I really don’t know why she keeps doing it.
I used to be an artist. I was nobody noteworthy, nobody you’d ever have heard of, but I made a good enough living at it, and you might’ve seen my name in the credits of a computer game or the occasional TV show. You know what’s not useful in a post-apocalyptic zombie dystopia? Artists. At least, not my type of artist. Sure, musicians might still have some value in raising morale or driving emotions during a fight, or creating synchronicity between riflemen. Compelling artwork might be useful for propaganda, but I can paint the most cruel picture of a zombie out there and it’s not going to suddenly change anyone’s opinion about them, especially not the zombies.
“What the fuck is in this?” she demanded.
I rubbed gently at the bridge of my nose, pinching a little to try to ease the headache she was giving me, “Just drink it. It’s good for you.”
“Then you shouldn’t have any trouble telling me what the fuck it is,” she replied. Funny thing about her: She has the mouth of a mercenary. I swear, she thinks everyone’s as foul-mouthed as she is, too. As if the onset of the end of the world as we know it is rationale for everyone to start acting like barbarians. Then again, in a way she’s right.
I answered her, “Crushed up Tylenol, ice, raspberries, and blueberries. Fresh ones.”
“Doesn’t crushing Tylenol up make them less effective?” she asked.
I replied, “How would I know?” It’s not like I’m a doctor. That’s something we could really use. Beebles and I both know some first aid, but it’s hardly pharmacy or surgeon-grade.
She grunted and started slurping the drink down.
I winced, “You’re going to get—“
With a growl, she smacked her good hand up to her forehead, “Shit! Shit, shit, shit.” Yeah. I didn’t finish the sentence, since the brain freeze had already settled in. Instead, I sighed and started to work at bandaging up her injured hand. Next time, just strangely-flavored fruit juice for her, since she apparently can’t handle a smoothie.
“So where are you headed to, next?” I asked. I wanted to keep her mind off of the fruit. It’s good, local fruit, and I really didn’t want her asking where it came from.
“Back south,” she said, “over the border again.” As if there was still a border in place. Sure, the border crossing markers were there, but any real concept of nationality was only held in the minds of those who wanted it.
“Got a trade in a couple of days ago for a pair of nice shotguns,” I replied, “so make sure you take one.”
I saw her nod before having some more of the smoothie. She paused and looked at it suspiciously. Damnit. I knew those assholes didn’t get the berries legitimately, but I don’t care. I’m interested in keeping the four of us alive, keeping the four of us safe, keeping the four of us fed and clothed and free from raiders and scavengers. We can’t all live in the ivory tower she’s in. Some of us have to do the filth trudging, some of us have to flush the sewers, or the ivory tower gets backed up in shit.
“You don’t always have to go racing off, y’know,” I said, trying to redirect the fight before it arrived. I added, “You’ve put the word out there. Let other people deal with it.”
She glared at me. If you haven’t seen her glare, I suggest that you do. It’s a good way to put the zombies in perspective and realize that they just don’t have the imagination to truly torture a man the way an infuriated woman can.
She said, coldly, “Other people are helping. It’s not just me. And it’s got to be done. You know that.”
“Why?” I asked.
The glare continued. “People are dying,” she replied.
“No,” I said, “people are killing themselves with the deranged delusion that it’s a rational decision.”
I could actually see her nostrils flaring out as she says, “People are being tricked into killing themselves, into giving themselves over to a fate worse—“
I waved my hand, “—than death, yeah. I know. So let them. If they’re so stupid—“
Do you know what’s cold? Crushed Tylenol, raspberries, blueberries, and ice. It’s cold. It’s cold down your shirt, I’m sure, but colder still down your pants. She was storming out and away before I had a chance to get my pants off before my plums turned purple. She was back on a motorcycle and off down the broken road before I had a chance to apologize. “Fuck!” Why does she have to mother the entire fucking world? And then she had me talking like a wastleland barbarian. Great.
I can never decide how I feel about silence. As I laid there on my pallet, staring up at the ceiling overhead, there was silence around me… or, at least, as much as there ever is. I could hear the soft hum of the refrigerators running in the cafeteria, and a faint scrabbling of some rodentia somewhere in the walls. I could hear a soft pattering of rain against the ceiling and walls of the building.
Left with my thoughts, I could lay there and reflect on everything that had happened. I could think on the lost, the dead, the damned, the walkers. I could think on those who searched for loved ones, could think on those who searched for nothing. I could wonder about the mercenaries, the raiders, the rapists, and the crusaders, the defenders, the heroes; the filthy and the clean. I could reflect on the irony that those who are filthy often have fewer blemishes on the soul than those who are clean. I could think about her out there, risking her life day after day for people who would never know, who would never care, who may never even realize when she’s killed for her efforts. When no one is yelling, when no one is screaming, when there’s no clear, immediate problem, and when the course of action is ambiguous, the world settles in around you and there’s just nothing but the sounds in one’s own mind.
I can only hope that tomorrow I wake up to screaming.