Back then ...
I wasn't going to ask about the zombies outright, but still, it was pretty important and he was at the window facing the parking lot. Our car was less than twenty feet from the door and visible when standing by the window. I hadn't been thrilled to leave most of our stuff in the SUV, but it had darkly tinted windows, and we weren't planning on moving in for the week, so I'd left far more outside than I'd wanted.
"There's nothing to see out there, Lindy. Just dark and more dark. I haven't even seen any critters run over the asphalt. It's like the world just fell apart and left us to fend for ourselves. Other than the clerk that gave us the room there is nobody out there." He sounded almost pleased by that idea.
I felt a pull in my stomach and knew he wasn't exaggerating. There was a stillness to the night that was more than unexpected -- it was wrong. I kept listening for insects or owls and there wasn't anything but the thump and humming of the air conditioning unit on the roof of the hotel and the soda machine outside the door. Reluctantly, I got up and went to see what was actually keeping him glued to the window.
Dean edged over a bit and pointed at the motel sign, which had been turned off for vacancies. A car suddenly roared to life and headed out of the parking lot. "I think that was the clerk who checked us in earlier."
He was right and my tummy flipped at the sight. Sighing, I watched him hit the road and I noticed that there weren't any cars on the highway in front of the hotel. That couldn't be good, but then what had been in the past few days?
Looking down, I saw that there were less than a half dozen cars in the lot and most of them were covered with dust and yellow pollen. Horribly my brain wondered if that clerk had left because zombies were taking over the town or just the end of a long shift.
"I have been standing here for nearly an hour. The clerk just walked out when you asked me if I was okay. I didn't see the clerk as any kind of a problem. He was sort of normal I thought when we checked in, but now I am wondering. Maybe he's like me -- not Gus -- from the other town." Dean's voice was still flat, but he was trying to let me know what he was thinking and it depressed the crap out of me.
Without a word I turned to the room and found the remote control for the television bolted to one of the nightstands. I pushed the on button and was greeted with hissing sounds and nothing else. I went up and down the buttons and it was like the cable was off or the dish had failed. I couldn't get a whisper of news.
"Yeah, I tried that earlier but nothing. I didn't think that I should call the front desk because I know we want to stay invisible." He was still talking flatly but there was more animation in him than I'd seen since he found the footage of his dead girlfriend.
"I agree that we don't want to be noticed, but if we are the only 'live' ones left in town, I am pretty sure we'll be garnering unwelcome attention sooner than later." I wasn't thrilled with my conclusion, but I didn't see any way around it. From the grim look on Dean's face, he'd also figured that out without my input. He wasn't the same guy I'd stumbled into shoveling drugged pizza to the zombies. No, he'd been broken by the past few days and I understood that there wasn't much I could do about any of it. I wasn't some family member or best friend from childhood. I was Carol Sue the not-so-dead non-zombie he'd tried to feed downer-dosed pizza to one night.
"Yeah, I figured that out. The clerk's bailing and turning off the vacancy sign pretty much clinches it. What do you want to do?" He turned to me and had those damned puppy dog eyes that make women do stupid things.
I was trying to avoid stupid, so I went for gutsy-stupid -- always an alternative for us do-gooder types. Taking in a deep breath, I committed with, "Stay until morning then look around the town. But first let's take a minute to see if that door can be blocked somehow."
I wasn't overly confident what we could use since the hotel had bolted the remote control to the side table but Dean went for simple stupid and bolted and chained the already locked door (yeah one of those places) then picked up one of the moveable chairs and wedged it underneath the door handle. At least we'd gain time to grab our guns. I complimented him on his quick thinking but avoided talking about the windows. There were two facing the parking lot. We weren't on the ground floor but it wouldn't take much work for someone to climb up to the second story and toss a Molotov cocktail inside or a rock followed by a few hungry zombies. It didn't matter because there wasn't shit we could do about that. Both of us avoided mentioning the windows, and I was pretty sure that Dean had stopped looking out of them just to be on the safe side. And I was finding that my eyes drifted to the panes more than on any normal night. I wasn't even sure what normal was anymore.
"Why don't you try to catch a few winks and I'll take first watch?" I framed it like a question but I could see that Dean was exhausted by his hyper-vigilant self-imposed watch. He looked at me, lost, and finally nodded. The room was still dark. I had switched off the TV, and there hadn't been any other lights. Still I could see him clearly -- a broken man -- but he took my offer and fell into the other bed. He was out within mere minutes. I stood in the shadows watching the parking lot for any signs of life -- or death.
