The Girl's Guide to the Apocalypse (4 page)

BOOK: The Girl's Guide to the Apocalypse
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That seemed to make him happy, so I went in the same direction as the rest of the group, Robert trailing behind. We followed them up into what used to be busy neighborhoods, but now were abandoned and broken down. We turned up one street where the entire row of houses had been burned down and left in ashes.

“Where is this place?” I asked.

Priscilla’s face had turned white. “I don’t know,” she said. “It should be here. They were all supposed to be here.”

Her hand went to her mouth and tears welled up in her eyes. I put my arm around her and had no idea what to do next as her shoulders shook. Even then I felt like the human contact I could offer was the bare minimum at most.

She nodded. “Where would everyone be now?”

There was a rustling of the bushes, and both of us tensed at the same time. Her hand squeezed mine painfully tight.

Bruce jumped out of the bushes into sight.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s just you.”

“What are you doing?” I asked, rushing for him. “I don’t know what you think is back there.”

Bruce rolled his eyes. “Maybe there’s hidden supplies or keys to a car. I don’t know. That’s what they would have done on
Burning Rubber
.”

I threw my arms around him. “That’s the name of the show Steve Harks was on! Could not remember for the life of me.”

He rolled his eyes and stepped away. “There you go again,” he said. “Taking things I care about and making them into a joke.”

His mood had an instant effect on me. I smiled sardonically at him and put my hands up in surrender. “You’re right,” I said. “I should have just followed your mind path to this abandoned neighborhood.”

“Really?” He sighed heavily. “Can’t you just stop with the sarcasm? It’s always made you really unlikeable.”

A stab to the heart for sure, but for some reason it didn’t hurt as much as it had in the past.

I put my hands down. “Where are Robert and Debra?”

He sighed. “Up the hill. There’s a house, completely empty. It overlooks the ocean on the other side.”

He went to charge up the hill.

“Isn’t there a road?” I called after him.

“It’s all washed out.” He stopped and put his hands on his hips. “You coming or not?”

I went to follow him and tried to take his hand, but was only able to graze it momentarily. For the first time in our relationship, he didn’t want to hold my hand. I put it on my mental con list. It may have taken an Apocalypse, but I was seeing things clearer. I let it go.

Priscilla panted hard behind me. “I’m not used to such hiking,” she said.

“Not much farther,” I said. “Probably. Right, Bruce?”

He didn’t answer.

“Up here!” I heard Debra shout.

We followed the sound of her voice to a large house, once beautiful but now falling apart. Many of the windows were broken out, and people had spray painted messages on the sides of it. It was mostly names, numbers and where they could be found if others were looking for them. I stopped and scanned the scrawling, looking for anything or anyone familiar.

Robert opened the door. “You made it!” he said with a big smile.

“How did you guys make it up here?” I asked. “Especially so much faster than Priscilla and I?”

He shrugged. “Just got tired of waiting, I suppose. Also, Debra had to use the bathroom.”

I shook my head. “There were lots of other houses,” I said. “You just kept going until one spoke to you? Wait.” I looked around. “There’s a bathroom here? You’re telling me I used a Dumpster out in the open like a jerk?”

Debra poked her head out of a broken window.

“You say that like it’s a big fat joke,” she said. “And it’s not. Just because we’re going through a hard time doesn’t mean we have to live like savages. You can still be picky about a bathroom.” She paused, then took a deep breath. It seemed she was doing everything she could to keep her shaky emotions in check. “So just for that,” she said. “No one gets to use this bathroom. It’s mine!” She went back inside, slamming the window.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “That answered none of my questions.”

“Want a tour?” Robert asked. “We were just getting settled.”

I followed his lead. The inside of the house was a wreck. There were brown stains coming down the walls and more spray painted scrawling. A distinct odor wafted through the halls, something like sewage and fresh air, a yin and yang of experiences. There was a couch, its cushions gone, a giant rip through its upholstery and propped up against one of the boarded up windows.

My eye caught Robert holding a framed family photo of people I didn’t know.

“Friends of yours?” I asked.

He shrugged and put it on the ledge.

I followed him into the kitchen where Debra was going through the cabinets.

“You would think you could find something to eat,” she said. “But no.” She pulled out a box of Fruit Rollups. “Please,” she said. “This is a travesty.”

“Its food,” I said. “At least it’s something.”

She rolled her eyes at me. “Gluten?” she said. “Sugar? Carbs? I’m telling you, if earthquakes and viruses don’t kill us, this will.” She slammed the box back down. “I will swell up like a balloon unless I find some gluten free options here.” She looked up as Priscilla entered the house. “Maria!” she said. “You made it!”

