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The Living Dead Girl Book One: A Grave New World

 

No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher. Doing so risks being on the wrong side of Saffron’s Irish temper, and you just plain don’t want to go there. For information regarding permission, email her at [email protected] or [email protected]. Saffron’s a big hippie and will likely give you an okies. Hardcover and paperback versions available at www.lulu.com.

Published by Soulphisticated Publishing Company. Edited by Teryn Busch. Cover artwork by Ben Gfell. Copyright 2015 by M. C. Busch. All rights reserved.

And God bless.

Special thanks to my family, who mean the world to me, even though it must often seem I live in my own private world.

Thanks to Ra’Shaan and Daja for the teenage slang tips, Summer and Spencer for bearing with me as I rambled on, working out plot details, Kyle for the Railroad Tracks, Sarah for being Sarah and everyone else who put up with my single minded obsession these past few months.

This book is dedicated to Hallie and Sydney, Hailey and Bubba, Justin and Carson and Farrah and all those other wonderful Aurora kids for brightening my weekends and inspiring me to write for teens. You guys are awesome.

 

 

A Grave New World

Chapter One:

 

Saffron lay idly on the porch swing, book in hand, not really reading so much as skimming through for useful bits of information. A book about real life survival stories, this one had several chapters dealing with the cold: a man who fractured his leg while scaling a mountain, a family whose car broke down in some remote part of the country during a blizzard… winter was coming and with no electricity for the house, Saffron would need all the tips she could find. But her heart wasn’t in it.

She had loved to read, once. Books, blogs, cereal boxes… she would devour anything she could get her hands on, fiction or non. In many ways, she preferred the people in those stories and blurbs to the people in her real life.

Back when there were people in her life.

Forcing her thoughts back to the task at hand… spare socks and gloves, she would keep those in a zip-lock bag in her knapsack once the snow started falling… her eyes were drawn to movement down the street. Shambling her way aimlessly down the road was Megan Burns. Dead Megan Burns.

Saffron wondered what had roused her. Probably a squirrel or cat. Maybe another one of the dead. Movement usually caught their attention. Sound did, too. Changing to a sitting position, Saffron stilled. If she didn’t move, dead Megan would likely walk on by, none the wiser. But Saffron had never much liked Megan. The girl was a total ratchet. Pretty, but not half as pretty as she thought she was, Megan was completely full of herself and down on anyone who wasn’t in her circle. Particularly down on Saffron, who wasn’t really in anyone’s circle.

As dead Megan grew closer, Saffron noticed that some of her neck was missing, along with a good portion of her cheek. It was an improvement. Those must be the wounds that did her in. Lazily pulling her slingshot from the back pocket of her jeans, she chose a marble, a small one, and aimed for the ratchet’s shoulder. Not her head, she didn’t want to end her, just get her attention.

Plunk!

It sunk right into the rancid flesh. Dead Megan glanced down, almost robotically, then continued her pointless march up the street.

The dead were not very bright.

Saffron got up and hopped off the porch. “Hey Megan! I’m over here!” That did the trick. The dead were not always situationally aware but they did answer when called. Dead Megan turned and made her way towards Saffron.

Her pace quickened a bit… just a bit… but it was still too slow to suit Saffron’s tastes. Rigor mortis was a pain. Hopping down, meeting dead Megan in the yard, Saffron was careful to keep a good ten feet between herself and the dead girl. She didn’t want any surprise lurches to ruin her fun. Circling once, twice, three times… Saffron darted in, giving the bigger girl a shove. When she didn’t quite fall, Saffron ran forward and shoved again. This time Megan did fall, hard, and Saffron heard a sickening crunch. Dead Megan’s legs were twisted unnaturally beneath her. Still, she tried to reach Saffron, groping… say what you want about the dead, they were no quitters.

All of a sudden, Saffron felt spent. So much for fun. Pulling the pistol from the pocket of her cargo shorts, she ended dead Megan right then and there… and half walked, half skipped her way down the road.

Chapter Two:

 

It was a bright summer day. Saffron sat, back against a tree… an Autumn Maple Blaze, her favorite… and watched those around her. She enjoyed people watching. There was a young mother, with a stroller, obviously out for some sunshine and exercise. Not that she needed it, fit and tan as she was. There was a man in a business suit, intent on his cell phone… as if the park was any place for cell phones. Corny! There were all kinds of children… running, laughing, doing childish things… that was what parks were meant for. That and a nice book. Today was a beautiful day. The park, the little kids… how she loved watching the children play…

Remembering herself, Saffron shoved her laptop into her knapsack. She would not, would not, ruin this beautiful day by surfing the web. After all, today was special. She was a woman now… and her brother Shane was going to buy her ice cream.

Honestly, it seemed Shane was always looking for excuses to buy her ice cream. “You got an ‘A’ in algebra? Let’s go get some ice cream. Today is the first day of Summer? We should go get some ice cream. You became a woman today? I’ve got an idea… why don’t we go get some ice cream?”

It was fairly endearing. Shane knew nothing about being a woman… all those talks Saffron had with elderly Mrs Blair across the hall… but still, the fact that he tried. That meant quite a bit to her. And besides, she did love ice cream.

Saffron pulled out her cell phone and immediately shoved it back into her knapsack. The park was not a place for cell phones. Instead she pulled out an Ally Carter novel. She had read all the Heist Society books, more than once, but it was only twelve thirty… several hours before Shane would get off work. He would pick her up and swirl her around until they were dizzy and then, today, he would buy her ice cream. He would muss her curly red hair and she would pretend to fix it, as if she cared how she looked when she was with him. It was their daily routine, only today, it would be with ice cream. Brother and sister, with no one to look after each other, but each other.

Saffron lay back in the sun, basking in the warmth of the sun, content in her life, content in her world. She closed her eyes. That was when the screaming began.

 

Jerking upright, Saffron took in her surroundings. The young mother was bent over a nearby jogger, her stroller upturned and forgotten, ripping and shredding a man with her teeth and nails. The corny businessman had been swarmed by three children, all of whom had seemed to turn rabid. One boy, hair not quite frizzy enough for an afro but not quite curly enough for anything else, turned and, eyes settling on Saffron, charged.

Not trying to make sense of any of this, she bolted… with her board, she could out distance anything short of an automobile or bicycle. She passed the dentists’ office, and a nurse ran out the front, chasing someone with foam pouring from his mouth. She passed the library, and someone… Shelly Poe, an older girl from school… Shelly turned from chasing some man to chasing her! She skated ahead, pushing the thoughts of what was happening behind her, behind her. If only she could get home. Nothing else mattered, nothing else registered. She had to get home.

 

 

Chapter: Three

 

Her dreams were always the same. Except sometimes, when they weren’t. This time the dream wasn’t, not really. Her father was there, and her mother, but Saffron was just a kid this time. No more than five or six. About of an age as when her parents had left her. Had died. She was keenly aware of that fact, somehow, even in the dream where her parents were with her. They had died on her. Still, they were there, and she was a child again, and she had somehow let them down. Her father held an air of disapproval, her mother one of disappointment. What else was different with the dream this time was that she understood why her parents were unhappy. Looking down, not really needing to, she knew. She had peed her pants.

She woke to that smell, rank urine, and wondered how much of the nightmare was true. Not the nightmare with her parents. The other one. The rioting, the violence, the terror… surely none of that was real. Children don’t riot. People didn’t just tear into each other, not like that… but then, why was she huddled up in a closet, in a pool of her own piss, if it wasn’t real? She wasn’t a child. Darkness showed underneath the closet door. It must be night time. Where was Shane? He should be home by now. He had to be home. He wouldn’t make her face this alone. Perhaps he kept the apartment dark so as not to attract any rioters.

