Eating is rare, now, and like sleeping, it's a thing to be savored.
In this disaster area, happening across a box of cereal or a can of soup or—my personal favorite—a can of beer is like finding a golden ticket into the chocolate factory. The four of us agreed from the start, when Bill first found a stray can of beans, that it was Finders Keepers, unless the Finder decided otherwise. So far, it's been working out okay.
Zoey pulls back from the fridge with five glorious Bud Lights still stuck in their plastic six-pack rings, one eyebrow cocked deviously and a broad smirk on her face. She blinks slowly, and her eyes meet mine. She knows I see it. She wants me to, that cold bitch. God, she knows I'd do anything but kill her to get that beer. Usually I hate Bud Light, but in times of hardship, a man has to make some sacrifices, doesn't he? She moves her hand a little, and the cans sway. Oh, fuck, how I want them. I lick my lips, and they feel hard and dry and uncomfortable. Even warm beer sounds delicious.
Zoey beams at me. By now, Louis and Bill have noticed what's going on, and they're watching us from a safe distance, a little curious. "Oh, what, Fran, you want this?"
"Goddamnit Zoey, don't call me that!"
She smiles, teasing me. Oh, fuck her, fuck her. My grip on my gun tightens. Christ, if I weren't such a gentleman…Zoey pulls one beer out of the plastic, looking up at me with big, innocent eyes that I don't dare to trust. "…You can have some, Fran, if you promise me you'll give me the next thing you find that I really want." There's always a catch, with her. Sly little bitch. My stomach growls. She knows just as well as I do that we both love way too much of the same shit, so that means, if I find Twinkies or Cheerios or Chef Boyardee, she's gonna be all over that shit like white on rice. And my ass is gonna starve. Over some Bud Light. Is it worth it?
I grit my teeth. "God, Zoe, I don't fucking know…"
"Ten seconds, Francis!"
My eyes bug. There's no guarantee that we're gonna find any of that other shit, is there? She shakes the beer, and I reach for it out of instinct. Fuck me. It's too hard to resist. Zoey laughs. "Seven…six…five…"
"Alright, alright, give it to me!" I moan, and she passes me the one beer that she took out of the plastic. I stare at it, confused, and she hooks the plastic to her belt loops. She looks so goddamn proud of herself, cheating me out of my beer. My eyes shift up to her smug face. "…What the hell is this?!"
"I said you could have some, Francis," she says innocently. I can hear Louis and Bill laughing quietly, Bill coughing into his arm and red-faced, Louis grinning and shaking his head. I was just royally fucked, wasn't I?
My face goes magenta with fury. "Oh, fuck no, Zoey, I'm not gonna—!"
"Too bad I got your word, and these guys to witness," she says with false sympathy, winking at me and sticking out her tongue. Christ, I want to punch her. But I don't. I'd never punch a woman. And she is one, no matter how hard she acts. As I'm standing there, shaking, my one Bud prize in my hand, she turns around and yanks open a cabinet, standing purposefully out of my way so that I can see what else she knew was there.
Stacks and stacks of Chef ravioli.
There aren't enough expletives in the world.
I know that Louis and Zoey are concerned about the "humanity" or whatever of these people. I know they whisper about it sometimes, and think about it more than that. Neither of them had ever even really been in a fight, before the outbreak, I'm sure. Louis just doesn't seem like the kind of guy to pick fights with anybody…or the kind of guy who gets fights picked with. God's sake, the man couldn't even get up the courage to quit his shitty job. And Zoey…well, she's…yeah.
I don't know.
Me, I don't give a shit about any of these suckers. There's no hope for them, as far as I can tell. I mean…would they even want to be changed back, if they could be? Would they want to be injected with some antidote and cool down, and wake up and be told that just a couple days ago, they were tearing people limb from limb and eating human entrails and shitting themselves and vomiting blood and destroying everything in sight? I sure as hell wouldn't want that. If I were one of them, I'd want to be shot dead rather than waking up human again, fucked up and scared out of my mind.
I mean, Christ.
Especially sons of bitches like Tanks and Smokers. Is there even a way to change back from that? Once you become…I don't know…a fucking monster?
