said Billy to Miguel.

"How come youdon't leave?" Bertie said to Henry.

The owner of the Diner answered without hesitation. "My daddy stopped here in Fort Durham while he was on his way to California during the Dust Bowl. He loved this place." He shrugged. "I like it too. I been here for floods and droughts, blizzards and tornadoes. I'm not going to be driven off by a passel of flesh-eating sons of bitches."

The radio intermittently delivered repeats of the afternoon messages. There seemed to be few developments. The warnings continued. Stay indoors. Lock the doors. Load the weapons. Aim for the head. Boots Bell finally added a new one. Save a round for yourself.

The men in the Diner talked and drank. Bertie Hernandez mainly drank. By eight o'clock he was chasing shots of tequila with mescal rather than beers. Shine Willis wasn't far behind him.

At nine-oh-seven by the Hamm's clock beside the radio, Bertie hurled his glass against the far wall. It shattered below the mounted head of a twelve-point buck Henry's father had shot sometime around Pearl Harbor.

"I think," said Bertie, grinning horribly at Martha, "it's time for some real entertainment."

Miguel and Shine had moved into position to either side of her. Martha glanced at them, then back at Bertie. He stood up and played for a moment with his Peterbilt belt buckle.

"What I propose," said Bertie, "is to screw this little girl until my pecker comes out her asshole. Is there anybody here with an objection?"

"I don't think I can let you do that, Bertie," said Henry Roybal.

"Didn't think so. You're a good man, Henry." Bertie drew the .357 magnum from its holster and shot Henry Roybal through the heart. The impact threw the old man back against the kitchen doors. They flopped open as the body fell backward. The doors swung shut again, but now dappled with butterfly wings of blood.

"Anyone else?" said Bertie, surveying the silent men.

No one said anything. Not everyone looked wholly enthusiastic, but there were no objections voiced.

"Okay, then." Bertie set the pistol down on the table, then bent and grunted as he tugged his boots loose. His belt buckle followed.

Martha bolted. She was not quick enough to elude Shine's grasp. She struggled, trying to knee him, bite him, crush his instep -  Miguel slugged her across the back of the neck and she sagged toward the floor.

She heard Bertie say, "Let's see some pussy."

She felt hands ripping her brown waitress dress down its buttoned front. Rough fingers hooked her pantyhose and rolled them down off her hips, along her legs, clear to her feet.

Martha opened her eyes and glared at Bertie. He had taken off his pants and briefs and stood there in his long-tailed blue work shirt and socks. She suddenly noticed that his socks were slightly mismatched - black and dark blue. "Bertie - " she said. "Don't do it."

He smiled almost cheerfully as he loomed over her, fingering his balls. His penis jutted out and up like a construction crane. Apparently all the alcohol he'd drunk hadn't done a thing to his erection.

"Martha," he said, sounding almost gentle. "I've gotto." He spat into his hand and slicked up the head of his penis. "You know what's going on out there. This may be our only chance."

She didn't know how to answer him in a way that would mean anything.

Bertie smiled. "Oh," he said, "don't worry about a last-minute rescue by good ol' Bobby Mack Quintana."

She finally confronted what she suspected. What she didn't even want to think. As calmly as she could, she said, "What did you do to him?"

"It's not what Idid to him," Bertie said, walking forward to stand between her spread legs. "It's what the Jergensons' Dobie did to him. I just put him out of his misery. It was a favor." Bertie laughed in a way that was almost a giggle. "Woulda done the same for a dog."

Martha felt the tears, willed them back. No time. Suddenly the radio came through, as though the sound were piped directly to her ears. KHIP was playing "Poor Poor Pitiful Me."

Bullshit!She arched her back, suddenly whipping her right leg up into Bertie's crotch.

Bertie twisted surprisingly fast, turning the blow on his thigh. He put one socked foot on her left ankle. Shine took her right.

Miguel snickered from up beside her head. "Make a wish."

