The dark felt ominous as the sun began to disappear. In the back of the bus with the deeply tinted windows, Karly felt as if she was sitting in the middle of a haunted house. She tapped on the window that was between her and Stuart. She knew he was communicating with Matt and she didn’t like to be left out. Her heart really couldn’t handle Matt putting himself into harm’s way again.
The dark window rolled down smoothly and Karly could see what the bus was pointed toward. A sporting goods store with broken windows and people everywhere was right in front of them. She leaned into the front area and looked through Stuart’s driver’s side window to see Matt looking over at them. He smiled slightly at Karly and she knew without asking that he was planning ongoing inside. Karly just slowly shook her head at him, her face a mask of disbelief. Even without knowing him well she had so far trusted he would make the right choices for their survival. However, often those choices put his life in jeopardy and she didn’t like playing with that.
“I’m not waiting in the bus,” Karly said to Stuart.
“I figured you’d say that. You’ll have to discuss with your boy.”
“He’ll tell me no. But I’m safer with you guys.”
“Karly, open the door. Matt’s coming,” Stuart said.
Karly quickly crab walked back into the bus and opened the door as soon as Matt knocked. From what she could see, there weren’t any infected in the parking lot. Though a lot of the living that were looting the store could have been infected for all she knew. They all moved with single-mindedness, to get away with their goods. Matt slid into the bus with her and as soon as the door shut she threw herself at him. She hadn’t really thought about her action before she did it. But having him not dead within arm’s reach was something she needed to savor.
“I will do more dangerous stuff, if I get greeted like this all the time,” he said as he tightened his arms around her.
She leaned back and slapped him in the arm.
“You will not. I can’t handle it.”
“Well at least one more time. I need to go into that store. We need more supplies if we’re going to survive this,” Matt said. He moved away from her and went to the front of the bus.
“I’m going with you,” she said to his back. He stopped and looked over his shoulder.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. You are much safer inside the bus with the door locked.”
“I’m not staying behind. If something happens to you, I will be left alone. I won’t even know you aren’t coming back,” her voice broke as she spoke. The idea of being left, with no one to survive with scared her. But the idea of Matt dying caused a real pain in her chest.
Matt looked over to Stuart who had turned in his seat to listen to their conversation. Stuart just shrugged his shoulders, refusing to get involved in the argument. Matt sighed in exasperation and hung his head. Karly knew when she had won. Matt sat heavily on one of leather bench seats. He looked at Karly and she just stared back, no weakness in her gaze.
“Ok. I can’t leave you here, knowing you might just try to follow us, anyway. So we need to go in together and stick together. No splitting up, no matter what,” Matt said. He looked to Stuart for his agreement and both he and Karly nodded at the instructions.
“What is our number one goal?” Stuart asked.
“Food, always. But I doubt there will be much of anything left if they had any food in there. Next would be camp items like sleeping bags, matches, filtration items, batteries, lanterns, basically anything that’s useful.”
They discussed their plan for a moment longer. It was decided that they would grab an abandoned cart and Karly would drive that. She knew she could be aggressive if she needed to be and having the cart as a weapon would be helpful. Matt would take the lead to get them where they needed to go and Stuart would bring up the rear with his axe. Gunshots were sporadic and Karly felt goosebumps on her skin. People were killing to get the supplies they wanted. Her mind was swimming with her imagination creating scenes of someone coming after them for the items they had collected. She shook her head to wipe all extra thoughts away as Matt opened the door for them to exit.
Once outside Matt checked around and confirmed there weren’t any infected that he could see. Karly guessed if there were, the chaos would be bloodier and faster, with people fleeing the sick. Matt grabbed her hand and pulled her behind him as he ran for the store. At the entrance Karly took over control of a cart that had been pushed out of the way by another person running from the store. She looked to Matt and waited for his direction. His eyes met hers and he stared at her for a moment.
“Stay with me, got it?” He said.
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Karly replied.
Stuart took the rear position, making sure no one came up behind Karly while they were scavenging. Mostly people were only interested in what they were getting their hands on. There were fights down some aisles, where people fought over the last of something they wanted. Matt avoided those areas. In the first aisle he grabbed three fleece camping blankets and one sleeping bag that was on a high shelf. He didn’t stop long to throw things into the cart, keeping them moving and not an easy target.