Hesitantly, Saffron reached for the closet door and let it slip open. Allowing a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, she found herself alone. No Shane, but no crazy people either. That was small comfort. Where was Shane? She went to reach for her cell phone and realized, with despair, that it was still in her knapsack. Along with her laptop. In the park. She had left it behind in her panic.

And she stank of piss.

Making her way to the bathroom… one thing at a time… she undressed and washed herself. She was a woman now, not a little girl, and she would behave as such. Clean, she went to her bedroom and picked out some proper clothes; jeans and a nice tank top. Where was Shane? He wouldn’t just leave her, young woman or no, to fend for herself. Not in this. Unless… maybe there were some kids somewhere, little kids, who needed protection. Maybe he was looking after them?

Maybe.

The apartment had no… what was it called? Landline? They had no phones except for their cell phones. Shane was probably calling her right now, and her phone was useless in her knapsack, back in the park. He must be worried sick.

Pausing, composing herself, Saffron thought… I’m a woman now. Almost a teenager. What would a woman do? The last thing a woman would do would be to go running to Mrs Blair, across the hall, unless… unless it was to check on her. She was elderly, after all. She might need checking on. Saffron could call Shane while she was there and let him know she was okay. It was a plan, or the beginnings of one. It was a start. Pushing a chair over to the door, Saffron peered out the peephole.

Nothing. But she should probably grab something to protect herself, if necessary. Shane had lots of tools, most of them left over from his days as a construction worker, back before he got his job at the satellite company. Looking them over, she noticed two crow bars… one about three feet long and the other only two feet in length. That must be the woman sized one. It looked scary enough. Saffron was short, only four foot six or so, and skinny besides. She might not seem intimidating with a hammer or screw driver, but hopefully even a crazy person would think twice about attacking her if she had a crowbar.

Gingerly, she opened the door and crept across the hall, then knocked on Mrs Blair’s door. More nothing. She turned the handle, ever so slightly, and the door opened. The rest was a blur.

Mrs Blair was there, and turned to her… pale, gaunt eyes dead and clouded… and rushed forward. Saffron never would have guessed she could move so fast, not without her walker. Stumbling backwards towards her own apartment, Saffron fell on her bum. Mrs Blair fell, too, over an armchair, but still she kept on… fingers clawing, teeth gnawing at the air. Her fingers dug into Saffron’s pant leg and caught hold. Inching backwards, Saffron felt for something, anything, and when she found the dropped crowbar she struck… again, and again, and again… until she heard a sharp crack and the clawing stopped. Out of breath and with dead Mrs Blair at her foot, Saffron laid back. She laid back and screamed.

Chapter Four:

 

As her scream ended, Saffron bolted upright, looking right and left down the hall. Screaming was likely the exactly wrong thing to do at this particular moment in time. Kicking Mrs Blair’s hands out of the way, she scurried back inside her apartment and shut the door. Locking the dead bolt, Saffron pushed an armchair in front of the door for good measure. Climbing atop, she peered outside. No movement. Not a hint that anyone had heard. Where was Shane? Saffron was in so much trouble. She had killed poor Mrs Blair… not that she wanted to, but killing was killing… and she had killed someone. All she wanted was to let Shane know she was safe, that she could take care of herself. That was all. She didn’t mean to kill anyone! She was in so much trouble.

Absently reaching for her hoodie… it was in the bathroom, along with her piss soaked pants… Saffron pulled out and clutched her pepper spray. And she curled up by the couch. Like a little girl. Then she did something she hadn’t really done in years, not since she truly had been a little girl, not since she had accepted her parents’ deaths.

Saffron wept.

 

Chapter: Five

Some time later, fully cried out and tears dried, Saffron made her way to the television. She still wanted to call Shane, but that would mean crossing the hall, stepping over… no, that was not an option she was prepared to consider. Maybe something on the news would tell her what to do, or at least give her an idea of what was going on. What she saw was not, could not, be real.

There were words streaming across the bottom, a public service announcement. There was a woman interviewing a man in a lab coat. But the caption, before anything else, registered… in dark, bold letters, the caption said: ‘The Dead Walk.’

Forcing her attention to what was being said, the interview ended and the woman then went into a recitation of everything the CDC wanted the public to know. Saffron scrambled for a pen and paper. By habit, she wrote everything down if it was important. Whatever this was, the condition seemed to be contagious. Likely not air born; there had not been a single documented case of spontaneous turning since the initial outbreak. There were anecdotal reports of otherwise healthy individuals suddenly turning rabid in the beginning, but since then every new case of turning was someone who had already died or at least been injured. Transmission through bodily fluids seemed most likely. Not all those killed by the dead turned, but most did. No one knew which or why. There had been some early reports of the dead eating the living but that may have been simple hysteria. Certainly the vast majority of the dead showed no interest in anything except killing. Destroy the brain; that would put them down. The dead were fast and did not shamble or stumble about, as in some of the movies. Above all, stay at home, stay out of sight, wait for help.

The woman on TV went on to interview someone else, someone who knew this would happen all along, who knew exactly where to place the blame, and Saffron’s thoughts swirled. Dead people? Dead people didn’t move. That was just stupid. And… where was Shane? Oh my God, Shane! Bolting upright, Saffron rushed to the door. What if he came back, now, being chased by the dead, or crazy, or whatever these people were? She had blockaded the door!

Hurriedly, she pushed the arm chair back a few feet. He would need to get in quick. Sinking to her knees, tossing the apparently useless pepper spray aside, Saffron rested a moment… then went to the door and grabbed the crowbar. The blood stained, woman sized one. Whatever happened next, she would be ready. She was Irish, after all, or mostly so, and the Irish were a tough people. Settling herself, back pushed against the sofa, she waited.

 

Chapter: Six

 

Her dreams were always the same. Apparently other people dreamt at random, wild fantasies formed from whatever currently occupied their thoughts. So she understood. But not her. Saffron’s dreams were fairly consistent; she had quite the file folder of dreams stored, and for the most part, she contented herself with those. If a new one found its way into her sleep and she liked it, she would add the folder to her file. If not… into the shredder it went. But she didn’t have complete control over her dreams. Each dream she managed to keep, it was always the same. Except when it wasn’t.

This time it wasn’t.

Her father was there, and her mother, but their backs were turned. They were dead. Saffron was keenly aware of that fact, somehow, even in this dream where her parents were standing before her. They had died, long ago. Still, they were there, and she was there, and somehow she had let them down. Her father held an air of disapproval, her mother one of disappointment. And when they turned to face her, their faces were rabid and foaming…

Saffron bolted awake. How could she have fallen asleep? She was supposed to be on watch, ready to unlock the door when Shane made his way home, in case he had lost his keys. Where was he? Absently, Saffron looked upwards… towards the ceiling, off to the right, not exactly in the corner. That’s where her gaze always settled. Where was her brother?

Making her way to the kitchen, she prepared a peanut butter and marmalade sandwich. Marmalade was her favorite of all jellies. It’s not that she was hungry, but she hadn’t eaten in almost twenty-four hours now and somewhere, beneath the fear, Saffron knew that hunger must be biting at her.

Biting…

Dropping the plate, Saffron ran to the bathroom and retched. And cried. It was then that she realized that her jeans were stained with, now dried, blood. Poor Mrs Blair’s blood. Stripping them off, not bothering to gather a new pair, she crawled back to her place at the foot of the sofa. She should really turn the news back on and see what was happening. She should really make her way across the hall and try to call Shane. She should really get dressed.

