Monday, July 25, 2016

Our Choices - Episode 7


“Benjamin and I are coming with you.”

Ezra grunts irritated. “Do whatever you want. Benjamin stays in the car.”

“I won’t leave a kid behind alone, Ezra!” 

The wood around us is dense, there could be zombies advancing in this very moment without us even noticing.

Ezra looks like he gets ready for a fight but then he spins the chair around, dirt splashing up from his wheels. “Women,” he mutters as he wheels away from me, his shoulders tight.

I grab the pistol and my own flashlight and jump out of the car. “Benjamin? Come on, we are going. Hurry!”

Benjamin climbs out of the vehicle with Lucy at his heels but he looks hesitant. “Ezra said I’m supposed to stay…”

I grab the boy’s hand, pulling him with me after Ezra who is already quite some distance ahead of us, advancing the right side of the hill over a small track in the grass leading along the edge of the clearing.

“Not everything that Ezra says is automatically right,” I fume as I trudge down the same track.

The kid looks even more confused.

We have almost caught up to Ezra when I notice that the hill is actually some kind of building with a metal door at the right side, hidden under the long grass that grows over everything. Ezra unlocks the heavy door and pulls himself through with one hand on the doorjamb. 

I can wedge my boot in the opening before it falls shut behind him.

“Stay with me, Benjamin, hear me?”

The boy nods wordlessly, pressing himself closer to me.

I place a large stone in the opening of the door to prevent it from falling shut completely, tell Lucy to stay outside, and Benjamin and I enter.

Behind the door is a dark room; cold, damp, and smelling of dust and metal. Pipes are leading down from the ceiling and there are machines standing around in the middle and lining the cement walls. I hesitantly step further inside, aware of the fact that this might be a dead-end and could easily be a trap. The light of Ezra’s flashlight illuminates the low ceiling a few feet ahead of us.

“What is this?” Benjamin's voice echoes from the walls. He turns on the spot, trying to take everything in at the same time.

“This…” Ezra says and places the flashlight in his lap, fiddling with a lever at one of the machines. “Is my work place.”

“Huh…” I say, trying not to sound too surprised and slowly walk through the half-dark room, Benjamin following me. I do not know how I would have pictured Ezra's workplace, but under guarantee brighter, cleaner, warmer, and without all the archaic looking machines.

The changing light when Ezra moves makes everything more unreal, glass and metal blinking at me. I inspect some of the ancient looking analogue displays of the machines closer, all without light, needles fallen to the left and not moving. From somewhere a steady drop can be heard. It occurs to me that this could be a weather station, designed to measure and record data about rainfall and the likes. I relax a bit when it turns out that we are indeed alone here.

“Where’s Benjamin?” Ezra asks and stops the wheelchair in front of me.

I whirl around. Right, where is the boy? He was next to me just seconds ago. Did I not tell him to stay with me?

“Benjamin?!”                           

My heart rate accelerates when I hear nothing. Shit, this is no place for a kid, I guess. I should have left Benjamin in the car, it will be my fault when anything happens to him. I duck low, direct the flashlight under the machines and into the dark spaces between them, and call Benjamin’s name again.

“He's nowhere near the entrance,” Ezra says, wheeling past me and in the other direction, his brows knitted.

“Did you look outside?”

Ezra shakes his head without turning around or slowing down.

I hurry to the entrance, where a pale light shines through the open door. Lucy lifts her head from her paws and wags her tail as I step out next to her.

“Did you see Benjamin?” I mutter as I pat her head and nervously scan the edge of the forest. The air outside suddenly feels much warmer compared to the chill of the bunker and more humid, smelling intensely of pine needles and grass. Benjamin is nowhere to be seen, though, and I return to the inside.

“Benjamin?!” I call, louder.

This time, when I walk past the second row of machines, I hear a muffled voice answering, and I freeze. I follow the sound to the end of the row. The low light of my flashlight illuminates  the outlines of a door in the wall and when I push it open with some force it reveals a tiny windowless room with a small desk without a chair in front and a number of old binders in the shelves along the walls.

“Benjamin! Thank god!”