As they turned the corner of the aisle, Matt ran headfirst into a man coming down the same aisle. They both jumped back and looked at each other. Matt stood in a fighting stance, waiting to see what the man would do. The man evaluated and realizing the size and age difference, he ran off down the aisle. Matt took a deep breath of relief before motioning to Karly to get going again. The next aisle he turned down had a case that held knives. The glass had been broken out and many of the slots were empty. Matt grabbed what was left without really looking. Stuart reached over Karly’s shoulder, dropping a small hatchet into the cart as well.
When they found the aisle with camping foods, it was a disaster. Karly had assumed it would be the first thing people went for. The shelves were tall and all three of them looked up to the top where it looked like some things were stored. Matt signaled to Stuart. Stuart bent with his hands grasped together. Matt put his foot in Stuart’s hands and carefully balanced against the shelf as he was boosted higher. The box Matt was able to reach came tumbling down and Karly jumped back as it almost hit her.
“Sorry,” Matt said.
Karly picked up the box and saw the name Mountain Man in the logo. She quickly saw they were dehydrated foods meant for backpacking. She slid the box into the bottom of the cart and waited as Matt grabbed another box of meals. A loud commotion pulled Karly’s attention to the end of the aisle. A group of men were coming down the aisle and they were just trashing whatever they walked by. It didn’t even seem like they were interested in taking anything.
“Ummm, guys,” Karly hissed.
Stuart brought Matt down and they quickly turned and ran down the aisle away from the gang of men. There was no knowing what weapons they had, and all they had were knives and an axe. Two boxes of food was better than nothing. A few moments later a loud crash came from that side of the store and Karly looked back to see the shelf had been pushed over. Hollering could be heard and Karly knew it was more than time to go.
By the end of their run through the store they had added to their cart backpacks, flashlights, batteries, first aid supplies, tarps, a tent, fire starting items, water filtering straws and canteens. Karly couldn’t see over the supplies and Matt had to guide her from the front of the cart. As they were reaching the door a scream pierced the air. The sound caused Karly’s blood to run cold. Even without seeing, she knew what the scream was. It wasn't the typical scream of a fight between humans. The infected had arrived.
“Karly, don’t look around, just run and push,” Matt called back to her.
“Ok!” She called back.
“What’s happening?” Stuart called from his position.
“The infected found a new place for food. People are all over the place. We need to get to the bus and quick. When we get there, get it started Stuart,” Matt yelled.
Karly took a few deep breaths and prepared for their sprint into the parking. Though when they actually got started, the cart slowed them down to a speed walk. Karly tried to focus on the items in the cart, just trust Matt to guide them to the bus. Chaos reigned in every direction. Engines roared to life and the squealing of tires was harsh on her ears. The screams of fear and some of pain came from all corners of the parking lot. She wanted to squeeze her eyes shut and pretend it was all a nightmare. However, just as they arrived to the bus, a woman fleeing an infected knocked their cart over and Karly in the process.
“Karly!” Matt yelled.
She didn’t have the chance to think about what was happening, she could only react. The woman that had ran into them was on top of Karly and was fighting to get to her feet. Karly was pushing at the woman trying to get free as well. Suddenly the weight on them both doubled as the infected she was running from collapsed onto her. As it bit into the woman’s neck, the blood that flew out covered Karly’s face. Karly was trapped, and she fought to try to pull herself from under the weight of the two bodies on her. Her mind was racing with prayers for help. Suddenly, the infected, now busy with its meal, rolled the body off of Karly, who immediately scrambled backwards. She yelped when she ran into the bus, scaring herself.
Her little noise was enough to draw attention to herself and the infected lifted its face to find the new prey. The eyes, Karly thought, those are the worst part. The black orbs seem to burn through her as the infected stared at her, blood dribbling from its mouth. A piece of flesh clung to its chin, remnants of the woman that had knocked Karly over. Karly could feel her stomach turn over and her mouth filled with saliva trying to prepare her for throwing up. She swallowed hard trying to fight the urge to scream or puke.