Instead, she curled up at the foot of the sofa… bloody crowbar at her side… and cried.

 

 

Chapter: Seven

 

Such her days went, more or less. That evening, she managed to pull her eyes from the apartment door long enough to put on some pajama bottoms. The Frozen ones. She was a woman now, or near enough, and Elsa was there to remind her to be strong and brave. The next morning, she was hungry, despite her fear, and she ate all of the sandwich she had prepared the night before and a banana besides. Saffron continued to watch cable in hopes of information on what to do…

It seems it really wasn’t hysteria. People were now being advised to seek out refugee centers, if there was one in the area, and there was one channel that broadcast nothing but a recurring list of such, but there were also maps of the country and each state showing which areas were considered controlled and which not. Whole swathes of the country were colored red, even down into Mexico and up into Canada. There was a large red blotch covering what must have been her area for a hundred miles around.

Midway through day three, the cable went out. Not that it much mattered. She had been watching a panel discussion on the news… there was nothing but news being broadcast anymore… and the varying sides were yelling at each other. Saffron wasn’t much of one for screaming matches. She had a temper, to be sure; she was Scots-Irish, after all. But she also liked to think things through, not just shout people down.

One man was claiming this outbreak to be a weaponized version of the rabies virus, adapted for humans. Terrorists had put it in the water, he said. That would explain why some people had turned spontaneously while others did so only after having been wounded or killed. Someone else, a woman, felt that was nonsense. Terrorists might have access to the water supply, but they certainly didn’t have the scientific capability to mutate a virus. This was obviously a biological weapon created by our own government and carelessly let loose. A third member, a priest of some sort, was going on about “end times” and “Revelations” and “Hell being full” when the broadcast went out. So much for learning more about the so called “War with the Dead.”

She never made it across the hall again, she had never even turned the volume up on the television more than a whisper… afraid of the noise, afraid someone crazy or dead might hear it and come for her. Such went her the days until finally, she realized, one morning… Shane wasn’t coming back. If he was, he would have been here by now.

Saffron was alone.

She stared at the ceiling, off to the right, not quite in the corner… and cried.

 

Chapter: Eight

 

Saffron looked at the door to the apartment. She could do this. She was a woman now, intelligent and levelheaded, independent and brave besides. She could do this.

She had forced herself to peak out the window to her balcony. What she saw made her run back to the bathroom and puke again, but she did it, and it was clear that the streets were not an option. There was a good view of the road going both ways and quite a few dead people were wandering about, aimlessly. Aimless for now. She had no doubt they would find a purpose if she let herself be seen,

That was fine. Out behind the apartment building were some railway tracks, bordered on the other side by a small woods. Saffron didn’t like the idea of walking in the woods. She didn’t suppose dead people would have much call to go into a forest, but she didn’t know, and each tree could hide a threat. Hopefully, following the tracks, which were lower than street level, she could avoid being seen.

Where she would go, she was uncertain. North led to farm country. An isolated farm might have people there, people who could help her. But then, it also might have dead people. Farmers generally stayed home all day, to farm, and the idea of walking into a farm house with half a dozen or more of the dead and with nowhere to run for miles… that did not seem like a good plan. It was also quite a long walk, and she might not even get to a farm before dark.

Perhaps it would be better to look for a house on the outskirts of town. There might be one sheltering people who managed to make it home safe, or who had been at home when the killing began. Perhaps there was an abandoned house Saffron could take refuge in. She decided that was probably the best option. A house with no cars might be the safest choice. Then, she could keep a look out for any sign of living people in the nearby houses, people who might take her in.

There were preparations to make. She needed supplies. She went about gathering. First, her clothes… A pair of jeans and two pairs of cargo shorts, two tank tops and two polos, white and black, olive and plaid… an aqua colored training bra and a black one, not that she actually needed them yet, but Shane had bought them for her, so she wanted them. A couple extra pairs of socks and underwear and her new collection of feminine products. A few Luna bars and some packages of almonds to eat. Her reading glasses. Some small electronics, including the universal charger for her cell phone and iPod. There was a flashlight, two screwdrivers… one flathead, one not… a couple match books, her pepper spray and keys, several bottles of water and some Crystal Light packets. She chose three books from her bookcase… only three, as much as it pained her, but this would be a long walk and she had quite a bit to carry. She chose Esperanza Rising, Perfect Scoundrels and Ask the Passengers. She would have chosen Heist Society, but that was back in the park, back with her knapsack, back where… no, she wouldn’t think about the park.

She chose a few other essentials, a few other odds and ends she wanted to keep or thought might be useful. Then, along with the rope ladder Shane had bought her in case of a building fire, she stuffed the lot into one of her old knapsacks.

Considering, she went back into the kitchen and made a couple sandwiches, for good measure. She might get lost or it might take her more than one day to find a safe place. The thought of spending a night outside with those things almost made her reconsider leaving altogether, but at least she would be prepared.

It would have to do.

Next, she gathered up all the photo albums and pictures of her family and pulled them out of their frames. Carefully, she separated all the pictures of their parents into two even piles. Then she took all the pictures of Shane alone, and put them in the left pile, while putting all the pictures of only her in the right. Walking to the kitchen, she found two large zip lock bags and put one stack of pictures in each. Keeping the stack with pictures of Shane for herself, she taped the other bag to the door of the refrigerator. If Shane ever did make it back home, he would want them for sure.

That was last night. This morning… she stared at the apartment door, wide eyed with fear. But she could do this. She had to.

 

Chapter: Nine

 

Saffron peered out the peep hole and saw nothing. She hadn’t heard anything, either, not since that dreadful first day, but still she meant to be careful. Quietly opening the door, she peeked both ways. Still nothing. She hopped over Mrs Blair and scanned the hall again. Once again nothing stirred. Not even Mrs Blair.

Poor Mrs Blair.

Saffron couldn’t leave her, not like this. She had done so much for Saffron and Shane. Steeling herself, she took the slight woman by the ankles and dragged her back inside the apartment. Closing the door and locking it, she relaxed a bit. Just a bit. Her own door she had left open. If anyone came to the building seeking shelter or fleeing the dead, they would need a safe place to hole up and probably some food. She didn’t think anyone would bother the pictures she left duct taped to the fridge. Why would they interest anyone but Shane? But they would have safety and shelter and food. For a little while, at least.

It was the most Saffron could offer.

Making her way to the bedroom, she found the linen closet and picked out a nice flowered sheet to drape over poor Mrs Blair’s body. Saying a little prayer, she looked up at the ceiling, off to the right, not quite in the corner, and she asked God to look after Mrs Blair’s soul.

Shane didn’t quite understand some of Saffron’s notions, considered them queer, but he accepted them. In those days, when she was tiny, and her parents left her… Saffron looked to the ceiling. Off to the right, not quite in the corner. That was where God was, up there somewhere. It was silly. She knew that now. Saffron was no child. But still, she had to look somewhere for answers. And that was where she had always looked back then, alone in her room, late at night, when she spoke to God. Up at the ceiling, off to the right, not quite in the corner.

Not that she had ever received an answer, but she understood. God was busy.

Saffron found the phone and took a moment to try calling Shane. Nothing. She then called the police, and the fire department, and again… nothing, and nothing. So she began her search of the apartment for anything useful.