The kid steps through the door, his small fingers curling around the hem of his jacket and quickly wiping tears from his cheeks.

I plant myself in front of him, despite the urge to hug him in relief. “What did I tell you?”

Benjamin hangs his head. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles.

I huff.

“I found this room and… the door was open but then I went through and it fell closed and I couldn’t open it anymore.”

“Why didn't you listen when I told you to stay with me?”

Benjamin lifts his shoulders and says nothing more. Ezra wheels to us and the boy edges closer to him and presses himself against the side of the wheel, not looking at me.

Ezra sighs and puts a hand in Benjamin’s neck, albeit gently. “You need to do what the adults tell you to do, Benjamin,” he says. “Understand that?”

Benjamin nods, his lips trembling slightly. “It was all dark...” he squeaks.

“You've been very brave.” Ezra pats his head. “Stay with us and you'll be all right, okay?” He throws  an angry glance at me.

I exhale slowly. At least Benjamin was not harmed. I step past the boy and peer inside the small room again. There is something on the desk that I could not identify the first time.

My heart jumps. “An actual radio device, Ezra!” I shout triumphantly. We could try to get a notice to someone, tell them what happened here or warn people. Get help.

“Yeah… it’s not working. No electricity,” Ezra says from the main room, his voice flat.

Of course he knows about the radio. It is his. Disappointed I turn around and go back to the others.

Benjamin walks around, as intrigued by the strange machines and displays as I am. His small fingers hesitantly push buttons and pull at levers but Ezra does not pay him any mind. He is busy opening metallic drawers and flaps, taking paper rolls and cassettes out. He has a considerable number stacked in his lap already.

“What are you doing?”

“Taking the records with me,” he says.

I am starting to get irritated over being treated like a kid. We could have lost Benjamin because of Ezra. It was his idea to go to his workplace and I think I have a right to know why we are here, at least. “Records of what?”

Ezra throws me a dark look. “Temperature. Humidity. Radiation…”

I stare at him. “Why?”

Ezra closes a flap with force and I jump at the loud sound. He turns the wheelchair around to me, one hand preventing the various objects from sliding from his lap. “Not your business,” he growls.

I get ready to protest when Benjamin steps between us. “What’s that?” he asks.

I take the plastic bag dangling from Benjamin’s hand before Ezra can reach for it and look inside. I see several rubber tubes with a colored end, individually packed in plastic. “It seems to be… oh…”

Ezra’s chin is set, his hand still outstretched. I clear my throat, close the bag and hand it over to him, heat rising in my cheeks. “Sorry.”

“What is it?” Benjamin asks again, more urgently, tugging at my pant leg.

“Where was it?” Ezra says, frowning at Benjamin.

The boy cringes.

“I’m not going to be mad at you, Benjamin,” he says, then sighs when Benjamin still cowers. “Okay, you know what? Come here.”

Benjamin steps to Ezra who takes one of the plastic tubes out of the bag and throws me a disgruntled look before turning back to the boy. “Uh, so… you know that I cannot walk, right Benjamin?”

The boy nods. I pretend not to listen and turn around, walking toward the exit.

“I also cannot pee,” Ezra says.

“Really?” I hear Benjamin’s exclamation and then a shy giggle. “That’s… funny.”

I take a look outside, making sure that no zombies are lurking and waiting for us in front of the weather station. Lucy pushes her nose into me knee. Through the open door in my back I can still hear Ezra talking.

“Yeah, I’m not so sure about that…” he says hesitantly, but his voice is colored with a smile. “Anyway, these are called catheters.”

“What are they for?”

“I need them for peeing. I insert this end into my penis and-“

“Uargh!”

“Yep…”

“That’s disgusting!”

“Yep…”

“Uhh… does it hurt?”

“No. I mean, it would. But I feel nothing down there.”

“Not even there?”

“Not even there.”

“Wooow.”

Ezra’s mood seems to have brightened somewhat when the two join me outside, Benjamin carrying the plastic bag and Ezra still balancing the records in his lap. Wordlessly I pick up a few of the rolls of paper that threaten to tumble down. There are graphs written on a fine grid on it.

