DECEMBER 9, 2039
Garrett rolls off the oversized couch he called his bed for the night. He feels well-rested. Then he remembers. The girl. She’s still out there, he hopes; the enigmatic little girl that had saved his life possibly. Still alone and he jumps up. Maybe today he will find her. Yesterday he thought he might have picked up a couple of clues but none of them had panned out.
He pulls a protein bag from his backpack, repacks his compressible pillow, powers up his tablet. He checks the Tell-Tales in the front yard. Nothing stirring and no reports of any activity during the night. He whoofs down the protein bar, brushes his teeth with the last of the water he filtered out of the kitchen tap last night, repacks everything, steps to the window, peeks out the curtain. Everything looks okay, he steps onto the small porch, retrieves and stows the Tell-Tales, and steps out on the street.
He pulls his tab, flips the display to daytime mode, and loads the feeds from the four video feeds from the slower-moving reconnaissance drones he had Travis authorize the request yesterday morning and spent hours studying the feeds to see if there were any sign of his little blond hero. So far there had been nothing.
He starts to close the app but then he gets an idea. He clicks on notifications, for the drone feed that includes the warehouse where he first met her two days ago. He programs an alert for ANY activity detected, after he selects a sizable square grid he traces with his fingertip, encircling the warehouse.
He repockets his tablet and continues walking.
He’s sitting in the shade of a tree when the notification sounds. He pulls the tablet, launches the app, reviews the recorded footage. It’s her! She went back. The drone captured her as she stood behind the warehouse where Garrett had ‘swept’ a dozen zombies out of existence. She retraces her steps and heads away from the warehouse. Garrett zips back to the main menu. Loads the live feed, scans back and forth, zooms out, finds her. Then he is back to the main menu, circles the lone figure when prompted, reprograms the drone’s priority to follow the small figure walking east on Broadway. When prompted to he enters the access code that Travis gave him yesterday.
He proceeds to jog and then start running down Broadway. She’s probably ten minutes ahead, but Garrett is sure he can intersect her.
Three blocks later Garrett is dripping sweat, but he sees her.
He closes the gap. His boots slapping on the pavement. She turns. She sees Garrett running, she takes off running. Off the main street, down a short connecting road.
Right into an alley.
DAMN, DAMN, DAMN.
From the small feeder road, he watches in horror as five zombies chase her staggering into the alley.
He pulls his right-hand gun. He can’t risk firing at them now. He might hit her.
He hears a scream from ahead. He looks up. He sees the worst-case scenario. Another three zombies are in front of the running girl. She’s trapped between and she’s still forty yards from him. Garrett begins sprinting, he shoulders his way out of his pack, lets it fall to the pavement. He unholsters the second gun.
“LAY DOWN! GET AS LOW AS YOU CAN,” he shouts to her as he gets to twenty yards.
She catches his eyes, sees the gun, and drops to the pavement. He begins firing even as he runs, closing in upon her. Both groups of zombies are there now. Garrett can do nothing but keep firing his gun and running.
All eight zombies are dead, dead.
When he stops running. She stands up again. Looks like she’s considering running again.
“No, please!” he says huffing trying to catch his breath. “Look, I’m putting the guns down now. See? I’m not going to hurt you,” he says as he stands back up. He gently kicks the guns towards her. Then he steps back a few yards. She is now closer to his guns than he is.
“I’m not going hurt you I promise! I just want to get you out of this place. It’s not this bad everywhere.”
She looks thoughtful but says nothing.
“That running made me hungry,” he says as if to himself. She was a child after all. It was a forgivable con he tells himself. He pulls a fat juicy apple out of his hip pocket and begins taking crunchy bites from it as the juice sprays everywhere. He is making moaning sounds of delight as he eats it comically loud. He looks up over his apple, seems to see her watching him, stops momentarily, and then pulls another apple from his left pocket. He gestures with the apple towards her. After two short seconds, she begins walking towards the apple.
That’s what I thought, he thinks. You have survived years in here. No doubt existing on dried and canned foods. I know you haven’t had fresh fruit in years. Besides these were golden delicious, the best of any apple Garrett had always felt. She gingerly reaches out and accepts the apple. Takes four quick steps backward, nearly trips over one of the fallen zombies.
“Careful there,” he says.
She says nothing but stands there and begins to take bites from her apple. Eventually, it’s just a core.
“Would you like another one? I have some more,” he says as he jabs a thumb behind him. “I had to drop my pack back there … so I could run faster to … you know.”
She smiles a small tiny smile. She must be happy to see another human being. Even one clumsy enough to almost get her killed the first and second time they met!