Most of all, she wanted a weapon of some sort, something better than Shane’s crowbar. Saffron was short, no more than four and a half feet tall. Most of the girls in her class were at least five foot. If one of the dead came after her, a tall one, she wasn’t sure she could even reach their head, let alone break it. The crowbar was better than nothing, but…

The kitchen held little of interest to her, except a drawer with some extra batteries and a spare flashlight. The closets, on the other hand, were stuffed to overflowing with boxes. It didn’t take long to realize they were boxes full of memories. There were boxes of old photos, one filled with letters... in another, she found a gun and a badge along with some plaques and awards. She didn’t know if the gun had bullets in it or not and she didn’t know how to check. Shane was entirely opposed to a gun in the apartment, even if Saffron was a woman now. She looked it over carefully. There was a little latch, above which was written F <- press -> S. She moved the latch from S to F. A little red bit became visible beneath. She moved it back. S must mean Safe. She still didn’t know how to check for bullets, but at least she knew she wouldn’t accidently shoot herself if it was set to safe. She stuffed the gun in her knapsack and continued her search.

There were more boxes, these containing toys and crayon drawings and childhood essays… from the grandkids, maybe. Passing over the Spider Man dolls and clay ashtrays and bags of marbles and dice, Saffron found a slingshot. She had been a pretty good shot in gym class, when they did archery. Long sighted as she was, she did have an eye for distances. Her eyes went back to the marbles. Saffron didn’t know if a marble could crack a skull, but she was pretty sure it could break teeth. A small target, to be sure, but if you had to kill the brain, aiming for the mouth might be her best option. That, or shattering a knee cap and crippling the dead so that she had time to get away. She stuffed the sling shot in her back pocket, along with some of the marbles in her front and stuffed the rest in her bag.

Her search was done. Now was the difficult part.

 

Chapter: Ten

 

Making her way to the balcony, Saffron peered out. Nothing. No dead bodies, no dead people… If she didn’t know better, it would have seemed a nice summer morning. But she did know better. And there was one more danger, one more unknown factor, before the countless she faced after, and that made her heart freeze.

There was the apartment below.

If one of the dead was there, if she was spotted through the glass patio door, it could ruin everything. Saffron might scurry back up the rope ladder, but she would be trapped again, and she couldn’t hide forever. It was a chance she had to take. Breath held, she lowered the rope ladder and, after a moment, descended.

Nothing. No crashing of glass as a dead person came ripping at her. Her Irish was with her. In this, at least.

That was good.

Scanning her surroundings, scouring for threats, Saffron ran for the railway tracks. To the other side were some woods, and she still couldn’t imagine why a dead person would want to go into the woods, but she wasn’t about to let her guard down. Painfully making her way down the rocks… they tumbled and fell no matter how carefully she stepped… she balanced herself on a rail and set to moving forward, as quickly as she could without losing her place on the rail. She could do this.

She could.

 

Chapter: Eleven

Saffron thought she was making good time, but her heart raced. Her mind raced. Her feet raced, or so she imagined. Eyes darting constantly, from the woods to the street side to up ahead, nothing moved, for quite a while it seemed. Until something did.

There was a factory or warehouse before her. Something big. And it had a parking lot out back. But what made Saffron freeze was the dead man pacing through the cars. If she continued on her course, she would be seen, to be sure. She wasn’t certain she could kill a full grown dead person, not one who wasn’t elderly and frail. Her mind raced for other options.

She could hide. In the woods. Where any tree might hide one of the dead, however unlikely that might seem. She could turn back, and… what? Go hide in her apartment until the food ran out? Or maybe, she could… maybe she could create a distraction. She had seen that in movies, with live people. Throw a stone into the bushes and then run the other way. Maybe dead people could be fooled, as well.

Taking the sling shot from her pocket, she chose a marble. A small one. She aimed for the mirror on the side of a car near the dead guy. Perhaps the noise would distract him long enough for Saffron to sneak past. Pulling back, she aimed, and…

Snap!

She missed, by quite a bit, really, but she cracked the window and the sound was enough to drawn the dead guy’s attention. He turned and made his way towards the car.

Saffron ran, or near as much as she could while maintaining her balance, and made it half way, more even, before the alarm sounded.

The dead man had apparently jostled the vehicle and set off the car alarm. Saffron froze. Scanning her surroundings, terrified, she found no new threat. The dead man seemed intent on the empty, if loud, vehicle. Several more of the dead were headed towards it as well, from out of nowhere… but no one seemed to be looking towards the railway tracks. Hopping down off the rail, Saffron took to the stones and full out ran.

 

Chapter: Twelve

 

Reaching the outskirts of the city, Saffron paused long enough to take a deep breath. The easy part was done. As if any of this was easy. But she was almost a teenager now and a young woman besides. If life wasn’t easy, you made yourself hard. If life gave you lemons, you didn’t make lemonade… you ate the bloody lemons and thanked God if they weren’t manky. That was what Shane had taught her, that was the Irish way. Sometimes she wondered if her brother made these things up, just to get her to laugh. Still, she learned the truth of it as a child. When life was difficult, you made do. She understood that from the day her parents were gone.

She had planned it out, the night before. She would find a house, uninhabited if possible, and go from there. Her first thought was to check the driveways and garages… a house without cars was likely a house without people. People who might be dead. But then, checking the driveways meant walking the streets, and that was not a thought she relished. Instead, she chose a house, not quite at random, with a large back yard and easy distance from the railway tracks. She had to pass two houses before she found one promising.

There was a play house in the back yard, fairy princess style. There was an attached garage, which offered her no information. But, on careful look, there was a ground floor window, mostly closed but with a few inches gap left open. That was her chance.

It was a small town; no one really feared burglars. They locked their doors to be sure, that was a given. However, in the heat of summer, many people left a window or two open. At least a bit, to keep the house from getting stuffy. And that was all Saffron needed.

Carefully approaching the house, Saffron peaked inside the window. It was a study of some sort, or home office. More significantly, no one was inside. Even better, the door was closed.

She fished through her knapsack and pulled out her pocket knife. Then she quietly cut away as much of the screen as she could from her angle. Reaching inside, gritting her teeth as the jagged edge of the screen scratched her arm, she reached up and found the latch to release the window. Pushing the screen in, she raised the window and hopped inside. Tensing for a moment, half expecting a dead person to pop out of thin air and come for her, she waited. And listened.

Nothing.

Saffron carefully made her way over to the door to the study and locked it. Then she made her way back to the window and closed it, halfway; still open enough she could get through if she needed a quick escape, but not so open a space that one of the dead could likely manage it in any haste. She was safe again, for the moment, and her heart calmed a little for the first time since she had left the apartment. But only a little.

Quickly and quietly, she searched the room for anything that might be of immediate use. For instance, a loaded shotgun and an instruction pamphlet on how it worked. That was Shane, in her head. No such luck, she thought wryly. Then… wry was a word, wasn’t it? She would have to look that up later.

There was a computer and scanner, pens and paper and family pictures, some weird pretty smooth stone sitting off to the side of the desk and an empty coffee cup, World’s Greatest Dad style, next to it. Some furniture and a large book shelf filled with hardcover books. Not much else interesting.

This was the moment.

Hesitantly moving to the locked study door, Saffron paused. Then she knocked, softly. Then more loudly. After clearing her throat, she asked “Is anybody home?” And she waited.

It was simple, she thought. If anyone had holed up here, anyone alive, they would at least be intrigued by the voice of a young woman in their study. They would make inquiries, let her speak, she at least would have a chance. Small as she was, people often thought Saffron was younger than her real age and she did well at playing the child, if she needed to get her way with strangers. Shane never fell for her childish act. He, of course, knew how old she was, though he used it as an excuse to spoil her as often as he could. If there was nothing in the house but the dead… they would try to get at her, try to kill her, but the door was locked, and she had an exit. She had to make herself known. It was better to deal with unpleasant realities than wager on hoped for uncertainties.

