Claire was starving.
It had been a long day. She'd driven two hours to met with Leon S. Kennedy, her old friend who was now a special agent for the United State's government. He'd completed whatever training they'd put him through and the change in him had been remarkable. He still had a dorky haircut but it was less pronounced now. His demeanor had changed, too. He was more sure of himself only it seemed to her a bit of a tough-guy act. To her he'd always be a rookie cop in the middle of pissing his pants all while getting annoyed no one was listening to him.
A harsh sentiment perhaps but she meant it with love.
She'd met with him at a coffee shop in the downtown of some lesser city she kept wanting to call Idlewood but that wasn't the name. The shop served sandwiches but they were out the bread Claire liked, so she'd settled on a latte with extra foam thinking it would tide her over until dinner.
"They tell me Sherry's doing fine," Leon said. "Or as fine as can be expected. Her grades are a little lower than they could be but I don't think it'll keep her out of any school she wants to go; she's got the brains."
Claire had sipped her coffee at the word "brains." Zombies didn't call out for them, couldn't even speak really. Sometimes they made sounds that sounded like they might be words but Claire figured it was a coincidence or her own brain playing tricks, or so she'd hoped. "It must be hard for her, not being able to tell anybody what really happened," Claire said.
Leon told her didn't think that would be a problem in a few years. Bioweapons like what had destroyed Raccoon City were increasing in demand all over the world. It was only a matter of time before the public became aware of the truth and a story about being chased by shambling corpses and mutants through city streets became plausible, maybe even commonplace.
Later, as she drove down a lonely stretch of interstate she thought of Sherry Birkin sitting in a ring of chairs with other haunted looking people introducing herself. "Hi, my name is Sherry. Zombies once tried to eat me."
It would've been funny had her stomach not been rumbling. The sun was setting behind her, lighting up the signs in front. Its orange light into her eyes from her rear-view mirror. Wincing, she angled it away so she could see the back seat of her Tahoe, which she'd checked before getting in. Always check the back seat was her rule, especially if the car smelled funny. This one didn't but it cost her nothing to look.
She'd read somewhere that children could bounce back from mental trauma faster and better than an adult. Older people were set in their ways, inflexible, brittle. Put too much pressure on them and they'd snap. A child on the other hand was still mailable, bendable, flexible, still growing. They could bend more, and if they broke they'd heal over.
If that was true then Sherry would be fine, Claire thought, now looking at roadsigns pointing her to food. Around a clump of trees came the sight of two glowing golden arches, close together like the letter M, or a great big pair of upside down breasts. Claire signaled, cutting someone off, and went down the exit ramp ten miles faster than the law said she was permitted.
The fast food place was on the left. The building was a square brick with a fancy roof, complete with sign boasting that several billion people have been served. That seemed like a lot considering the size of the parking lot, in which she easily found a space in next to a Blazer.
She patted her stomach before she got out and hoped her body would forgive her for what she was about to do to it. She also hoped nobody she knew saw her, as she'd never hear the end of it.
Before she got inside she smelled grease and salt and it made her mouth water. Had she been alone she might have moaned along with her stomach but in public no such thing would happen. Once she was inside, she detected a lair of sandy grime on the tiled floor and knew she'd be getting takeout once she saw the state of the faux stone tables and booths. Each had smears of grease, forgotten French fries, or empty salt packets littering their surface. On the floors around some were napkins, crimped at one end or crumpled, some smeared with ketchup.
There was a woman in her fifties in front of her, looking up at the menu as if she'd never seen it before. She had short, curly auburn hair and had clearly been there a while as her husband was with a younger woman, possibly a daughter, and her two children, a boy and a girl who were getting their condiments and drinking straws near the end of the line.
"I'll have a coffee and I guess one of those Whoppers," the woman said.
"Ma'am, we don't sell Whoppers," said a tall, pale boy. His greasy black hair stuck out from beneath his hat and his zits stuck out like bug bites on his waxy skin.
The woman seemed confused. "It's a hamburger, dear," she said.
"Yes, but we don't sell them," the boy said. "If you'd like a Big..."
"Hey," said her husband, who'd come over carrying several white bags. "I think you screwed this up."
Claire saw the young woman behind him, slightly older than herself, was biting her lower lip. "What..." the boy started to say, moving to his right.
"I ordered two hamburgers, a salad, and a some nuggets. And this coffee isn't supposed to have sugar, and it's got sugar in it..."