"No gratitude in this pussy," said Bertie conversationally. "I expect there will be." He started to kneel down between her legs.

- as Bobby Mack Quintana came through the front door.

He didn't open it. He just came through it in a crash and chaos of shattered glass and yells from the men along the counter.

"What the fuck?" said Bertie, springing to his feet and lunging for the magnum on the table.

Men cursed and someone screamed, and everyone scattered to get out of Bobby Mack's path. He stood there for a moment and Martha could see he was not alive. He wore his uniform, but no hat. His khaki shirt was soaked with crusted blood that had obviously cascaded down much earlier from the shredded ruin where his throat had been. There were three black holes across his chest where large-caliber bullets had punched in. A fourth bullet had creased his face, laying open one cheek and setting his nose askew. Corruption had already set in. The flesh around his mouth seemed to be rotting. Fluids oozing from tatters in his face gleamed in the glow of the fluorescents.

"Christ, Bobby Mack," said Bertie, holding his pistol out in two shaking hands. "How many times I got to kill you?" The fire and noise reached out, slamming Bobby Mack backward, staggering his body but not felling him.

The zombie turned slightly to look at Martha still on the floor. Its mouth opened, and somehow sounds gurgled up through the torn throat. "Mar-thhha..."

Bobby Mack turned back toward Bertie, striding forward before the man could pull the trigger. The dead deputy reached down and grasped Bertie's penis, fingers wrapping around the thick base and the scrotum. With one powerful yank, he pulled back and up, the flesh giving way, tearing like rotten fabric.

The zombie's arm came up and Bertie's abdomen and stomach opened like someone had jerked the seam on a full Ziploc bag of lasagna. Viscera spewed across the dining room. If Bertie screamed, it was drowned out by the sounds of all the other men either frantically grabbing for their weapons or diving for a door.

Bertie's arms windmilled, spasming. Blood sprayed across the overheads and the light suddenly filtered red.

No one was holding onto Martha now, and she tried to scramble to her feet. Bobby Mack had turned to Shine and Miguel, digging fingers into the former's face and shoving the latter back into the glass shards protruding from the doorframe. The zombie tossed Shine's face away as though it were a discarded Halloween mask and lurched toward Billy Gaspar.

"I didn't do it!" Billy screamed. "It was them. It was them - " Bobby Mack pulled off Billy's left arm and then pulped his head with the hard-muscled limb.

It suddenly seemed very quiet in the Diner. It was inhabited only by the dead and the dying. And Martha. She crouched back by the counter as Bobby Mack turned and came to her. They confronted each other and she stared sickly at his mutilated face.

He reached out jerkily, but his fingers were gentle as they touched her hair. He tried to say something, but the destroyed throat wouldn't let him.

"You too," Martha said, tears finally coming now. "I love you too."

Then she heard the screaming from outside.

Men were dying in the parking lot. In the glow from EAT - EAT - EAT, Martha could see the survivors of the Diner being torn apart by shadowy knots of zombies.

She turned toward Bobby Mack and took his hand. The skin felt as loose as an oversized cotton work glove. "We've got to get out of here," she said. "Come on."

He didn't move. Bobby Mack stared behind her. Slowly, unwillingly, she looked too.

Martha recognized most of the faces.

Some had recently fed - strings of meat hung slack and bloody from the corners of pursed-lip mouths. They were all there. Her nightmares: Carl Crump, Sr., dead eyes alight behind the smashed lenses of a pair of precariously balanced tortoise-shell glasses. Pastor Beecham, his clerical collar and black jacket streaked with gore that looked just as black, except that it glistened wetly in the light. Mrs. Beecham's red bouffant was in disarray, sodden ringlets hanging around her ears. Her gray A-line dress hung in tatters off one shoulder. Father Sierra's head was turned askew on the stalk of his neck by about forty-five degrees. He looked like an owl staring at its prey.