But then, who could say what reality meant, when dead people walked? Who could define certainty? Who said now was an appropriate time to pontificate? That last one was Shane, too, in her head. She hoped Shane was safe somewhere.

Saffron knocked louder, asked louder, “Is anybody home? I want to come in. You should tell me if you don’t want that.”

More silence.

She still had to be careful. If someone was asleep upstairs, they might not have heard her, and she didn’t want to be mistaken for the dead or a thief and shot. For that matter, she didn’t know if the dead could open doors. There was no logical reason why dying would make you forget how a door handle worked. They certainly could try to break into things, she had seen them pound at car windows on that terrible race home the first day.

Looking around, she found speakers plugged into the computer and brought them to the door. Considering, she went back to the desk, found some paper, and wrote a note to tape to the top. It read: “Don’t be scared, I won’t hurt you, I’m just looking for a place to be safe.” Then she carefully, quietly peeked out the office door.

The living room was empty. Tiptoeing, she put the speakers as far out into the living room as she could with the attachments still able to reach under the door. Plugging the USB power cord into her backup cell phone charger and the speakers into her iPod, she locked the door again and played a song. Not for long, but loud enough that anyone in the house, living or otherwise, should be able to hear it. Then she listened.

Nothing but silence.

Heartened, Saffron peeked out the door, then stepped into the living room.

 

Chapter: Fourteen

The living room was immaculated. That was a word, she was sure. She had heard it used, somewhere. Whatever the case, everything was clean and in its proper place and no dead were leaping out of the corners to kill her. Nothing was splattered with blood. Saffron took that as a sign that her Irish held. There were still rooms to check, a second floor and maybe an attic and basement, the attached garage, but… why would someone be in an attic or basement when they died? That made no sense. She grew hopeful. But still, she would be careful.

Her plan was simple. Go to each door, knock and run away, and then if everything was quiet she would open the door. She would start with the doors nearest the study and make sure she had a clear path to the window if she needed it. And she would keep Shane’s woman sized crowbar in hand, just in case. Her own knapsack, she left by the half open window.

The kitchen was empty. There was a doorway to the basement, but no door… turning on the light should be enough, but as a precaution she also carefully made her way down the steps and she found the basement empty, as well. Also the closet by the front door. The attached garage was perhaps her biggest worry. The walls were probably thicker there and her iPod likely wouldn’t have been heard. There was a car, some tools, some cleaning supplies, but not much else. Making her way upstairs, she found all the bedrooms and closets to be empty. One of them, a Sophia themed bedroom, had obviously housed a young girl. Saffron cringed a bit, and almost cried, but she had no space left for crying. The girl was probably at daycare when the world went rotten, and Shane was probably protecting her now. That was why he had never come home; Shane was protecting little kids.

He must be.

Then she heard it. Scratching. Only, she couldn’t tell from where. The hallway, it seemed, only the hallway was empty. Moving back out of the room, she looked around, puzzled. Maybe there were rats in the walls? Suddenly…

Saffron fell sideways, barely in time, and a little dead girl came tumbling from the ceiling. There was a crawlspace of an attic, similar to the one in Saffron’s apartment only with a rope ladder, and apparently the girl had hidden up there. She heard a sharp crack as the girl’s legs bent in unnatural ways, but still the girl clawed her was across the floor and Saffron had to scramble back to keep out of reach. She raced down the stairs and meant for the window, but… she paused. This place was too perfect. There was a back door by the kitchen, so she could enter and leave relatively safely. There was an enclosed front porch, so the dead wouldn’t likely notice any motion inside the house. And she had cleared it, or near as much. She didn’t want to have to start all over from scratch, to do that again. The next house might have a dead person who wasn’t hidden in a crawl space. It might have one that could run. All that raced through Saffron’s mind as she paused momentarily inside the study door.

Turning, she noticed the dead girl had made her way to the stairs. She tumbled down in a sickening way, then started inching towards Saffron again. Inching. This… corpse… was no threat, not really. Saffron even felt sorry for her.

Moving towards the kitchen, she peered out the window. The back yard was as empty as when she first arrived. Waiting, crowbar in hand, Saffron let the little dead girl make her way across the kitchen floor. Then she opened the door and led the girl outside.

As it made its way out back, Saffron turned and bolted for the open window to the study. Waiting long enough to see that she was being followed, she shimmied back inside and shut the window. Then she ran back to the kitchen and, quietly, shut and locked the door.

That was that. She was safe. For now.

 

Chapter: Fifteen

 

It had been a long, stressful day and Saffron decided she should eat something. Scanning the contents of the refrigerator, she settled on a tomato and Swiss cheese sandwich. Swiss was her favorite of all cheeses. The bread was flimsy crap, some grocery store brand, but she was hungry enough that she ate it all and made another besides. As she ate, she pondered what to do next.

Most importantly, she needed to search the house for anything that might be useful. Saffron hoped to stay here, but if she needed to leave quickly she wanted at least to have as much in the way of good supplies as possible. She needed to cover the windows from prying dead eyes. And she wanted to prepare some kind of barricades for the doors and windows. There were book shelves and chairs and a sectional sofa. Maybe she could arrange the furniture in such a way that she could block off the entrances quickly, if need be, in case the dead bolts on the doors were not enough. Those were her priorities, and a hundred things more. Realizing her plate held nothing left but crumbs, she set to work. She had a plan.

She wanted to secure the back door, but keep it accessible, because that would be her main point of entry or exit. She pushed the living room coffee table in front of it. The door opened outward, and if some dead person managed to break their way in, at least they would have to stumble to get inside. Time was precious and Saffron intended to make use of every second she had. She barricaded some of the windows with bookshelves. There were two bookshelves in the living room… the ones in the study were built into the wall… and it was a process to empty the books so the shelves weren’t too heavy for Saffron to move, but she managed. The other windows she draped in heavy blankets, so the dead couldn’t see in. The front door itself, she blocked with a section of the couch. She never intended to use that exit anyway, not with the dead in the street.

There were other precautions, other traps, other things to give Saffron those extra seconds that could mean life and death, that she set as well. Glassware on the bookshelves and wind chimes in front of the veiled windows, things that would rattle and make noise to warn her if someone was trying to get inside. She felt prepared. Frightened still, but prepared. And exhausted. She lay down, on the partial sofa, and stared at the front door until she fell asleep.

Chapter: Sixteen

 

Two days later, Saffron felt somewhat settled in. She had collected all the tools, hammers and screwdrivers and staple guns and whatnot, and put them in two piles on the kitchen floor… one with anything that seemed weapony and the other with the rest. All the electronics she could find, she placed in the living room, by the couch. The rest she left much as it was, although she put her peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches in the refrigerator and stuffed her knapsack to over flowing with traveling food, just in case. And the books? Oh my God, the books in this house…

Not only were the bookcases in the study a gold mine, but there were others, besides… in the Sophia room, the adult bedroom… she collected all of the most important in one pile next to an arm chair. Most of the little girl’s books were too young for Saffron, but there were a couple that brought fond memories of her mother reading to her when she was a child. There was the Missing Piece Meets the Big O and The Lamb and the Butterfly. There was The Princess Knight and The Giving Tree. That last one was her favorite. It was a sad book, and Shane had read it to her often when she was young. She always felt sorry for the tree. She had cried a lot that first year after her parents had left her. Sometimes if felt good to cry over something else.