Next thing she knew, Matt was hauling her to her feet and shoving her through the open door of the bus. Stuart had started the vehicle, but then had run back with his axe and was slamming it down into the head of the infected. After the dead was truly dead, he ran back to the door of the bus. Items were tossed through the open door and Karly realized Matt was trying to salvage whatever he could, before it was too late.
Karly crawled to the front of the bus, getting to her bag. She pulled out the first item of clothing she had brought and mopped at her face. The shirt came away stained dark red, but Karly didn’t care. She just wanted the woman’s blood off her face. Her body shook as she looked at her exposed skin, ensuring she hadn’t been bitten during the whole situation. She knew in her head she had no pain, except for her butt where she fell after the woman knocked her over. But she couldn’t stop the panic feeling.
Matt climbed into the bus and slammed the door just as Stuart climbed back into the front seat. He immediately looked at Karly and the two of them crawled around all the supplies. He pulled her tightly into his arms. She pulled back cringing and looking down at her blood-soaked shirt. Matt shook his head, pulling her back to him.
“I don’t care about the blood. As long as it’s not yours. That scared the shit out of me, Karly,” Matt said, his voice a murmur in her neck.
“Me too,” was all she could reply.
She was shivering in his arms and she tried to grit her teeth to stop them from chattering. It was an odd sensation because she wasn’t sure she felt cold, but she couldn’t stop the shaking. Matt leaned back to look at her for a moment. He took the bloody t-shirt from her hands and wiped some more of the blood from her face and neck. Karly tried to relax under his care, but she just couldn’t stop trembling.
As the bus began to move again, Matt pulled her onto a bench seat with him. He began to pull at the red soaked shirt she was wearing.
“Not exactly the time for that,” Karly stammered.
“I think you’re going into shock. We need to get you out of the bloody clothes and get you warm,” Matt said, his voice soft and soothing.
“I can’t do this…” Karly said, her voice breaking as tears threatened.
“Yes, you can. You’re strong. You’ve done a good job, Karly.”
Karly raised her arms over her head and the shirt was thrown to the other end of the bus. She mentally told herself that as soon as she could, she was throwing the shirt out the window. Matt insisted she lay down on the bench while he crouched in the center. He propped up her feet after removing her shoes and covered her with one of the fleece blankets they had grabbed. Once he tucked the blanket all around her, he took a packet with moistened toilettes and mopped at her face. Eventually she was clean, and the shivering had subsided. Matt leaned down and kissed her forehead and then her mouth softly.
“Rest. I’m going to talk to Stuart for a few minutes,” he said.
When he walked away Karly sighed deeply. She knew she was ridiculous for feeling fluttery when Matt kissed her. The dead were out wandering around and Karly was falling for a practical stranger. In her mind she concluded that it was the stress of the situation and she forced her eyes closed, trying to rest as instructed. However, behind her eyelids all she found was the image of the infected biting into the woman that had collided with Karly. The black eyes, so deep and flat, seemed to reach the depths of the infected’s dead soul.
She startled awake when Matt started moving supplies around the bus. He stopped and smiled at her when he saw her eyes watching him.
“Have a good nap?”
“I slept?” She asked.
“For about an hour I’d say,” he replied.
“Oh. Feels like I just closed my eyes,” Karly said, as she sat up on the bench seat.
The blanket fell away from her as she stretched her back and Matt looked over at her. The stunning look of shock and then hunger caught Karly off guard. It was then she realized she was only wearing her black lace bra, her breasts in full view to Matt. Her first instinct was to cover up but the look on Matt’s face told her he really enjoyed what he saw. Karly leaned forward and gripped his shirt. She pulled him to her, surprising herself at the very forward move she was making. Matt’s eyes were wide and on hers when he crawled his way to her side.
“I want to try this the right way,” Karly said in a whisper.
She slanted her mouth over his before he could protest. Warmth spread throughout her chilled body as Matt’s hands dove into her hair, pulling her more fully against him. His tongue traced her lips, and she moaned, letting him have the access he demanded. All thoughts of blood and dead people flew from her mind. She could only feel. And all of her nerves were crackling to life under Matt’s lips. His hands left her hair and traveled down her back, his fingers light and exploratory. Karly reached down to grab his shirt again. She wanted nothing more than to feel his skin against hers. She began to pull up on the material.
“Uh, we have a problem,” Stuart’s voice floated back from the driver’s seat.