Priscilla smiled. “It’s still Priscilla.”

Debra waved it away. “And this place is a mess. Maybe a little tidying up, perhaps?”

She turned away, bent down to look in the cabinets under the sink.

Priscilla turned to me, confused. “Does she think I’m the hired help?”

Instead of answering, I looked around. “So this place has a working bathroom?” I asked.

“Yeah, about that,” Robert said, sheepishly.

His face said it all.

“We tried it,” he said. “It didn’t work out.”

I rolled my eyes. “Nice.”

I walked over to the kitchen faucet and lifted the handle. Brown sludge poured out. I made a face.

“Did anyone try finding water?” I asked.

“We just got here,” Debra said. “One thing at a time.” She pulled out a can of pumpkin pie filling. “Gross! It’s like we’ve just given up on ourselves.”

The sludge cleared itself out for a moment and there was clear water for just a brief shining second. Then it was gone.

“There’s got to be a way,” I said. “There’s something wrong with the pipes out there. Maybe if we can fix it, we can at least have water to drink.”

I bent down and examined underneath the sink. It looked as though someone had come in earlier and taken apart the pipes, leaving it all in disarray in the cabinet. I reached into what was still attached and pulled off an old rubber band and dried mud crumbled in my hand.

Bruce came and stood over me. “Guess we’re sleeping in the living room. The bedrooms got taken.”

I looked up. “How many bedrooms?”

“Three.”

“Priscilla took one?” I asked. “That sneaky bitch.”

Chapter 4
Find a Water Source

THE SUN
WENT DOWN
, and what I really wanted was a glass of water. The clean trickle was long gone, so I turned the handle down and then turned it back on. There was a gurgling, but nothing came out.

“Robert?” I shouted.

“I’m upstairs!” he said.

“Do you know anything about plumbing?”

“I know now that the upstairs bathroom is no longer working!”

“No one said you could use that!” Debra shouted.

“Sit and spin, you cruddy skank!” Robert retorted.

I walked toward the stairs and looked up.

“Do I need to separate you two?” I asked. “Make you sit in your ‘get along’ corner?”

There was silence.

“So no word on how to work plumbing?” I asked. “Was the bathroom ever working?”

“I don’t think so,” Robert said, much calmer. “But I used it anyway.”

I rolled my eyes while I felt my bladder ache and beg for relief. I picked up my jacket and threw it on.

Bruce pointed at me. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Well, I have to go to the bathroom, and the plumbing doesn’t work in this house.”

“You’re not going outside.”

“Where am I supposed to go?”

Bruce shrugged. “Maybe wait until I have to go?”

I rolled my eyes. “Do you have to go now?”

“Nah, I just went about five minutes ago. There was a spot outside the front door.”

“I have been waiting to go for hours, hoping I’d live my dream of indoor plumbing,” I said. “Hours.”

“Make it quick then,” he said.

I ran out and behind the house, ducked behind a rock and unbuckled my pants. Just before I could let anything go, I heard a noise. It was a howl followed by a woman cackling. Probably the creepiest thing I had ever heard, especially since I was vulnerable and cold with my pants around my ankles. I went to button them back up.

“Are you done yet?” Bruce asked impatiently.

“Did you hear that?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Do you think it’s close by?”

I closed my eyes and hummed a few bars of
Let It Go
. I struggled with my pants after I was done. “It’s creepy out here. I think we should go back inside.”

“Good,” he said. “It’s getting cold out here.”

He shivered deep inside his jacket as the sound went up again. I touched his arm.

“There it is.”

“Did you wash your hands?”

I removed my arm.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “There’s nowhere to wash your hands out here.”

He made a face. There was another howl, and I shoved my hands into my pockets.

“Let’s just get out of here,” I said. “I don’t want to know what that voice belongs to.”

“Yeah, well now I have to go,” Bruce said. “Stay here.”

With that, he scampered deeper in, tripped over several branches, and then hid behind a tree.

There was the sound of another woman cackling, and I could have sworn there were footsteps coming from just a few feet away.

“Bruce!” I whispered. “Please hurry.”

“I can’t if you’re distracting me!” he shouted.

“Keep your voice down!” I hissed.

“What?”

“I said keep your voice down!”

“What?” he said even louder.

“Forget it.”

I made myself small as I crouched near a bush, hoping for camouflage. Eventually, Bruce appeared, pulling up his pants, then zipping them.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “I almost didn’t see you.”

“It’s terrifying out here,” I said. “Didn’t you ever see
Blair Witch
or
Paranormal Activity
?”