There were also how-to books on fixing up homes, and on amateur plumbing and electrical work. There were books on cooking and gardening. There was one on simple science projects and one on how to knit sweaters and one on basic first aid procedures. There was even one on pickling. These were survival books!

Saffron wanted to read them all. That photo guide to home repair. Maybe it could teach her how to make the house more safe. That seemed a good place to start…

 

Chapter: Seventeen

 

Breakfast the next morning was Special K and sliced bananas. Special K was her favorite cereal, after Fruity Pebbles. Pondering her options as she let her cereal sit and get properly soggy, Saffron struggled with what to do next. She was safe, now, but for how long? She didn’t enjoy being cooped up in someone else’s house. She didn’t like not knowing what tomorrow would bring. She needed a goal, a plan, something… she couldn’t just wait… so, instead, she decided to investigate. That was something. Her food stores wouldn’t last forever. At some point, she would need more. She would have to form a plan.

One of the upstairs bedrooms, the adult one, had a clear view of the street. Not much ever moved, certainly nothing alive, but there were a few dead people here and there, slumped against a tree or lying in a yard. One stood, randomly, on the porch of a house, gently swaying. She imagined that one would want to kill her if she was found out, but the others? She had no way to tell if they were completely dead. Did the dead sleep?

There was also the little dead girl out back. She had stopped trying to claw her way up the side of the house to the study window, but Saffron did not doubt she would start again if any loud noises were made in the house. She supposed she had to find a way to deal with her. Only… it was just a little girl. A little dead girl, but the idea of bashing her head in? Saffron just couldn’t bring herself to do that. Still, the day would come when she needed to leave the house to get more food. She couldn’t have dead girls clawing at her when she did.

Tears welled up in her eyes. She forced them back. Remembering back to the car alarm by the railway tracks, an idea formed. Sound drew the dead. Maybe the little dead girl would crawl her way out into the street if there was enough sound. Maybe Saffron could figure out how many other of these dead people were not quite completely dead. It was worth a shot.

And which house to search? She wasn’t sure about the ones across the street, but the house to the right of hers was certainly out of the question. She had been shooting Lego blocks at the windows of any house she could hit with her slingshot and that was the only one where she was certain she caught the attention of a dead person. The house to her left was more promising, if only slightly. There was a window on the second floor that was, not only open, but near a tree Saffron thought she could climb. If only she could be certain the dead on the ground wouldn’t notice her.

She had a goal. Now she needed a plan.

 

 

Chapter: Eighteen

 

If Saffron could reach the window and it was indeed safe, as it seemed to be, she could search the house much as she had this one. More safely, even. It wasn’t likely that little dead girls were going to fall from the ceiling on her again. Getting to the window was key.

She gathered up a teddy bear from the Sophia room and tied it to some string she had found along with the tools. Going to the grown up bedroom, she opened the window and tossed the bear as far out into the street as she could, near a dead guy slumped against a car. It caught his attention and he stood. Then she started pulling the bear, slowly, back to the house. Losing interest, the dead guy started wandering off.

Saffron pulled out her notebook. This was important. The dead didn’t want things. Not teddy bears, at least. Nor were they clever enough to follow the string up to her window. Her plan was forming.

Bear safely back in hand, Saffron found some duct tape and taped a small MP3 player to the front of the toy. Then she found some small speakers, penguin ones from the princess room, and taped them to the back. Then she went to the bathroom. There was a window there, one much closer to the neighboring house to the right. She set the MP3 player to a play list… she thought 90 minutes or so would do… and turned up the volume as loud as it would go. Hurling the teddy bear across the way, onto the roof of the porch of the house next door, she rushed back to the adult room and waited.

Slowly but surely all the dead lying in the yards or slumped against trees got up and made their way towards the house next door. One more came from behind a house a little up the road and the one who had wandered off, wandered back. Most stood there, vaguely looking around for the cause of the noise, and one was on the porch. From her angle, she couldn’t see well, but she thought it tried to open the door. She wrote that down for further reflection. Finally, even the little dead girl was crawling towards the music.

Saffron had her chance.

Running to the back door, sling shot stuffed in her back pocket and a hammer tucked into her belt, she made her way out back and around to the tree next to the other house. Carefully making her way up, she peered into the window and indeed, it was empty. She tossed some marbles in just to make sure.

Nothing.

Climbing inside, there was one immediate concern… the closet. She had hidden in a closet. Collecting her marbles, she asked quietly if anyone was there. No answer. She took the hammer out and gently opened the closet door.

Nothing.

The rest was a matter of repeating what she had done in the other house. She knocked on the bedroom door and asked if anyone was in there. She repeated the thing she had with the speakers, only this time with a voice recorder she had found in the desk. If noise drew the dead and the dead wanted to kill people, perhaps voices would be more tempting than music. She checked each room and each closet and each door, only this time she had made an improvement to her plan. She would make a methodical search of the house… only, before each new door she opened, she would leave an obstacle. A bench or footstool or over turned chair. The closet doors opened outwards, so she would knock first, then open it a crack and jump back over her trap. If a dead person came after her, it would stumble and she would have time to get away. The dead seemed to be quite clumsy, in her experience. Doors that opened inward would be a room of some sort, so she would push them open before hopping back. Saffron was proud of her innovation and felt hopeful. The noise she made so far had not caused a stir and if the dead really could open doors, they would have come after her by now. And in truth, the house was empty, every bit of it, at least regarding people, live or dead.

Time was running out, though. She had left herself enough time to check the house, but a good search for useful things would take hours. Scanning the back yard, deeming it safe, she opened a back door and, leaving it unlocked, hurried back to her own place. When the play list ended, she waited a bit until the dead lost interest, then pulled the string that would bring the teddy bear and MP3 player back up to her window.

Her plan had worked.

 

Chapter: Nineteen

 

The next morning, Saffron emptied her knapsack of all but the most necessary of items and peered outside to scan the streets. All of the dead she remembered from the day before were still there, a couple more even than before her distraction, but they were basically congregated in the street before or on the porch of the house to her right. Nine dead people out front was not a good thing, but it was better than five dead people out front and four more somewhere nearby that she didn’t know about. Gathering her things, Saffron went to search the empty house to the left.

From the pictures on the walls, it seemed to belong to a couple in their fifties. One family picture showed the two with a couple that could be one of their children and a spouse, along with two grandchildren. Saffron frowned. The kids were her own age and she knew them, Emily and John-John Robbins. Maybe they were okay, maybe the family was out camping when the world changed and they were somehow safe. There was no blood here and, from the looks of things, Grandpa Robbins enjoyed the outdoors. She hoped that was the case.

The furnished basement was a rec-room of sorts, long out of use and filled with old camping equipment, fishing gear, the like. There was an old arm chair and boxes of old magazines… magazines about hunting and fishing, camping… guns and ammo. Saffron snapped all those last ones up; maybe one of them would teach her how to see if the gun she had stowed back at her new house had bullets in it. She searched around and found some binoculars and a weird metal water bottle that she supposed might come in handy. There was also a long case of some sort. She didn’t know what it held, but it was locked and she didn’t have the key, so she set it aside.

Overall, the contents of the house did not differ much from her own. Not that it was her house, not truly, but she didn’t know the people who had lived there and she had to call her… safe place… something. Shane would probably call it her “base of operations” but that was guy talk and silly besides. For now, it would be her house.

She gathered together all the batteries she could find and then, on impulse, all the medicine and bandages and things of that sort. She didn’t know what most of them were used for, but she still had her first aid book to study. In the kitchen were a variety of canned and packaged products, boxes of cereal and jars of preserves and all sorts of other things, but space in her knapsack was limited, so she carefully chose some fruits from the counter and some cheese from the refrigerator.

