What the Old Man Did 12

April 19, 2012

Journeying south, we found our way mostly on smaller highways that were not plugged with dead cars. I was worrying about what might happen when we had car trouble. The weather was getting cooler and nights were genuinely chilly. We debated one evening whether it would be wise to simply stop and stay in one place through the winter. Zombies had been rare. Possibly the quiet background areas didn’t attract them much. But who knew what they were capable of? I posed that question to Toni.

“Do you think maybe there are people somewhere trying to figure out what happened and stop things?”

“If they are, my father said it has to be in Atlanta.”

“Why there?” I asked.

“It was the place where the government studied disease. It was called the Centers for Disease Control.” She didn’t appreciate my sarcastic laugh.

“Didn’t work well, did it?” A frown betrayed her evident respect for science and scientists no doubt inherited from her father and mother I thought.

I silently decided we should try to head there and try to find out if there was anything to this. I knew she wouldn’t object. Since I had admitted to the girl that I loved her, I had a burning desire to protect her. It made her smile when I got overprotective. And she just ignored me anyway. But we had learned something about entering a room at least.

That night we went through our usual bedtime ritual. Brush the teeth, say a prayer. That was new to me – my mother was religious but my father provided a different example. The girl was making me more civilized. She remembered the traditions of civil life. This, among the ironic violence of our life together. I couldn’t see the point of praying to a God who allowed this kind of thing to happen. But she didn’t agree. People have always wondered about God allowing tragic things to happen. Again that night I took her body in my arms and felt happier than I ever thought possible in the middle of hell.

I found myself watching her more closely. I was fundamentally a worry wart now. That was the downside here. I gave freedom for her. For now, it was a good trade I thought. But in the back of my mind the specter of darkness lurked.

A few weeks later, we were traveling slowly now, we arrived on the outskirts of Atlanta. Toni observed, “We need to get on the circle highway and get to the other side of the city. I don’t think it will be safe to go through.” My trip through St. Louis made me agree without comment.

We headed north after managing to get on the highway. There were bunches of cars here and there but frequent empty areas. The road was not too badly damaged by weather and age. There was certainly no wear going on. But our luck would not hold out. Ahead I could see that a bridge had completely sheared off, leaving a gap of roughly 100 feet in the highway. There was no way off or through here. We backed up and began to turn when something struck us. Somehow, three of them were beside us, pounding on the car. They managed to do something because red lights started flashing on dash. Damage to the charging system. I got turned around and moved off as fast as I could. More were coming onto the highway. Why?

A few miles further and I stopped. We got out cautiously. It was clear that the solar panel was damaged. I looked at Toni. She was the mechanic. Her face gave it away.

“The panel is cracked. I think I could do something with it if I had the right tools, but there’s something else. I thought I saw it when you drove away, but wasn’t sure. They broke off a piece of the housing with some electronics in it. I don’t think we can replace that.”

The sky suddenly turned darker as if in sympathy for our problem. Looking up she said,

“We better get out of the weather. It looks like it could be a bad storm. Tornadoes, maybe.”

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