“I’ll go with you,” Daniels offered.
Using a stick they’d brought in for the fire, Nolita made a torch. Then she and Daniels went back into the kitchen to explore and hopefully bring back some food.
Boden and I were left in silence, which gradually began to feel awkward. I was never one for small talk, but I didn’t want go to sleep yet.
“So what’s your story?” I asked him.
“My story?” He shrugged. “I don’t have one.”
“I don’t know anything about you,” I said. “I don’t even know your first name.”
“It’s Charlie.” He smiled at that and extended his hand to me. “Charlie Boden.”
“Remy King,” I said and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” He leaned back, stretching his legs out in front of him. “I really don’t have a story, though.”
“How’d you end up the quarantine?” I asked.
“I was in the army,” Boden said. “This was back before the zombies. I didn’t have any money for college, and there were no jobs in the town I grew up in. So I joined the army, thinking I’d do a couple years in the Middle East, build a career, then come home and go to school, get a job, all that.”
“And then the virus happened,” I said.
“I’d finished basic training, but I hadn’t gone overseas,” Boden said. “And then instead of fighting an enemy, I was staying here, killing my fellow Americans.”
“So you were in it from the start?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He chewed the inside of his cheek and rubbed the back of his neck. “At first we started rounding up the zombies, trying to get them all together to test them. Then we were getting them in holding cells, exterminating them.
“This was before we really understood what was happening and what they were,” Boden said. “They were newly turned, and they still looked like people. They were women and children, and we were slaughtering them.
“I remember once very clearly thinking, ‘This must be how the Nazis felt.’”
“You can’t say that,” I said. “You can’t believe that. They massacred people for no reason. You were killing monsters.”
“I know.” But the way he said it, I wasn’t sure that he did. “We did what we had to do, and I still do what I have to do. I don’t regret it, and I don’t question it. There’s no other way to stop a zombie. You can’t reason with it or cure it. You just have to kill it.”
“That is true,” I said. “There’s nothing else you can do when it comes to zombies.”
“The thing is …” He paused, thinking. “How do we know that they’re not buried down there somewhere? The humanity in them, the people they used to be. How do we know they aren’t still in the heart of every zombie?”
“I think maybe they are,” I admitted. “But that’s even more of a reason to kill them. If I was a crazed monster without control of my body or my actions, I’d want nothing more than for you to put a bullet in my head.”
“Anyway …” He shook his head, clearing it. “That’s my story. I graduated high school, and I’ve been a soldier ever since. The past couple years are a blur of zombie murder.”
“So what happens if we get settled somewhere?” I asked him. “Do you think you’ll be able to settle into civilian life?”
“I could ask you the same question.” He turned to me with a knowing look in his eyes.
Something clattered in the kitchen, giving me a reprieve from our conversation. I didn’t want to answer his question because I didn’t know how I could. When this was all over – if this was ever over – how would I ever be able to lead any kind of normal life? How could I ever put all of this behind me and go back to feeling human again?
“Nolita and Daniels have been gone for a while,” I said. “I should go check on them.”
Before Boden could say anything more, I got to my feet. My legs still ached from all the walking, but it wasn’t bad. I didn’t bring a torch with me when I went back to the kitchen because I knew they had one.
I pushed the door open, and I saw the torch’s dim light. They’d set it in some kind of holder, like a metal vase, and the light shimmered off the reflective surfaces of the stainless steel around it. The kitchen was surprisingly large, almost as big as the main room of the lodge.
The main part of the kitchen, where the torch was, had the ovens and prepping area. It was mostly clean back here, like it had been in the front room of the lodge, aside from a little bit of garbage and some blood.
The back part of the kitchen was where the pantry and fridges were. Wire racks covered in pots and pans separated the front part from the back. Through the racks, I could see movement, but I couldn’t tell what.
I heard something, panting and what might have been a death groan. I didn’t want to alert a zombie, so I crept quietly towards the back. I grabbed a large metal pot from where it sat on a stove, since that would be better than no weapon.
I rounded the corner to the pantry, steeling myself for a zombie attack, but found something more gruesome: Daniels and Nolita were having sex.
She had her back pressed against a rack, her arms stretched above her, holding herself up. A few scattered canned goods were still on it. She’d taken off her pants and underwear, so her bare legs were wrapped around Daniels.