There was one last place she needed to search. The last place she wanted to search. The guest room reserved for the grandkids.

She barely knew John-John, who was a couple years younger, and wasn’t close to Emily, but she went to school with them. She prayed they were okay. Whatever stuff that was left here, though, it was extra stuff, and surely they wouldn’t mind her borrowing something if she needed it. There was an iPod, a small one, with some headphones. There were a few books… silly ones like Twilight and even sillier ones about mermaids, but there was also the first Heist Society novel. Saffron had lost that book with her other knapsack back in the park, and it was one of her favorites. She snatched it up with a few of the other, sillier ones. She did so love her books and with no library and no Amazon she would have to make do. She also gathered some of Emily’s clothes that she thought might more or less fit and made her way home.

Not home. Not her house. The house. Dropping her knapsack next to the end table, Saffron pulled out a couple lemons and limes. Then she wandered off to the kitchen to make a nice lemon-limade to drink with her lunch.

 

Chapter: Twenty

 

Saffron wasn’t certain how long she lounged on the couch, reviewing her books, but it was still daylight. She had been scared, so scared, the whole time she had spent investigating the neighboring house the day before. Now she was lounging on a couch. She was hungry again, very hungry, but somehow she felt no desire to eat. Instead, she lay back on the couch and closed her eyes. She had decisions to make.

There was quite a bit she wanted from the neighboring house. She could easily double her food stores and it might be weeks before the anyone came to save her. Minnesota was a big state and her own town was fairly small and remote. It might even take a month before the army got this whole dead people thing under control. There were the books next door; she wanted all of those. There were larger electronics, speakers and computers and the like, tools and cleaning supplies and things like toilet paper and tissue. Saffron couldn’t begin to imagine how many trips it might take to move all that over to this house. Every time she stepped out the door, she risked her life. She knew that. But the more stuff she had here, the less often she would have to leave.

On the other hand, it was easy to get from the one house to the other, quickly and without too much fuss. She had her teddy bear iPod to keep the dead people distracted. Why bother to move anything at all? If she imagined this house as hers, it was a simple matter to move the imaginary property line and include the other house in her possession, as well. Rearranging the furniture there, as she had here, she could have two safe places instead of one. And if somehow the dead became aware of her presence and managed to break in, she would have somewhere to run to nearby.

Although, really, a safe house located directly next to a house overrun by the dead could not exactly be considered safe. Clearing another house, one further away, might be a good idea. Not a task she was eager to undertake, Saffron frowned. Her method of clearing houses was a good one, she thought. A few improvements had come to mind, in fact, and she didn’t really think the clearing itself would be too hazardous. Even the walk through the back yards should be manageable. What made her hesitant, what tied her stomach in knots, really, was the thought of Emily and John-John. What if she came across another house that belonged to one of her school friends, this time filled with blood or, worse, not quite dead friends. What if she found another little girl, holed up in a crawlspace or closet, so scared she couldn’t bring herself to come out, so terrified she had starved herself to death? What if…

Oh my God! What if one of the houses did have a little girl, or boy, hiding somewhere… so full of fear they could barely move, barely eat, crying themselves to sleep each night… like Saffron had those first terrible days? Tears came to her eyes. Her heart sank. Here she was, casually weighing the benefits of scouting out a third safe house when she already had two, and there could be kids out there, little kids, who needed her. ‘May the hand of a friend always be near you.’ She meant to be that hand, if she could. That was the Irish way, it was what Shane had taught her. It was then that she knew, with a certainty, what her next move would be. She would search all the houses in the neighborhood, in case there was a little boy or girl who needed to be rescued.

 

Chapter: Twenty One

 

Settling down in front of the couch with a late afternoon snack of pretzel sticks and a glass of milk flavored with creme de menthe, Saffron went over her plan. Using the back yards, she would make her way down the street, one house at a time, mapping as she went. She would do what she could with her slingshot and Legos to get the attention of anyone upstairs, check as many of the lower windows as she could, and clear the houses she was able to enter. If she found anyone alive, anyone who needed help, she could escort them back to… it kind of made sense now… back to her “base of operations.” Groaning at her use of the term, inwardly the thought of Shane brought her hope and confidence. She could do this. She could.

Dinner that night was steamed cauliflower in a garlic butter sauce over a bed of wild rice pilaf. She imagined a fancy waitress in a white suit offering her a glass of wine. Really it was just grape juice in a wine glass, along with a box of Uncle Ben’s and some steamed cauliflower sautéed in butter with a sliced clove of garlic. Saffron knew how to cook. She often cooked for Shane and she preferred the simpler recipes to the fanciful ones. Sometimes she wondered how many fancy restaurants managed to get away with using simple recipes, only adding a few unnecessary ingredients in the name of complexity so their patrons could pretend to notice the hint of lemon in the garlic butter. Well, she used to wonder that. Now she wondered if there even were fancy restaurants anymore. Regardless, after countless days of sandwiches and cold cereal, this hot meal tasted heavenly.

Pushing aside any guilt she might feel at the extravagance… tomorrow would be a long day and she needed something hearty to give her strength… she reviewed her preparations as she ate. She would need to travel light. A few Luna bars and two bottles of water. The voice recorder and the teddy bear iPod. A big roll of string, a bag of Legos, a couple of empty cans… she might need to create a small distraction and a thrown can, followed by a slingshot Lego, would make enough noise to attract attention but not so much that the whole block would hear… a few other odds and ends. And, of course, plenty of marbles.

Perhaps most important were the cans of spray paint she meant to pick up from the attached garage of the house next door. Try as she might, Saffron imagined she could only check so many houses per day… if actually clearing them, likely no more than two. That part was stressful and she couldn’t afford to let her guard down. Time was a factor. And if someone from the city managed to make it into the town, perhaps following the railway tracks as she had, she wanted them to know where they could be safe. For those houses she knew were safe, she would spray paint the word “Safe” on the front and back doors. For those she knew to have dead inside, she would spray paint “Not Safe” on the front and back, or as close as she could get. In a way, it was vandalism, but she was also taking the things she wanted from other people’s houses and that was theft. She wondered what Shane would think if he knew. He would probably say she was acting the flute; the rules were different now.

It was a good plan, she thought. Tidying up, making her trip to the bathroom and finally putting on her pajamas… her Elsa ones, to remind her she was a strong and confident woman, Saffron lay down in bed. The little dead girls bed. Her eyes started to glisten, but she fought back the tears and gazed up at the ceiling, off to the right, not quite in the corner… there was no time for tears, and she could do this. She could.

Chapter: Twenty Two

 

Day one went pretty well. She managed to clear two houses and check three more she was unable to enter by rapping on the lower windows and shooting Legos at the upper. She found no one, living or dead. Day two went well also, and that night she added a new innovation to her procedure. Honestly, she felt kind of silly for not thinking of this before. If her teddy bear iPod was able to draw the little dead girl out to the street, why not drawn all of the dead in the street out back once she had cleared the houses? Traveling the streets would be much safer than the back yards and, with her board, if she did need to flee she could make much quicker time skating than running. It was more efficient also. Her original plan was to go down one side of the street and circle back around the other. But, if the house fronts and the road itself was clear, anyone alive across the street could safely make themselves known to her. She would still check all those houses eventually, there could be a child too scared to even look out the window, but first she would finish checking this side of the street in the other direction.

