Thomas tries to block out the sounds. Tries to keep his head clear. To think straight. But it’s difficult. Jennie is complaining about the pain. Dan is sobbing. And from the other side of the door comes the relentless sounds of scraping nails and low moaning.
“It really hurts,” Jennie moans. “I think I need to go to the ER. Could you try calling them again, Thomas?”
“I tried calling a hundred times already,” Thomas mutters without looking up at her. “I keep telling you: there is no signal down here.”
The basement is stiflingly warm and stuffy. Cobwebs are hanging in threads from the ceiling. The room is crammed full of old furniture, cardboard boxes, worn-out books, and cast-off clothes. The windows are sitting high and are too narrow for a person to pass through—not even Dan is able to squeeze out. A few rays of dusty, orange sunlight are streaming through, reminding them of the scorching hot summer day outside. The heat wave is going on its third week.
In the middle of the room hangs a naked lightbulb. Thomas wonders how much light it will provide if they’re still here come nightfall.
Another low moan from the other side of the door.
Dan wipes his nose on his sleeve. “Do you … do you think we should put more stuff in front of the door, Thomas? That box doesn’t look very heavy.”
Why do I have to make every little decision? Thomas thinks. Who the hell named me captain? He bites back the anger and says in a moderately calm voice: “The box is heavy enough—it’s full of porcelain. I almost couldn’t drag it over there. She won’t be able to move it.”
“But it doesn’t really matter,” Thomas interrupts, “since the door is locked and the key is on our side. She’s been out there for”—he checks his watch—“forty-five minutes now, and so far, she hasn’t tried to pick the lock. She hasn’t even grabbed the knob. I don’t think she has much brains left, so don’t worry about the door.”
Jennie gives off another groan of pain. “What the hell’s even happened to her?”
“She’s a fucking zombie, that’s what’s happened to her,” Thomas grunts. “Haven’t you ever seen a zombie movie? Dawn of the Dead? World War Z? Ring any bells?”
“Zombies aren’t real,” Jennie sneers. “And don’t talk to me like I’m stupid, just because I don’t watch the same nasty movies as you do.”
“Can’t believe you two are dating,” Dan mutters.
Thomas sends him a look, but can’t help but smile despite himself. He likes Dan. And Dan is right. In fact, Thomas and Jennie probably would have broken up this morning, if the day hadn’t turned to shit. Thomas had set his mind: He was going to tell her straight up that he didn’t want to go out with her anymore. That was the reason he agreed to go on the paper route with her in the first place. He didn’t know she had also talked Dan into coming along.
“Jesus, it’s still bleeding,” Jennie complains. “How can it still be bleeding? It’s just a scratch.”
Thomas looks over at her and sees her uncoiling the towel from around her arm. “What are you doing?” he says. “You need to keep it tight.”
She darts him a sour look. Her mascara has left dark traces down her cheeks. “So, you’re suddenly a doctor, are you?”
Thomas is very close to being fed up. He tries to find a way to get them out of this basement, tries to think, but he keeps getting interrupted. And the noises from the door are starting to get on his nerves. A drop of sweat rolls down his nose. He blows it away, thinking: Of all the ways I could have spent my Saturday …
“Hello?” Jennie says loudly, waving at him. “I’m talking to you.”
“What?” Thomas asks through gritted teeth.
“I don’t think this stupid towel is working. We need to find some bandages or something. There has to be a first aid kit around here somewhere. Check those shelves over there, Dan.” She drops the towel on the concrete floor and points.
Dan gets up.
“Sit down, Dan,” Thomas says. “There is no first aid kit. I already checked.”
Dan hesitates, unsure whom to obey.
Jennie rounds on Thomas. “And what if you missed it? You didn’t really look, did you? You’re not the one bleeding, after all, so why would you even give a fuck?”
Thomas is on his feet and strides to Jennie in three long paces. He bends down, grabs the towel and wraps it around her arm. “Put that thing back on,” he sneers.
Jennie begins to struggle. “Don’t! Let go of me!”
Thomas manages to tie a knot, tightening it fiercely. “There! That’s how tight it should be. Got it?”
Jennie gives off a cry and tries to pull her arm away, while taking a swing at him with the other hand. Thomas catches her wrist and is just about to twist it, when Dan shouts: “Stop it! Both of you! Stop!”
The struggle stops. For a moment, Thomas and Jennie just scowl at each other. Then Thomas turns to walk away—but then he notices something. “What the hell? What’s wrong with your skin?”
Jennie turns her back to him. “Mind your own business.”
“Jennie,” he says. “Show me your arm.”
Apparently, she picks up on something in his voice, because she turns back and holds out her arm hesitantly. “It’s still bleeding,” she mutters.
And it’s true: a thin stream of pink blood runs from the cut in Jennie’s forearm and drips to the floor. But the blood doesn’t concern Thomas—he’s looking at her skin. Jennie is tan all year round, as she regularly goes to tanning salons. But around the cut the color seems to be draining from the skin, leaving a pale, greyish hue.
“I hadn’t noticed till now,” she says uncertainly. “You think it could be … blood poisoning or something?”
“I don’t think blood poisoning sets in that fast. What did you say she cut you with?”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, it all happened so quickly, I didn’t really get a chance to …”
“What kind of knife? Did you see it?”
“Yes. I mean, no. I didn’t see it, but I felt it. When she attacked me.”
“What did you feel, exactly?”
“Why? Does it matter?” Jennie shakes her head in annoyed confusion. “What’s wrong? Why are you both staring at me like that?”
Dan has joined them, and like Thomas, he looks at his sister with wide, knowing eyes. “I don’t think she had a knife,” he says stiffly. “Why would she use a knife? She’s a zombie. Zombies don’t use weapons.”
It’s so obvious, Thomas should have seen it earlier. But the situation is so surreal he didn’t give it a second thought.
“Tell us what happened, Jennie,” he says, and for the first time in a long time, his voice is soft, almost loving.
Jennie’s lip starts to quiver. “It happened just as we entered the living room. I … I heard her come from behind, so I spun around. She tried stabbing me, but she tripped over something … like, an ottoman, I think. And when she fell down, that’s when the knife cut me.”
“But you didn’t actually see the knife?” Thomas asks.
“No, but …”
“Her fingernails were long,” Dan whispers. “I noticed.”
Jennie looks at the cut on her arm. “All right, maybe it was her nail and not a knife. What difference does that make?”
What difference? Thomas thinks. What difference?
Jennie wasn’t lying; she really hasn’t watched any zombie flicks. If she had, she would have known right away what a cut from a fingernail means.
But Dan knows—Thomas can tell from the look of terror and disbelief on his face, as he turns his head and stares blankly at Thomas. It’s like an unspoken question passes between the boys in that moment. Two small words.
“What is it?” Jennie asks, audible fear in her voice now. “Why are you just staring at each other? Hello? Talk to me!”
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