Eventually I grew tired of standing, so I pulled the other chair to the window. It wasn't comfortable, but I was happy to be off my feet at least. The bumps and uneven cushion served to keep me awake and I was able to see the first signs of life right before dawn. I saw a kid in the corner of the parking lot looking around before venturing over the asphalt towards the cars. He skipped ours and went to one of the station wagons heavily covered in grime and dust. I hadn't realized that station wagons still existed, but this kid knew his way around a Slim-Jim. Once he'd pulled the car thief tool out I knew that breaking into cars was a hobby of his, if not a profession.
Not more than two minutes later he was inside, and tossing out luggage and various bits and pieces he seemed interested in keeping. Another three minutes, the car was closed and the boy was taking his treasure with him. From what I'd observed he wasn't a zombie but some punk thief. He didn't bother with any of the other cars, but began to head out of the parking lot.
That had my first sighting of Sammy. I didn't know him from Adam or Eve, but he would change my life. I still wanted to know how the hell he ended up in Florida.
Grant wasn't very talkative when we had left Melissa's quick job 'interview.' I had no damn idea what the fuck I was supposed to do in a few hours when I came back for work. The whole thing was totally weird. I'd never had a job just handed to me. Okay, I was pretty happy that I hadn't got up before noon, because I wasn't seeing any sleep in my near future. As we passed all those closed doors in the building on the way out, I had the creepy ass feeling that I was being like watched or something. I asked Grant politely, "Whose offices are behind these doors?" I indicated the one to my right with a slight gesture. He caught the motion and shook his head.
He coughed out a dry sort of laugh and then picked up his pace saying, "Not offices. Part of your job."
I started to think that maybe I'd signed on to be a night janitor when it dawned on me I still had no idea what I was going to be paid. Not that it mattered, cause grandma would be happy just to hear that I was working and that I would be out of the house; from her recent hints she didn't care how much I made, just that I was out with 'normal' people. It still was better than that crazy shit I left back in West Virginia.
For some reason all that crap back in West Virginia was yanking my thoughts around with a sick feeling in my stomach. West Virginia has fuck all for kids to do. We ended up in trouble more than city kids, because there wasn't anything to do. Our parents all worked, in one way or another connected to the mines. Anybody telling you different was right out lying. The coal mines were changing constantly as environmental folks fucked with the miners. Every time somebody shut down a mine because of 'safety' it meant people starved. The mines that weren't run by huge corporations and were able to avoid any attention would give jobs to the miners while big business played with everyone's lives. The environmental nuts thought they were winning, but all they were doing was causing hardship on the workers.
My mom wasn't the best mom, but my grandma made up for it. I'd often come home to a cold house and nothing to eat. Mom didn't much care to do typical domestic sorts of duties, as she told me more than once when there wasn't even milk in the fridge, so I learned at an early age how to fend for myself.
I think it was Damien, one of the new kids in town -- cause his family had only lived there about twenty years -- he was the one who taught me how to use a Slim-Jim when I was about ten. Damien told all of us kids to call him Mister D, but we laughed and called him 'hell-spawn' when our parents weren't around to hear us. His mom was a waitress and his dad was totally out of the picture from what he said. I never told him that I knew it was a lie. His dad was a sperm donor. Not like a lab kind, but like wasn't even on his birth certificate. My mom was pissed off one evening 'cause she'd heard that I'd been seen shooting hoops with Damien, and felt obliged to share that poison. Mom was always good for that shit. She wasn't ever wrong. I think that was her only talent.
As we slowly walked back to the lobby I said to Grant, "So I come back here in a few hours right?"
He slowed down and said, "Yes, but don't come in the front, but instead go to the back of the building. There's an entrance that has a keypad. Your code to get in will be your birthday."
Mentally I pictured that entrance and all of the thick brush surrounding the building with a bit of concern. I nodded and was slightly creeped out that they already had my birthday and I only had given them a resume. Quickly thinking, I asked, "My full birthday or just month and day?"
"Plug in month, day, and year as one number and you'll be inside." He didn't slow down and we were nearly to the lobby.
"What is it that I do?" I asked.
We headed toward the lobby and he turned to me and replied, "Make sure our guests make it through the night."
I sputtered, "Guests?"
Grant looked me directly in the eye and said, "We run a special sort of sleep clinic. Your job is to watch over them and call us immediately for back up support should something go sideways. The number is in the room next to the phone, but you need to call."
I felt my stomach flip, but then it was a job, and my grandma would be excited that I found something to do.