Carl Crump, Jr., reached out toward Martha, and Bobby Mack batted the blood-clotted nails away from her. The younger Crump wore a Maui shirt and ridiculous tropical flower-print jams.

He must be freezing, thought Martha irrelevantly. She realized she couldn't count all the zombies that were crowding into the Diner. Teachers, the night clerk from the 7-Eleven, some of the volunteer firefighters, the county librarian, her doctor. It looked like half the population of Fort Durham.

Carl Crump, Jr., groaned out something Martha couldn't understand. His father stirred beside him. Both zombies put their hands to their crotches like an obscene joke version of the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil monkeys.

She realized they both had enormous erections.

"No!" she said, huddling close to Bobby Mack. The dead deputy gurgled something and put one arm around her.

And then the zombies went for them.

There simply wasn't much maneuvering room, and so the mob surge did little good until the tidal force of corpses swung toward the Diner's front window and the glass exploded outward into the parking area.

Martha found herself on her back, both hands around Mrs. Beecham's neck, attempting to keep the snapping, pit-bull teeth from her own throat. Then a kick from Bobby Mack's boot caught Mrs. Beecham under the collarbone and the zombie twisted away.

Carl Crump, Sr.'s, fist slammed into Bobby Mack's mouth, crumbling teeth and disappearing up to the wrist.

"Bobby - !" Martha screamed.

The elder Crump's hand reappeared, the fingers dripping with blood, nails squeezing cartilage and gray matter. Bobby Mack's body began to spasm, arms jerking away at bizarre angles. Crump licked his own nails.

The crush of dead, writhing bodies bore Martha down into the freezing gravel. A clawing hand snatched away her bra and part of her right breast. At first she felt no pain - just the cold air on her nipples.

She saw the wild tangle of henna-red hair descend toward her crotch, felt the cold lips and icy tongue violate her vagina, tried to draw back against the unforgiving gravel as rotting teeth ground into her flesh. Mrs. Beecham's face, slick with Martha's blood, lunged against her repeatedly, until her husband shoved his wife aside.

Pastor Beecham mounted her as Martha raked at the vacant eyes. Other arms grabbed at her and she felt her left shoulder twist and separate. Her right arm flailed, fingers searching for any purchase at all among her attackers.

The clergyman's penis slid deep into her like a rod of absolute-zero ice. Then Carl Crump, Jr., was at her, rolling her on her side and shoving his erection up into her anus. Martha felt the tissues tear. This time there was no merciful shock. This hurtand she screamed.

As Carl, Jr., pushed at her from behind, the movement seemed to excite Reverend Beecham. He shoved back, bubbles of saliva and stale air grunting from his blue lips. Martha could see Carl's father and the others waiting like patient customers in a post office queue.

The pain was a grinding, broken-glass agony that drew out the cells of her brain, sucking them into infinity. "Damn you!" Martha cried. "Damn you all!"

The intrusions of the others within her inexorably pounded toward some sort of vanishing dead climax. At first Martha watched, increasingly distant. A frozen calm began to narcotize her. Then she realized how close Bobby Mack's mercifully inert body lay, twisted into the complex lovers' knot her body composed with the thrashing ministrations of Beecham and Carl Crump, Jr.

She could reach his holster flap with her right hand. Her fingertips touched the cold, still-bright leather. Surely one live round must remain in the cylinder of his .38 Police Positive. Please.

Carl Crump, Sr., squatted down above her face, run-neled fingers moving back and forth along the purpling length of his erection.

Martha's numbed fingers twitched at the holster flap, tugged, pushed at the snap. The catch clicked free. She could feel the knurled walnut butt of the pistol. Thank you, Bobby Mack.

The zombies inside her grunted and heaved. Martha sensed others, many more, crowding around her. Dead eyes looked at her, but none of them saw. They never had. Her vision grayed.

The zombies kept coming -

- and coming -

Just one bullet, Martha thought.

There was.

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

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