“Want another then? We really shouldn’t be in an alley anyway,” he makes a vague gesture at the walls. “It’s too easy to get trapped in these things. But then I guess I don’t have to tell you that, do I? Oh, Garrett where are my manners…..”
He stops. She bends over and picks up his guns. Both of them.
Garrett is replaying the shooting scene from before. He’s not sure, but he thinks there may be two rounds left in the one, and one round in the other.
She slowly approaches Garrett, hands both guns to him.
He almost chokes but he manages to say, “My name is Garrett. It is a pleasure to meet you. You saved my butt two days ago by luring the zombies away from me. Thanks!”
Garrett re-holsters the guns.
He looks up again. She’s been alone for so long, he’s careful to not hold eye contact for too long which might be perceived as too aggressive. But he also wants to make sure to not, not look at her at all that would look too evasive or secretive, like he had an agenda. His only agenda was getting this young girl out of the city ASAP.
“So about those apples?” Garrett says.
“I’d love another Cory, I’m apple,” the waifish girl says. Her eyes go wide.
They both laugh.
“No, I mean, yes, thank you. I’d love another apple. My name is Cory.”
They start to walk towards Garrett’s dropped backpack.
“Thanks for saving my life Mr. Garrett,” Cory says as she looks back at the fallen zombies that almost killed her.
“I don’t know about that. You wouldn’t have even been in this apple, I mean alley,” he says laughing at the contagious error, “if I hadn’t scared the wits out of you by running up on you. I guess I was just lonely and worried about you. This is no place for a girl to be. We need to get you out of the city.”
Garrett pulls another apple out of his pack, hands it to her, shoulders the pack, and they make their way out of the alley.
“I’m going to talk into my radio now okay. I need to call my boss and tell me that I found a strag… I mean a person, you, today. Is that okay Cory? Please don’t run off, okay?”
“I won’t Mister.”
“Call me Garrett please?”
“Okay, I won’t run off Garrett.”
Garrett flips the radio channel open.
“Sweeper three here. I found ….”
“I saw! The bodycam images in the alley were so bouncy I felt like I was running after that little girl.” Travis says. “Way to go Garrett. You’re a hero. It’s already streaming on all news programs.”
The NEWS media still had a lot of drones over Garland.
The news that spread quickly these days was the good kind – apparently living through a pandemic and multiple nuclear attacks, makes one more inclined to want to hear less ‘bad news.’
“I’m getting calls for the civilian volunteer program. Over 200 calls this morning, people saying they want to volunteer. to help clean the fallen cities,” Travis says.
Garrett listens to his boss.
“So can we get an evac team to extract ‘Cory’ and she looks to be … hold on. How old are you?”
“I’ll be ten on the 24th,” Cory says.
For some reason that almost breaks him. Not even ten. Been on her own for four years probably.
“Well, your birthday present this year can be getting out of this hell …. oops … I mean out of Garland!”
“You there three?” crackles his headset.
“Pardon me just a moment Cory. Three here; she says she will be ten on Christmas eve.”
“We will have an evac team ready for you. Be at the Broadway and Marshall entry point at 10:00 AM tomorrow,” a voice says to him. It’s not Travis.
“Will do. Where did Travis go?”
“Oh, he had to step away. I think he had a phone call come in. I think it was pretty important he seemed in a hurry to take it anyway.”
“Oh well tell him I’ll see him tomorrow will ya?” Garrett says.
“Will do. Oh, and Three, does Cory have anyone? Anyone at all we can call to give her to tomorrow?”
“Gimme a minute.”
He squats down in front of Cory. “My bosses want to know if any of your relatives … I mean the ones that weren’t in Garland .. anyone else, a cousin or an uncle or aunt that might be able to pick you up tomorrow after you get out of here?”
Garret is praying she won’t start crying. There will be a time for crying later he thinks but is afraid that if she starts, he will join her.
“Aunt Ruth. I think mom said she was living in Rockwall, or maybe Forney. But that was a long time ago. I remember it was on the lake there.”
“What is Ruth’s last name Cory?”
Cory starts laughing again.
“What? What is it, Cory?”
“You won’t believe me! Ruth’s last name is Applebaum! I swear I’m not making that up neither!”
Garrett just smiles.
“Three here. Cory says her aunt, her mom’s sister, Ruth Applebaum might be in Rockwall or Forney? Information is four years old so proceed appropriately?”
Garret hopes the operator caught his subtext – ‘Cast a wide net finding Ruth Applebaum please!’