Day three brought a further innovation made possible by day two’s change. Unless the sky was clear and there was a bright moon, most of the back yards were extremely dark at night. The street, however, remained fairly well lit. She had expected the power to go out long ago, but it held. Pondering, Saffron imagined that power plants might be tempting targets for terrorists and would therefore have good security. High fences, strong doors… she didn’t know where exactly in Minnesota her electricity came from, but perhaps the army had set up a base there, to keep the grid up. It seemed logical enough to her.

Regardless, the street lamps came on every evening, as usual. And that meant she could see her way down the street. It would be much easier for Saffron to sneak around and hide from the dead after dark than it was during the day. Unless, of course, being dead gave you some magical night vision. She would have to test the theory, of course, so that night she prepared herself, dressing in as much dark as she could, including a black mock turtle neck and some dark blue jeans. Imagining herself as Katarina from Heist Society, she left her knapsack behind and head back towards the houses she had already scouted.

Day one had been easy. Most of the houses were within easy hearing distance of her own and the dead had already been lured up the street. There was one guy, however, Addie Carver’s father, if she wasn’t mistaken, wandering aimlessly in the street. Perhaps she could use him to check her theory. Coming as close as she dared, Saffron darted behind a cleared house and used her flashlight to check the back yard. Safe. Then she circled around, carefully, and made her way through the shadows up the other side.

He wasn’t looking directly at her, but she was clearly in Mr Carver’s field of vision. He didn’t see her. To be sure, she waved her hand back and forth. Still, nothing. One more test. Saffron pulled a light bulb, a small one, from her shorts pocket and threw it into the street. That did the trick. It broke with a pop and Mister Carver immediately turned and moved in that direction. Theory proven, Saffron head for the house.

Settling down for a dinner of fried peppers and onions, she considered her new innovation. Saffron could move about now, much more easily, hiding in shadows instead of trying to go unnoticed in broad daylight. Of course, she would not try to clear a house after dark, not unless it had all the lights on, and that was unlikely. But still, she could use the cover of night to transport those things she felt important to her home. Batteries, small electronics, important books and perishable food items, medicines. It was perfect.

Day four, she found the first of the cats. Emaciated and weak as it looked, she wondered how the poor thing had managed to survive this long without food or water, until she noticed that the toilet was half dry. Still, the thing must be starving. It was a risk, but she didn’t even finish clearing the house before opening the fridge and tearing up a piece of fried chicken for the poor little thing. Eating with a vengeance, the chicken was puked back up before Saffron could even fill a water bowl. She tore up another piece of chicken and poured out some dry food besides.

What was she to do about the cats? There would be more, and she couldn’t just take them all home. There could be dozens of them. Finding food would be a nightmare. She settled on opening a window and maybe putting up some sort of boxes outside so the cats could get in and out. They could hunt, and when she was able, she would come back and feed them.

Saffron thought she was making good time in her rescue mission. Everything was going so well. Until it wasn’t.

Chapter: Twenty Three

 

It was day five. Saffron hadn’t found a single person yet, dead or alive, except for those dead wandering about outdoors. How was that possible? It was the middle of summer. Someone should have been home. Someone should have been holed up. What she found, on day five, made her heart drop.

She knew this house. Marley lives here. Or had lived. As close a friend as she had had growing up, they drifted apart somewhat when Saffron skipped a grade and… something in the back of her mind tugged at her. Her heart sank even further. Carefully, quietly, avoiding looking behind the house, she made her way inside the front door. All was quiet and she yelled, yelled, to see if anyone would answer. She expected not. When silence greeted her, she sank down on the sofa.

A letter had arrived in the mail. Maybe a week or two prior to all this? Marley was having a birthday party. It would be outdoors and there would be ice cream and a balloon bender and, of all things, a pony. Saffron found those last two bits both kind of childish and totally appropriate. Marley loved horses and wanted to tend them when she was an adult. Was looking after horses a career? Saffron would have to look that up, but if it was not, she had no doubt the girl would make it into one. And The balloon guy, she had loved him when she was tiny. No one could make balloon animals like JC. But that was little kid stuffs. Saffron was no little kid. Still, Marley didn’t care. She loved balloons. She couldn’t care less if anyone else cared, she cared and she wanted balloon animals. Saffron admired that.

Saffron had been invited to this party, and she had made appropriately polite excuses as to why she was unable to attend, and they had even made plans to get ice cream together the day after the party. Large groups just weren’t really part of Saffron’s comfort zone.

If they had been, Saffron would have been here on Marley’s thirteenth birthday. She would have eaten ice cream and danced and maybe even have ridden a pony. And then, around noon, one of her friends would have turned rabid and then another and Saffron would have died here that day. Like Marley surely had died here that day.

Like half her old class surely had.

Chapter: Twenty Four

 

Staring off into space, Saffron realized she ought to go about clearing the house. No one was likely to be inside; everyone would have been out back, enjoying the party. If someone had made it inside after the killing began, they would have answered when she yelled. If a door had been left open and the dead had been able to get inside, they would have come when she yelled. Still, she couldn’t find a way to move. Moving meant checking out back, where Marley and a dozen or more of her school friends might be dead, but not quite dead.

Moving meant… clearing… the house where her best friend when she was little had lived. Moving meant taking all of Marley’s things, her family’s things, and sorting through for the ones Saffron needed, then discarding the rest.

Saffron started to cry.

 

Chapter: Twenty Five

 

There were a couple iPods in the house. Quite a few batteries. Lots of books… the Johnsons were teachers, both. Marley’s mother taught ninth grade English, her father was a part time professor in the city, and a lawyer. Saffron chose a book on gardening, one on hair styling, and several books of fiction with names that sounded familiar. Tom Sawyer, Lord of the Flies. Things she had always passed over because they seemed of a time so distant, but now, when everything seemed of a time distant, maybe she should read them. She took some of Marley’s clothing, too. Not much of it would fit; her friend had started developing and was likely in the junior sizes, while Saffron was still in girls, and girl’s petite besides. There was a hoodie, though, black and useful for hiding at night. And some socks and a nice hat. Oddly, though not odd if you knew Marley, there were also several green tees… odd in the fact that they were distinctly Irish, and Marley was distinctly not. Dark skinned and beautiful, with braided hair and a tendency towards stylish glasses, Marley was everything Saffron was not.

Or had been.

Focusing herself, Saffron moved on and took some of Marley’s food, the cheese and milk and some oranges that had not yet gone bad. She felt like a scrounge. She took what she needed from those who no longer needed it and, quite honestly, it made her feel nauseated. That didn’t stop her, however. She took Marley’s things, and her family’s things, and moved on. That was her world, these days. That was pretty much all she did, really. Take things and move on.

***

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The Living Dead Girl Book One: A Grave New World

Saffron loved the little Minnesota town where she lived with her older brother Shane.‭ She loved the little park in which she spent her afternoons reading and boarding, with it’s Autumn Maple Blaze and the little kids laughing in the background. ‬She even loved her school and, while she wasn’t really close friends with any of the kids in her new class,‭ ‬neither was anyone really mean to her. Best of all, Shane was due a promotion at work. That meant they could move into a bigger apartment. And that... that meant she could finally get a dog! Things were going so well. Then the dead began to walk. This is a fun, uplifting story, appropriate reading level for 10-14 year olds, about one young woman learning to deal with death and loss and independence, all alone in a town full of zombies. Her name is Saffron Mabel, she’s 12 years old... she’s the Living Dead Girl.

  • ISBN: 9781370116171
  • Author: Mika Busch
  • Published: 2016-11-10 10:50:11
  • Words: 26524
The Living Dead Girl Book One:  A Grave New World The Living Dead Girl Book One:  A Grave New World