“Benjamin, where did you find this now?” Ezra asks, pointing to the plastic bag.

“Under the table in the small room,” Benjamin says to him, grinning.

“Under my desk? Huh… now I know where it went…” Ezra shakes his head mildly. “Well, uh… well done, Benjamin.”

Benjamin beams and practically skip-jumps all the way back to the car.

When we have been on the road already for a few minutes I ask Ezra. “What did you do the last days?”

“What do you mean?” Ezra asks.

“Without the catheters...”

Ezra frowns and I fear I have pushed too far but then he relaxes his hands in his lap. “I always have one in the bag of my wheelchair. They are reusable, you know. Just… not for forever, of course…”

“Oh… okay.” I choose not to dig any deeper. It must be scary to be dependent on any kind of special equipment in times when even basic things like food or fuel get rare.

***

We drive for two or three more hours without talking much, the forest to the right and left staying dense and impenetrable. Ezra gives directions and I follow them, and Benjamin plays with Lucy in the back. The time passes quickly and with our car stuffed with food, blankets and the tent in the trunk we could be a family on its way to vacation.

We are not, though, and there is not one minute in which I forget it.

“To the right here,” Ezra says.

I punch in the breaks and the car comes to an abrupt stop, all passengers pressed forward into their seat belts.

Ezra turns to me, frowning. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?!” I repeat. “We are driving in the wrong direction!”

Ezra lifts his eyebrows. “And you know that how?”

“I’m not stupid, Ezra!” I huff because I cannot shake the feeling that this is exactly what he thinks. “It might be cloudy but I do know where the sun is and this is not the right way. Hell, we’ve probably come off it since… what? Thirty minutes? Forty?”

I could slap myself for not paying attention. Only in the last fifteen minutes have I started to suspect that Ezra has been leading us wrong. My sense of direction is pretty good and I am sure I did not come from here. I cannot think of any good reason why Ezra would do such a thing though. Why is he trying to trick me?

“This is not what we agreed on! I am fucking sick of you making decisions without checking with me! I have no idea where we are going but I’m not going to follow you anymore.”

Ezra chuckles. It makes me even more agitated. “Okay,” he simply says.

“What? That’s all you are going to say?” I ask, dumbstruck. I had expected him to get irritated, even yell at me, or at least defend himself but his reaction leaves me completely clueless.

“Okay. Turn around. Go another way,” Ezra says, smirking at me.

“Wha-…” I want to take this guy and shove my fist into his stupid grin. Instead I turn to him, bringing my face close to his. “We had a deal, Ezra, and I fulfilled my side of the bargain. In case you do not fucking remember, your task was: get me to Lesdale!”

“That’s what I’m doing,” Ezra says calmly, unblinking.

“No, you got us in a completely different direction!” I shout and slap the steering wheel with my flat hand. “Fuck!”

Lucy in the back whimpers and when I look in the rearview mirror I see the big, scared eyes of Benjamin hugging the dog. Immediately I feel bad for having lost it and I try to slow my pulse down. I do not even know where this is coming from, I guess I am running low on nerves. It is probably no wonder with all that has happened.

Ezra rolls his eyes. “Don’t get your panties in a twist,” he says, leaning away from me as he adjusts his seating and looks out to the front window. “We will be going to Lesdale. But you know as much as I do that the fuel will not be enough to get there right away. We are making a detour.”

“Where to?” I hiss.

Ezra scratches his beard. "We are going to my parents. They have a farm with machinery, a car, and sure more gas."

I force myself to breathe evenly. “Your parents?”

“Yes.”

“Your fucking parents?”

“Yeah…”

“And you couldn’t tell me that… why?”

Ezra shrugs.

I throw my hands in the air. “Gosh no, just don’t tell me, you know. I give up on that.” I am sick of Ezra. I cannot understand why he does not talk to me, does not involve me in plans that clearly have an influence on me as well. Maybe he really does not trust me, even after all we went through, or he thinks I am too dumb to understand or be a part of the decision process. Well, if that is the case, I cannot help him.

