Authors: Bonnie R. Paulson
Barely Alive Series
Bonnie R. Paulson
Bonnie R. Paulson
Copyright © 2012 Bonnie R. Paulson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
To My Husband – You keep me together. I love you.
To My Critique Partners: Brooklyn Ann and Shelley Martin –
another one I can attribute to your help! Thank you.
To my bet
a readers: Connie (mom), Kammie, Chelsea, and Cassie. Thanks for the help, ladies, you’re awesome-sauce!
Eating a burger and kissing one are two entirely different things. So why did I dream about dressing Heather in ketchup and alternating between kissing her and biting her – and not in a good way?
James threw a wet washcloth at me from the bed. I glanced his way, arching my eyebrow. What the hell did he want? My brother copied my expression but gave a half-smile to taunt my infatuated stare. Yeah? So what if I wanted to watch Heather out the window?
Girl is hot.
“I know you like her, but this is ridiculous.” He slumped against the pillows and picked at a stray thread on the comforter.
We hadn’t been at the house more than twelve hours and he already had cabin fever. His shoulder bandages needed changing, but I’d have to let Connie do that. Her or Grandma Jean. Yeah, Heather’s grandma made us call her Grandma Jean. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, or not, but since we sought refuge at her home, our obligation to do what she wanted was a bit strong.
Heather’s curls lifted in the early May morning breeze. I don’t care what anyone says, northern Idaho is hella cold in early-summer, late-spring. Or whatever this was. Heather wore shorts outside and while I loved the view of her legs, I couldn’t hold back the shiver. I’d followed her out there and had to turn back.
James glanced at the clock on the side table. “When are you going to get some food? I’m famished.” The pale tinge to his skin confirmed his claim.
“You could at least
like you’re wounded.” I grumbled, shifting in my seat. The shower hadn’t helped last night nor had sitting in James’s room with Connie and my mom tossing around theories and what-ifs. I was bored out of my mind, starving as hell, and couldn’t get my mind out of the gutter. “I’m not going out there to hunt yet. I know you’re hungry. Me, too. But it’s freezing outside. Heather promised it would get warmer in a couple of hours. You can wait until then.” I pointed at his injured shoulder. “Hey, it might be healed even more at that point, you could go with me.” Leaving him alone with Heather, especially as the hunger built inside him, didn’t sit well with me.
We sat in silence. Our topics limited to the immediate concerns. Talking about the impending war, food, and our situation looming before us didn’t seem like the best way to spend our time. And yet, what else did we care about in the moment?
I cleared my throat. I needed meat, my tongue was drying out. “So… Do you have any ideas?” Of course I couldn’t avoid the carcass in the room. I was too damn blunt.
He shrugged, but worry added a tinge of anger to his voice. “No. Dominic didn’t share more with me than his orders and the obvious pain. I wish I could say I’d seen inside his brain and had the secret to all of his plans, but I don’t. You most likely have more insight than me, you know?”
The front door slammed, cutting off my response, not that I had one worth saying. I’d most likely just hmm at him. Hell, I don’t know what Dominic, the bastard, wanted but I do know it wasn’t to deliver roses and kiss my cheek. “If I were Dominic, I’d swarm this place to get to Heather and to get revenge on me.”
“You think you’re that important?” His solemn tone dominated the meaning behind his smart-assy question.
I folded my arms. “I wouldn’t say I’m
. I think he’s sociopathic and OCD just enough to want to get back at me for defecting and taking her and you with me.”
“Well, what do you think we should do? We don’t have many people on our side.” He adjusted in the bed with his one good arm, wincing at the effort the movement claimed. “I feel like I need a plan. I’m going crazy just sitting here.”
“Storing up on fuel and food is important. Ditches, maybe? We could fill them with tar or oil-soaked hay or something? I don’t know what the resources are like up here. We might need to ask Grandma Jean.” Planning on defending a house with just a few people had a more surreal feeling than even when I bent over an animal to feed. The heat would call me. Would I have the strength to stay away from it?
Grandma Jean called into the front room. “Paul. Are you in here?” Her voice was an older version of Heather’s, which was weird because I assumed they weren’t blood since I’d just watched Heather’s adoptive parents die not more than two days before. But Grandma Jean had the same sound as Heather. Take away the accent and they’d be hard to tell apart.
I stood and poked my head from James’s room. “In here, Grandma Jean.” I didn’t want to leave James alone for too long. Mom hadn’t risen from bed yet and Connie wasn’t back from her hunt. Travis hadn’t stopped working on the research since he got up. I couldn’t wait to hear their theories, but James couldn’t be left alone. No telling what might happen the longer he went without food.
Motioning me inside, Grandma Jean joined me in the guest room and sat gingerly on the window seat. Hands crossed in her lap, she looked more like Julie Andrews would in jeans and a flannel with the sleeves rolled to her elbows. A strand of creamy pearls peeked from behind the unbuttoned collar. Her melodic left me curious about what her singing sounded like. “I understand my arrival last night impeded your hunting trip. I apologize for that.” She inclined her head with regal inflection. Had I dropped into some realm where I sat with the queen and drooled over the princess? Hell, nothing would surprise me at this point.
Should I bow? “Thank you, ma’am, but it’s not a big deal. I’ll go when Connie gets back.” James’s color could stand to be amped up and the gray had reached my palms. I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like the more access to food I had, the faster my metabolism worked between meals.
