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Authors: Joe McKinney

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Plague of the Undead (35 page)

BOOK: Plague of the Undead
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The woman and child have made it to the Boardwalk. The long pier extends far out into the Atlantic, which has grown irritable from the weather.
“Momma?” the girl says. “Where do we go now?”
The woman has no idea. None of this makes sense. Why would he make this request of her, and why can’t she find Marvin Gardens?
Acting almost on autopilot, she pushes the wheelbarrow out to the end of the pier, and stops before a bronze plaque featuring a raised relief of Charles B. Darrow, inventor of the game of Monopoly. Briefly she considers asking Darrow where she might find Marvin Gardens, but doesn’t want to scare the little girl. No need to make her think Momma’s lost her mind.
A strong wind gusts off the water and shoves her roughly to one side. She staggers, and the wheelbarrow topples over, spilling out its precious cargo onto the pier.
The woman looks down at her husband sprawled there and she finally breaks down. She sits down beside him. She’s so tired. She has no way of lifting him back into the wheelbarrow. Not now. Not like this. She doesn’t know what to do.
She hears footsteps on the planks behind her.
The woman jumps to her feet and wheels to face the intruder, pulling her daughter behind her.
But it’s an old man, not a zombie. She relaxes, but only a little. There are other dangers in the world besides the walking dead. But the man makes no move to attack. He actually looks kind. He’s dressed in a full-length black coat, the collar pulled up tightly against a scarred cheek. The brim of a floppy old hat shields gray, weathered eyes.
“Let me help you,” he says.
Together, they right the wheelbarrow.
There is another gust of wind and then the rain starts to fall. “We need to get under shelter,” he says. He’s holding his hat down on his head as he nods toward a nearby arcade. The inside is dark, but dry. “In there,” he says.
She reaches for the wheelbarrow, but he puts a hand on her wrist.
“No,” he says, “leave him here.”
She wants to object. At first it seems like a gross disrespect of the man she loved—and still loves—with all her being. But as the rain turns to silvery sheets curling on the wind, it suddenly seems right to her, and the three of them run for the cover of the arcade.
The little girl knows the routine. They won’t be going anywhere for a while, so she removes her backpack and sits on the ground and makes herself busy with the few belongings they’ve been able to carry with them.
“Thank you,” the woman says to the man.
He nods, says nothing. The man removes his coat and hat and shakes the water from them.
“Can you help us?” the woman says. “We’re trying to find Marvin Gardens.”
The man looks up from his clothes and a strange smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. “There is no Marvin Gardens,” he says. “Not here, anyway. Not in Atlantic City.”
This floors the woman. Her first instinct is to get angry. She’s been lied to, made a fool of. Why would her husband do this to her? Why would he send her on an errand like this, wandering a blasted land with only a stupid board game for a map? It doesn’t make sense.
“Bubbles!”
The woman shakes her head, clearing her thoughts. Dozens of tiny bubbles are rising from the floor, filling the air around her head. She looks down and sees her daughter clapping her hands and giggling wildly as her little bubble-making machine whirs.
One bubble in particular drifts past the woman’s nose. She focuses on it, and its beauty startles her. The way it shimmers and catches the light like a diamond. It is geometric perfection. It is a delicate thing, like a flower, or a life; and it is, she realizes, the most perfect, the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.
It explodes suddenly—even over the pounding rain she swears she hears a faint, muffled pop. It’s gone.
She stares at the empty air where it once floated, but she isn’t seeing the air. She’s actually looking inward, and backward, across the years. Images of her husband crowd her mind, and though she doesn’t realize she’s doing it, she’s smiling, for he lives there, whole and perfect, a part of her soul that will never die.
But what of this crazy quest he’s sent her on? What of that?
He knew there was no Marvin Gardens here. He had to have known. Her husband was crazy smart that way. This was deliberate. Not a cruel trick. He wasn’t that kind of man.
There is a lesson here. Something she is meant to understand.
But what?
And then she thinks of the bubble, how it was beautiful, and then gone. And she thinks of this world, how it, too, was once a thing of beauty.
It dawns on her all at once, understanding swelling inside her chest like a balloon until she can barely breathe, barely contain it. He gave her an impossible quest, not because he expected her to fail, but because he knew she would succeed. She would come to this point. The old world is gone, and though the new world, the world without him, is a little emptier, it is still a place for beauty, and a place to raise the little girl who is so much like her daddy.
She looks out across the rain-swept pier, to where her husband’s body faces the open ocean, unknowable in its vastness, and she thinks again of bubbles.
And smiles.
PINNACLE BOOKS are published by
 
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
 
Copyright © 2014 Joe McKinney
 
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.
 
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
 
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
ISBN: 978-0-7860-3397-3
 
 
First electronic edition: October 2014
 
ISBN-13: 978-0-7860-3398-0
ISBN-10: 0-7860-3398-3
BOOK: Plague of the Undead
4.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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