I accelerate the jeep again and we take the road to the right with squeaking wheels. “Don’t you fucking dare to talk to me at all anymore!”

“There’s a kid in the back,” Ezra says with a shit-eating grin.

“So?”

“Mind your language,” he says.

I huff but I cannot fight a small grin. Yes, Ezra is impossible, but I actually look forward to meeting other adults and having a decent dinner in a proper house. Maybe a warm bath, who knows?

Suddenly I feel a bit better than before. I am confident I will manage to get out of here. Ezra will take me to Lesdale, I will leave everything here behind and drive south, to the city I call home despite rarely being there, to people I at least know by sight, to my brother… I swallow as I think of Frank. We do not have a close relationship, anymore. I know I should have visited more often but I seldom find the time. Deep down I know that it is the guilt keeping me from going there, but I tell myself it is because I am busy.

***

We drive in silence for another couple of hours. Benjamin sings a song to Lucy for a while and then falls asleep on the backseat. The sun behind the clouds rises to its highest point over the horizon early and is already sinking again when I see something big blocking our way ahead on the straight road.

“What the--” Ezra has seen it, too.

I slow the jeep down and gradually we approach what turns out to be a tank truck blocking the entire width of the street.

“Fuck...”

I stop the car, the motor still running. There seems to be no way to squeeze past the truck with the jeep.

“That would not have happened if we had not-” I start but Ezra cuts me short.

“Not helping now,” he says.

I bristle but he is right.

“You think it still has gas?” I ask Ezra.

“Could be but I wouldn’t bet on it. Looks not like it stopped on its own. Someone made sure it stopped.”

“Or something...”

Ezra grunts.

I drive closer to the front of the truck. The driver’s cabin faces the other way, toward the direction we want to go. “Can you see anything up there?”

“No,” Ezra says and gestures at me. “Don’t get closer. You think the truck still works?”

“Might be worth trying.”

Ezra ponders over that for a few seconds, then nods. “Driving around it, taking another road will mean at least a five hours detour...”

“And we won’t make it before nightfall,” I whisper to myself.

Ezra nods grimly. “Plus, the amount of gas we currently have might not be enough. We could be stranded midway.”


I look at the truck looming over us and a shiver runs down my back. I know whose job it will be to test if the truck can be moved. I am not sure it really will be worth the risk.



Decide!

Check if the truck still works
Turn the car around and take another way
quotes 2 know

11 comments:

  1. I like it that you are mentioning the medical equipment. Of course it's a Zombie story but such details just make the story come to life somehow.

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    1. Hihi... zombie story comes to life... *goes and buys a wagon load of icecream to prevent overheating*
      Thanks, chandelier! =)

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  2. This is really fun. Great writing skill besides

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    1. Thanks blueskye! What more can I ask for? <3

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  3. Really captivating.. Great chapter.

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  4. Another absolutely wonderful chapter! Although I don't know if I would explain to a little kid about my bladder function if I were Ezra ;)

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    1. Yeah, I definitely would not! =P I guess special circumstances require special treatment. Benjamin definitely needs to know about important things like that, otherwise he might get the idea to unwrap those interesting tubes and play with them. Besides, kids Benjamin's age never shut up about things they find curious, so better get it over with.

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  5. This chapter was a tough one. I freaked out with Caroline when Benjamin was missing. It would have annoyed me immensely if I hadn't been told about plans. And the truck in the middle of the road gives me creeps!
    Also, I'm really frustrated with Ezra - after this chapter he seems bitter and disgruntled beyond repair and even his sweetness towards the boy doesn't help much! I know that he's got his reasons for being so self-absorbed but still...
    I just wonder how come Caroline is putting up with him... But in the situation she's in, the presence of another soul - even a grumpy one -
    must be more important than facing everything alone.
    Well, despite the "tough content" I enjoy your writing very much and look forward to the update! :)

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment! I think nerves are a bit frayed for both characters. He will get around, eventually. *nudges Ezra* Smile! There, you see?

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    2. Pheww, thanks for the nudge! I saw it a bit in chapter 8 already! :)

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