The man wore a billed cap bearing the emblem of some military organization. He had a brown, weather beaten face hidden behind large, yellow tinted glasses. He'd started off snarky then became belligerent when the boy started to read over his receipt.
"I'd like to speak to your manager," the man said, which perhaps had the opposite intended effect of making the boy feel relieved.
Claire rubbed her eyes which were stiff with fatigue. She'd be getting some coffee too, it seemed. Maybe sticking around to eat wouldn't be a bad idea, as it would let her recharge some.
"How can I help you, sir?"
The voice was low, smooth, and monotone. One might say robotic if not for the clear thread of malice that hummed beneath it. Hearing it made Claire feel as though a straight jacket made of ice had been clamped on her.
She took her hand away and looked to the counter. The icy feeling was now accompanied by her chest constricting, stifling the scream that wanted to burst out of her. What she was seeing couldn't be, it simply couldn't be real.
Yet there he was, Albert Wesker, former captain of the S.T.A.R.S Alpha Team. Tall, classic WASP features, with his blond hair combed back and slicked so it was like a helmet, reflecting light from the bulbs above him. His eyes, which she knew carried a red pigment, were hidden behind dark sunglasses. He wore black slacks and white collared shirt, complete with red tie and name tag.
The angry man lost some of his bluster now that we was in the sphere of menace Wesker exuded. He explained that the order was wrong, and Wesker asked him what it was supposed to be. The man stuttered once when telling him.
"I'm sorry sir, we'll get that straightened out right away," Wesker said, nodding and turning towards the back where he quietly gave orders to two more haggard looking teenagers and an elderly woman. "And what will you have, mam?" he said, turning to the angry man's wife, who seemed oblivious to what had transpired.
"Oh, I already ordered," she said.
Wesker nodded as the first teenager came up with her order. "Yours is almost done," he said to the man who'd given him a hard time. A slight smirk was on his face.
"Next," Wesker said.
Claire closed her eyes tight and prayed, something she hadn't done in a long time. When opened her eyes Wesker was still there, his mouth a thin line beneath his nose and sunglasses. This isn't real, she thought. I'm tired, hungry, and my mind's playing tricks.
She'd been tired and hungry before and under worse circumstances and there had never been any tricks. Her body came forward, but she kept a healthy distance from the counter. "Hi," she said, looking at the name tag on Wesker's chest. A. Wesker it read. Manager.
"Can I help you, mam?" he said, his voice still monotone, laced with contempt and murder.
Her mouth was dry, but she managed to say the customary "Yeah, uh," before looking at the menu above his head. "I'd like a large number three, only with a medium drink and a coffee."
Wesker punched some buttons on the screen in front of him. "Will that be all?"
"Yes," she said, wanting to run out of the building and drive until she ran out of gas. He told her the total and she paid with a twenty.
"Oops," Wesker said, dropping the coins she was owed. He scooped them from the counter and handed them to her, his fingers briefly touching her palm and making the skin on her entire body crawl. She'd felt those fingers before, around her neck.
The family had gotten their food and was moving to find a clean table, the older man loudly griping over the cleanliness of the place now that he was a safe distance from Wesker. Claire stood by a display of toys that came with certain meals and could see straight into the kitchen. Wesker was now talking to the old woman who seemed to be having an issue with some shiny steel machine.
When he'd solved it he came back to the front, put her sandwich in a bag with a box of large French fries, which the greasy kid had salted, and stood before Claire. He knelt down and brought up a large soda. "Oh, you wanted a medium," he said, but stopped mid-stoop. "You can take the large if you like, it'll be our secret." The corner of his mouth had risen half a centimeter, his version of wink perhaps.
Claire said nothing and took the cup. She did smile politely before turning around and filling the cup with soda. "Mam, your coffee," Wesker said.
"Oh." Claire turned, wanting the nightmare to just end. She'd kept it together all these years, why loose it now? At a fast food place, even. She took the coffee, which he warned her was quite hot, and she went back to filling her cold drink at the fountain. Holding the coffee in one hand, the soda in the other, and pinching the bag in her fingers, she left the building at a brisk pace and got to her car without looking back.
She set her food on the hood and looked in. She could see his blond head through the window, but lost sight of him when he went to the back. "I'm hungry, that's all," she said, a laugh punctuating the sentence. "Hungry and tired. Some food, some coffee, and I'll be alright."
With a mouthful of fries, she was back on the highway for another fifteen minutes before pulling off at a gas station to eat.