I looked away from Lazlo and met Blue’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He hadn’t said much of anything since we left, but the serious look in his eyes meant he was thinking the same things as me. I was so grateful to have another rational person in our group, otherwise none of us would survive.
“I’ll do it,” Blue promised me, and I nodded.
Harlow had been staring back at me, but she gave Blue a hurt look, as if he had betrayed her or me somehow. Really, he was doing us all a favor. If he were a more of a leader, he would’ve insisted that I stay behind, and I wouldn’t have fought him on it. I just wasn’t strong enough to insist I stay behind myself.
“Hey, I’m not dead yet,” I forced a smile. Harlow looked sadly at me for a second before turning around and sitting down.
Lazlo returned to his side of the car, sitting low in the seat. He reached over and took my hand. I let him, but I refused to look at him. I wouldn’t acknowledge any amount of comfort it gave me, or even the slightest bit of butterflies that overcame the nausea and fear that had swept over me.
I stared out the window at the graying world around us and wondered how much longer I’d get to enjoy the view.
As the day progressed, the sun burned off the fog, revealing scenery lush with grass and trees. It reminded me of back home in Iowa, and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it living in the desert for so long.
The sun also warmed the car, and I cracked the window, relishing the green scent of the earth around us. Everything smelled so sweet, but that might’ve just been because I knew this might be the last time I ever got to breathe it in.
Not that much longer, we came into another small town. This one looked like most of the other towns we’d seen, evidence of havoc and death, but not quite as devastated and volatile as the town with the marauders.
After our experience in the last one, Blue meant to just drive on through it, avoiding trouble as much as possible. But Harlow said she needed to go to the bathroom, so Blue looked for the nicest, least destroyed house he could find, and pulled in for a pit stop.
Butter yellow with shutters and a white picket fence, the house looked quaintly picturesque. The lawn and flower gardens had become overgrown from lack of tending, and some of the siding and shutters had splatters of dirt and blood on them.
Despite all that, it had something sweet about it, and that made it a little depressing. It stood as a sad reminder of what we had once been, what the American dream had strived to be, and now would never be again.
Ripley didn’t feel like getting out of the car, so I cracked the window for her before we went inside. Blue and I led the search, conducting a quick once over to make sure that nothing dangerous was hiding out.
The décor inside the house matched perfectly with the outside. Warm, homey furniture, books, and knick knacks, even a fireplace. Things had been disrupted, with shattered figurines on the floor and torn throw pillows, but in general, it didn’t look that bad. A layer of dust covered everything, and I suspected that the place had been abandoned for a while.
Once we determined that it was safe, Blue called in Harlow and Lazlo. Harlow went to the bathroom, and Blue went upstairs to see if they had anything of value that we could use, like weapons or medicine. I went to the kitchen to raid it for food.
Ever since the zombie attack, I had felt too nauseated to be hungry, and I hoped that was from nerves, and not a symptom. Either way, Harlow would complain of hunger pains as soon as she finished going to the bathroom, and it would be nice if they had some food here.
I didn’t even bother opening the fridge because it would just let out the awful stench of rotten meat and milk. I climbed up on the counter to rummage through the cupboards and happened upon a gold mine: graham crackers.
I turned around so I could sit down on the kitchen counter, my legs dangling over the edge. Determined to override any nausea, I opened the box of crackers and bit into them. Stale and sweet, I relished it more than I normally would have.
I did love graham crackers and always had, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew this might be my last meal. At least, my last real meal that didn’t involve biting and eating anything I could get my mouth on.
“Hungry?” Lazlo leaned on the doorway to kitchen.
I noticed that he’d changed into a different slim fitting tee shirt and jeans. This one had a panda holding a rainbow-colored umbrella, and I’m sure it cost a pretty penny at some fancy retailer. He and Harlow somehow managed to make the end times look fashionable.
“Not really.” I held out a cracker to him. “Want one?”
“Sure.” He walked over and took it from me, then leaned on the counter next to me.
“You changed,” I commented, setting aside the box of crackers. As much as I wanted to enjoy them, my anxiety finally got the best of me, and I gave up on the idea.
“Yeah, I didn’t really like the whole ‘covered in zombie blood’ look,” Lazlo said, and we both glanced down at my stained apparel. I’d wiped off what had gotten on my skin, but the bottom of my jeans had taken the brunt of the splatter. “But you totally rock that whole look.”
“Well, my clothes weren’t as nice as yours to begin with,” I shrugged. It’s weird how accustomed I had become to having zombie blood on my clothes. “Are all of your outfits designer?”
“Not designer. This isn’t an Armani suit or something.” He shifted uncomfortably, as if I had been saying something negative about him. “These are just my regular clothes.”
“I know. But you used to be pretty rich, right?” I realized I knew very little about his life, other than what I had seen on TV before all this. He’d said very little, and I never bothered to ask. “You used to be a rock star.”
“Yeah, I did.” Lazlo looked almost wistful for a moment, then shook it off and lowered his eyes. Something he had been proud of now made him look ashamed, and he let his hair partially cover his face.
“That’s pretty awesome,” I said honestly.
In another life, hanging out with Lazlo Durante would’ve been a high point. It still was, except now it had nothing to do with the infamy of it.
“I used to think so.” Lazlo stared at the floor. “That’s all I ever wanted to do, and it started happening. The music videos and the money and the fans and the fame. And I was so wrapped up in it all, but even when I had a chance to think, I still thought, ‘This is it. I’ve really made it.’ But now… it’s all so fucking useless.” His forehead scrunched up, and he shook his head. “It didn’t mean anything, and I don’t have any skills to do anything.”