“Nothing’s going to happen to us. You act like you’ve never been outside at night.”

“I haven’t! Not since the Incident, at least.”

“Oh.” He stopped to think about it. “Well, you haven’t missed anything.”

He took my hand and jerked me back toward the house.

“So now we don’t care about the whole washing your hands thing,” I said.

“You’re never going to survive with an attitude like that,” he said.

“Just asking for some consistency, that’s all.”

He let go of my hand as we rushed back inside.

He didn’t answer, knowing I just wanted to get back in the house, but we stopped when the sound of branches breaking underfoot came from behind us. I was paralyzed with fear, but afraid to look over and see Bruce’s reaction.

“Did you hear that?” I murmured.

“Yes,” he whispered back. He tightly gripped my hand.

“Why aren’t we moving?” I asked.

Silence.

The footsteps started again. I sucked my breath in and moved forward, but Bruce wasn’t.

“Let’s go!” I said.

Bruce took off running, and I quickly followed, but he was much faster than I was. I tried to keep up the best I could. The worst part was the footsteps were running behind us, gaining, followed by the woman’s cackling.

The house was up ahead, and Bruce reached it long before I did. He rushed inside and slammed the door behind him. I reached it and tugged on it, but it wouldn’t open. I banged on it.

“Bruce!” I yelled. “Open up! It’s me!”

I kept trying the door, but it was clearly locked. My fear quickly turned in to anger.

I looked behind me, and while I couldn’t see anyone, the hair on the back of my neck was raised. I knew I was being watched. I started to run again, this time around the length of the house where I found the fence, which I scaled, then jumped straight into the muddy and disastrous backyard. I hit a sloppy puddle, reopened the wound on my knee. I winced in pain.

“Bruce!” I yelled. “Open the door!”

I struggled to get up on my feet and then stumbled to the back door, which was unlocked. I let myself inside and braced myself against the wall, the pain searing through my leg.

Bruce appeared in the hallway. “All the bedrooms are still taken. Want to make a fort in the living room?”

I incredulously stared at him.

I was so tired.

So limped into the living room.

* * *

It’s amazing what the power of a good night’s sleep can do. It can make you have a better outlook and make things around seem not as daunting as the night before. I wish I knew what that was like. Instead, I tossed and turned, feeling my muscles jerk with every noise from outside. And then I watched the sun come up and illuminate the state of the house, which was somehow more disgusting than it was the night before.

I heard a shuffling around the kitchen, so I rolled over, opened my eyes and saw Debra rummaging through the cupboards. Most of the shelves were bare, but occasionally she would pick up that same box of Fruit Roll-Ups over and over, stare at it, put it back, then repeat a few moments later.

All I could think about was how thirsty I was, but the hunger was becoming a close second in terms of thoughts.

“Rosario!” Debra shouted.

There was no answer. I laid there thinking it was strange and wondered momentarily if Debra had finally snapped. Then it dawned on me. It was almost as though she took some sort of glee in not remembering Priscilla’s name.

“Rosario!” she tried again.

I got up, stepped over Bruce and headed over to the kitchen.

“Have you seen Rosario?” Debra asked.

I shook my head. “No Rosario, but I think there’s another person with a different name,” I said.

Debra rolled her eyes. “Give it time,” she said. “She’ll answer to it whether she wants to or not.”

“Really don’t think that’s fair,” I said. “You know she lost her husband yesterday, not to mention everything else she had in life.”

“If you’re so smart,” Debra folded her arms, “then what’s her name?”

“Well.” My mind suddenly went blank. “It’s not Maria…”

Debra pointed her finger in my face. “Ah-ha!” she said. “You don’t know either.”

“Well, I did know it,” I said. “Maybe we should just ask her.”

She waved my sentence away, then looked up and smiled at Robert coming from the upstairs.

“That mattress had no lumbar support!” he announced. “I am going to be stiff all day so don’t expect any hard labor out of me.”

“Screw your complaints,” Debra said. “Another day and there’s nothing in here but carbs and empty calories. I mean…” She threw up her hands in frustration. “It shouldn’t be that hard to make an egg white and kale frittata.”

Robert stopped short of the kitchen. “Well, there has to be something.”

Debra shook her head. “I have scoured this place up and down. Nothing.”

Robert gave off a heavy sigh. “Maybe Maria can make us something.”

“Her name isn’t Maria,” I said. “But it’s not Imelda either…”

I drifted off into heavy thought. Mercedes, Rosa, Maria. Nothing was right.