A lull fell between us. More obligated to fill the silence, I continued. “I’m sorry to impose on you like this, ma’am. We didn’t have anywhere else to go and…” I trailed off. None of us had discussed how much information Grandma Jean needed. I wasn’t one to keep the truth from anyone. I suspected no one else in my group would want to either.
“Yes, I understand. So what’s the story, sweetheart? Do you have someone after you? Heather wouldn’t go into detail. She said it’s more your tale to discuss.” The pleasant curve to her lips would certainly disappear the moment she found out I wanted to eat her granddaughter. She waited with the barest hint of patience softening the lines of her face.
Alright, I might as well get it over with.
Rip off the bandage, Paul.
“Well, without going into boring detail, my brother, Connie, and I have a virus that makes us, well, like zombies.” There, I said it. She had to freak out now. She was supposed to be a nurse. Maybe I’d have to give her a sedative or something.
But she didn’t react much. Just uncrossed her hands and tucked a silver curl behind her ear. Her smile hadn’t budged. “Honey, you don’t act like any zombie I’ve ever heard of. Are you sure you’re not pulling Grandma Jean’s leg?”
A small laugh escaped me. “I’m sure, ma’am.” My grin was cheeky. I liked the old lady, weird as it was. “We don’t fit the zombie definition right now, but give us a few weeks.”
She rose from her seat and crossed to James. To that point, she hadn’t acknowledged him in the least. Ignoring his piercing gaze, Grandma Jean rolled his shoulder from the sheet and pulled the towels from his wound. After probing his injury with a well-manicured hand, she looked my way. “He certainly heals faster than I would expect of a boy of his age. What are you hunting out there? You realize nothing is really in season right now, right?”
From the angle my seat put me I could just see the edges of his wound. The shoulder had a blackened, crispy appearance. My heart sped up.
I jumped from my seat and rushed to James’s side. I stared, but couldn’t make out the significance of anything. Unfortunately, I wasn’t old enough to be a doctor, or a nurse, or anyone that mattered. I was a dying teenage zombie and I had no idea what to do to help James. “His flesh looks dead?” Question? Answer? Flipping fact I wanted to deny to my very toes. If his shoulder died, no matter what kind of cure Travis and Connie came up with, it’d be dead. Done. Gone. Irreversible. I shuddered.
“No. That’s a scab. If he just got this, it’s rather premature for a scab to develop this early on, but let’s be happy with it, shall we?” She patted James head.
I couldn’t drag myself from studying the crusty plane of his shoulder. The scab covered the majority of the wound in a topographical depiction of plateaus and valleys in deep browns, reds, blacks and even a yellowish tinge in some spots.
My fingers tingled. I didn’t dare touch it. He might have withheld his reaction to Grandma Jean’s touch, but everything on the surface of my body burned and tingled with the over-exposed nerves. I couldn’t adapt. I missed being able to do that.
She backed up. “Well, let’s say you
zombies. Is the virus contagious? Do I need to be worried about Heather?”
Yes, you sure as hell should be.
“Nope. She’s fine. The virus is contagious, but only if saliva crosses the skin barrier. We aren’t going to bite anyone. As long as we’re the only ones in the area, everyone here is safe.” My warning wouldn’t go unnoticed, I hoped.
James skin had paled, almost to match mine. He shouldn’t start matching my coloring for at least another week. He needed food. His injury had sped up his deterioration. I hope it hadn’t shortened his time.
“Ma’am. I’m not sure how long James can last without food and I’m getting past low, too. Is there any way you might be able to sit with him until I get back? I promise to be as fast as I can.” I needed out of there. For a second, I’d been sure James’s shoulder had died, the anatomical piece closest to his heart and lungs. Too close for comfort… for
I’d freeze in seconds outside, but only until I found something to sink my teeth into.
“Of course. I’d love to sit with him. Do you need a gun or something? My late-husband kept a gun safe downstairs. You’re welcome to use what you can.” She pointed down the hall.
Sweet, Grandma Jean knew how to get to a man’s heart. “Thank you, but I just need my hands. We hunt anything that has meat and blood. We’re not picky. I doubt forest rangers will believe we’re hunting.” I grinned and ignored the slight widening of her eyes. I’d left it slightly vague to give her the element of fear. Grandma Jean was a little too comfortable with the idea we were different and that in no time we’d eat something raw. Maybe her.
She didn’t flinch with the revelation. Rather her expression seemed more impressed. I liked these people. It didn’t take much to strike awe. Grandma Jean inclined her head toward the window. “You should head north of here. I wish I’d known before Connie left. There’s a beautiful herd of elk that needs thinning about this time of year and they stick to the range just beyond the lake. Very big. Have you ever had elk?”
Ever had elk? Was she serious? I was from Vegas. Elk was a delicacy at the bars and grills on the Strip. You had to be twenty-one to get in those buildings.
How old did I look? “No, ma’am. No elk.”
“Well, don’t you worry. You’ll know them when you see them. They’re huge and quiet. If you get one with a rack, I’d appreciate it if you’d bring it back. I make items from the antlers. Oh, and the ivories,” she pointed to the back of her mouth, “their molars. I need both of them, please.” The bandage on James’s shoulder removed easily under her touch. Holding the gauze from his skin, she pointed with her free hand. “See that? There, the greenish edge around the entrance? If I press here, pus will come out.” She pushed with her forefinger. James screamed.
Grandma Jean yanked her finger from his flesh. “I’m sorry, James. I didn’t know you were so sensitive.”