I see it as mercy killing, what I'm doing. Curb stomping sons of bitches and hacking off heads. I'm doing it all out of the kindness of my heart. Don't even have to think twice about it, anymore.
Bill tells me he was engaged, once. A long time ago. Before Vietnam. He says he came back a changed man, and his girl saw that in him, and was scared of it. She left him 'cause she said he wasn't the Bill she loved. That the Bill she loved had died in Nam.
He smokes a cigar while he's leaning out a broken, bloody window and he nods to himself, agreeing with her. God, usually I hate old crazy motherfuckers, but Bill's one hell of a guy. I've got the second of the three cigars he found jammed between my teeth, warm smoke filling my mouth and nostrils. Mmmh. Bill looks over at me curiously, and the first wind we've had in days blows through the window, cold and damp with the distant smell of rain. It feels good, but it makes me ache inside. I wish it would pour.
"How about you, Francis?" he asks me. "You ever have a lady?"
"Me?" I snort. "Dozens. Hundreds."
"No no no, you know what I mean." He scratches his beard. There's bits of skin stuck in it that don't belong to him, and he picks them out like they're chunks of food, tossing them out the window. I know exactly what he means. It's a matter of wanting to talk about it.
"Yeah," I mutter. I suck on the cigar. It tastes old, like somebody was saving it for something. Too late, now. "I know."
Bill waits. "…So?"
"Nah," I say. "Not really."
"Nobody special in your life?"
"Goddamnit, old man, are you serious?" I ask, glaring over at him. "Jee-zus! I said no!" Christ, special is such a stupid fucking word.
Bill shuts his mouth, but I think he's doubting me. No, I know he is. On the old, tattered sofa behind us, Zoey shifts a little in her sleep, and a little while after that, Louis comes back from taking a piss.
I about shit myself when I hear her scream, and then the shotgun fires off three loud rounds before clattering to the floor. By the time I've turned around and am dashing toward her, yelling and shooting, the Witch is on top of Zoey, slashing away at her, and she's shrieking and crying and shooting the bitch in the face and chest with her pistol, but those goddamn .45-caliber bullets don't do shit to her, even though you'd think they would. I drill the bitch in the head with bullets until she slumps over, collapsing on top of Zoey, and Zoey screams and sobs and shivers when I help her up, kicking the Witch's corpse off of her.
Zoey scares me half to death when she latches onto me for a minute, pressing close to me and letting out tiny little sobs into my chest. I'm almost embarrassed for her. She knows I don't want to see her like this, and she's usually pretty good about keeping it to herself (or else crying to Louis, who gives a damn and is better with her than I am, anyway), but I guess it was just too much for her. She didn't mean to startle the Witch, anyway.
She's crying into me. I pat her head awkwardly. "M-my fucking light wouldn't sh-shut off," she mutters, and I just sort of stand there, letting her do her thing. Her arms are wrapped all the way around my waist. She feels tiny, and it makes me feel kind of sick. Her face and neck are bleeding.
"You got a med kit for those scrapes, kid?" I ask her quietly, growling the words more than anything. She just shudders. I guess that means no. When she finally lets go of me, uncomfortable as all hell, I tear off a bloody piece of my shirt and tell her to press it to the cuts to stop the bleeding. It'll do for now.
I guess I'd be into Zoey, if she were a little older. If she had a little more HLT to her—that's Hips-Lips-Tits, for those who don't know it—and if she…I dunno…had a shower. And would shut the fuck up, sometimes. Or I guess if she'd talk about shit that I care about. Or wouldn't cry. Or…something.
Goddamn. You know, I do like her, when I forget about how much she pisses me off. And I even care about her, a little. Sometimes.
She's still got two of those Buds tied to her belt loops. They're almost two days stuck to her hip, now. She gave two of them to Bill, and didn't even ask him for anything. She's got more Chef in her pockets, too. My stomach growls and reminds me of that, while she's sitting there in the corner of the safe room. She stares me in the eyes and lets Louis patch her up from the Witch attack, like she knows that I'm thinking about her.