“Well, good luck getting her down here,” she said. “I’ve been calling her all morning.”

“Her name isn’t Mary either,” I said.

“Then you call it,” she snapped.

“It?” I asked. “It? That’s your gentler alternative?”

“Shhhhh!”

I looked over and saw Bruce sitting up in the makeshift bed with a finger over his lips.

“Dude, I’m sleeping here!” he said, annoyed.

Robert pointed at him “How’s that mattress?”

Bruce shrugged. “Okay.”

“Like, okay how?” he asked. “Was it orthopedic?”

“Not really,” he said. “But I found a spot that was supportive of my lower back. Shoulders were a little lacking.”

Robert snapped his fingers. “You interested in a trade? I slept on one with flowers and clowns on it. My feet hung off and it smelled weird, but it’d probably be more your speed.”

“Like what kind of smell?”

My stomach growled as the three voices rose in their discomfort of life. I glanced out the window and caught a glimpse of our other houseguest, the one who’s name no one could remember, wandering out toward the neighboring houses.

“I’m going to go look for food,” I said.

No one heard me. So I turned around, grabbed my sweatshirt and walked out the door. I shut it hard with a satisfying slam behind me, giving them one last chance to realize I had gone. Even through the closed door, I heard them continue to argue loudly.

Our house guest had long gone off beyond my vision. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t remember her name.

“Mercedes?” I called out.

There was no answer.

I continued to walk up the hill when my foot hit something. I looked down and saw the remnants of a hose. I bent down and pulled it out as far as it would go. The opening snaked out, getting part of my pants wet from a consistent trickle of water that came out of it.

The hose was connected to a house farther up. It was even more dilapidated than the one we’d been staying in, but it was worth checking out. I hiked up to one of the windows and tried to peer in. It was filthy and almost impossible to see through. I thought I saw movement, but wasn’t sure.

“Lupita!”

No answer.

I looked around and grabbed the body of the hose, lying on the ground and tried to lift it out as much as I could. It was heavy and unwieldy, but I managed to also screw on the spigot as far as it would go.

When I got back to the house, dragging the hose on the ground, the arguing was still going on.

“Science has proven we weren’t meant to carry so much gluten in our bodies!” Debra pressed on.

“Trade me,” Robert said. “Another night’s sleep and I’m going to be in no shape to move anywhere, much less running from my life. Again.”

“Look, you had your chance—”

Robert held up his book. “According to
Secrets of Risk Management
, knowledgeable professionals must be responsible for executing effective risk management programs by taking an objective perspective without consequences.”

We sat in silence. I tried to piece through the meaning of all those words, which felt a little like trying to drive while blindfolded.

“I guess no one can argue with that,” Debra said.

I went outside and around back where the kitchen window was. I slid the hose through it and into the sink where water collected in the sink.

When I returned back into the house, the arguing continued so I ignored the three of them and pushed past Debra to the kitchen sink.

“I think that relates—” she started.

Finally Robert noticed, because he interrupted the two of them.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he asked.

“Just everyone shut up for a moment,” I said

Weirdly enough, they did. I turned around to look, only to see him pointing past me.

“Is that what I think it is?” he asked.

“I found water,” I said. “I don’t know how clean it is, but maybe we can use it. Boil it or something. Whatever you’re supposed to do in a survivalist situation. Or in Mexico.”

“I’m sure that’s fine and well if one of us was having a baby.” Robert raised an eyebrow. “How do we know that’s safe?”

“Fair question,” I said. “Very fair. And I don’t know, but no one’s come up with any other options.”

Debra folded her arms. “Get Lupe to test it first. Just so we know it’s okay.”

“Priscilla!” I shouted. “Her name is Priscilla! I just remembered.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yes. Sort of. Ninety percent sure. Maybe eighty-five. But I know it’s closer than the names you’ve been calling her this morning.”

“You should be glad I’m not calling the ones I think in my mind,” she said.

“Oh, I am,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong on that.” I took a deep breath. “I don’t know where she is, though. She was here and then she wandered outside.”

“Did she go shopping for us?” Robert asked, looking around. “I gave her a list this morning.”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked. “She’s got family around here somewhere. She’s probably out looking for them, something we should probably all be doing. And why would you give her a list?”

Bruce was still staring at me.

“You found that?” he asked as he pointed at the hose.

I nodded.

“How long were we arguing?”

I shrugged. “I guess it really doesn’t matter.”

He stepped forward and hugged me. It felt real, it felt good, but maybe there was a hint of something else. Like duty or boyfriend obligation.

BOOK: The Girl's Guide to the Apocalypse
2.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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