Esther Velez

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Month: December 2014 (page 1 of 2)

The Watchtower: Episode 15

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EPISODE FIFTEEN: The Truth

Toby pounded on the door, causing Lincoln to jump. He looked out the window at his slightly frustrated brother-in-law. He opened the door slowly.

“Hey, Toby, I was—”

“Lincoln, I need you back inside. Who knows what other crazies are going to show up.”

“I’m not going back in there, Toby,” he said, looking at the steering wheel. “I’m going to use this car, and I’m going to find Rosemarie on my own.”

“What are you talking about?” Toby put his hand on his arm. “Lincoln, I said I was going to help you find your sister. Don’t you trust that I’ll do whatever I can to find her?”

“No, Toby, I don’t!” It felt good to shout, but he knew that Toby didn’t really deserve it. He lowered his voice. “You were content with staying the night here, putting more time and distance between us and Rosemarie.” He gave Toby a fierce look. “But I need to find my sister now. I cannot wait until morning.”

Toby sighed and looked away. Lincoln almost imagined him taking on the same posture and tone when dealing with Lyn. It bothered him to think that, in this moment, he was acting about as stubborn as his oldest sister.

“Lincoln, I want to find Rosemarie, too. She’s the glue that’s holding this family together, even if it doesn’t seem like it.” He paused and exhaled loudly. “Let’s get back inside, clear this thing up with Brian —”

“But, Toby —”

“And then, we’ll use this car to drive down to Homestead and find your sister.”

The smile that Toby gave him was genuine, and did not contain even an ounce of the fear and uncertainty he felt in his own heart.

***

They had been driving for almost half an hour before she woke up. A digital clock on the dashboard shined brightly, the only real light on the bus. Rosemarie could not explain her sudden blackout, but she’d awoken feeling refreshed.

As refreshed as you can feel after almost getting strangled to death by a zombie.

The thought was about as disturbing as the actual event had been.

“You’re awake.” Jace glanced at her from his seat. Rosemarie forced a smile and stood next to him.

“Thank you,” she said. “For saving me.” It was the most she could give. Rosemarie didn’t even know who this guy was, and, yet, he’d saved her life twice, not just here on the bus, but also by getting her out of that church when those creatures first appeared.

He nodded. “All in a days work.

Rosemarie looked at the road in front of them, illuminated by the bus’s powerful headlights. Abandoned cars lined the shoulders, and some people were running around, stealing random cars they thought were better than their own. Other people were sitting on the side of the road, talking on their phones, trying to make sense of what was going on.

“This is a mess.”

“Tell me about it.” Jace sighed, keeping his eyes on the road. “They wouldn’t tell us what was going on, back there. They just told us that there was a sickness, and certain places in the city were contaminated, and we were.” In his eyes, Rosemarie could see him recalling the creature on the bus. He didn’t look frightened, though. More confused, than anything else. “They didn’t tell us it was anything like this.”

“And this wasn’t the first time I’d seen them, either.” Rosemarie looked down at herself. Her clothing was dirty from her kidnapping, but there was also some of the dark liquid she’d seen on Jace. It appeared that he’d cleaned it off since then, and had ditched the lab coat. “How did you kill it?” She ventured, not sure if this was something he wanted to talk about.

“I didn’t kill it,” he said, after a moment of silence.

Rosemarie waited for an explanation. When it didn’t come, she prodded.

“You didn’t kill it?”

Jace swallowed. “I was hitting it on the head, over and over, and it was getting hurt.” He beat his palm against the steering wheel as he spoke. Rosemarie could feel some of those palms slipping and hitting her in the face. She winced as she recalled the pain.

“But it wouldn’t die,” said Jace, shaking his head. “After a few hits, and once I started drawing some kind of blood, it ran away.”

“It ran away?” Rosemarie was confused. “You mean, it didn’t just want to kill us? It cared about not dying?”

“That’s one way to put it,” said Jace, exhaling softly. “Whatever that thing was, it had enough sense in its mind to know that if it kept choking you, it was going to die.”

Rosemarie turned back to her seat and was about to sit down when she noticed a dark red stain on the seat next to her, where she’d collapsed. She knew it wasn’t from the creature — whatever had come out of it had been black and was much thicker. It had to have come from either herself or Jace. She began to check herself for wounds — and found one. The back of her head had been cut, and had started to congeal into a thick mass of sticky, red blood. That was why she had passed out earlier.

She was losing blood.

***

This is insane. A man slams his car into the side of the church, nearly killing all of us, and we just let him sit with us like he did nothing wrong? What is wrong with these people?

Lyn watched as the bearded man, covered in blood, sat in the rocking chair Brian had dominated all evening, eating a granola bar. They all sat around him, waiting for him to talk. She leaned against her husband.

“Why do we care about this man? He nearly killed us five minutes ago.”

Her husband smiled and shook his head. “It was at least a half an hour ago. And we need to know why he would do something like this. If he’s a danger to himself or others —”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure we know the answer to that one.”

Their conversation grew quiet.

The man swallowed the last piece of granola bar and pocketed the package. “Thank you for the food.”

“You are most welcome,” Brian said, patting the man on the shoulder. “Are you up to telling us why you crashed your car into the side of this building?”

The man frowned and wiped his eyes, spreading streaks of red over his face. “This is Lighthouse Church, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, that’s why I had to do it!” He pounded the armrest of the wooden chair. “The Lighthouse people are nothing but trouble. They don’t care about anything other than appearance. They put on a good show every week, but inside, they are rotten.” He pointed to the door leading into the rest of the church. “They don’t care about doing God’s work. They only care about building themselves up, fattening their pockets.”

“Sir, I used to be an Elder with this church, and I can understand your anger toward the church.” Brian leaned closer to the man. “But what would prompt you to drive a car into the side of the building? Isn’t that a bit extreme?”

The man laughed. “What are you talking about, extreme? This entire church needs to be destroyed, then rebuilt from the bottom to the top. Only then will anything change.”

Lyn looked at Brian. “Sounds a lot like you.” When he shook his head at her, she laughed. “What, you weren’t saying the exact same thing earlier this evening? This guy sounds so much like you, he could be your long lost son.”

That got everyone’s attention. She felt guilty for a moment, but that was quickly covered by curiosity. “Whatever happened to your son, Brian?”

The Elder grew very quiet and wouldn’t hold her eye. “I don’t want to discuss that right now.”

“Well, then, I guess we’re done here.” Lyn stormed out of the building. Toby had informed her of their plan of escape earlier, and she was ready to go. They didn’t need to hear any more stories of church politics and drama. She stayed away from church for a reason.

She grabbed some things from her husband’s car and transferred them into the truck. For a split second, she thought she saw the little girl from the school again, and she nearly lost her mind.

Why is she following me? Why doesn’t she leave me alone?

The voice was followed by another one she’d become all too familiar with.

What, like the way you left her? You knew she was dying, and you just left her!

Lyn did not pay much attention to her husband and brother coming out of the building and entering the car. She did not notice the Millers and Katie join them, carrying large backpacks and a few bottles of water.

The only thing she could think of was the fact that of all the things anyone could say about her, that she was stubborn, inconsiderate, ill-tempered and rude, the only thing that mattered — the fact that she was a murderer — no one would ever know.

End of Season One

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The Watchtower: Episode 14

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EPISODE FOURTEEN: Attack!

The first creature pushed its face against the kitchen door, its flesh turning gray right before her eyes. Rosemarie stifled a scream and rushed away from where they were standing.

Jace immediately turned around and took in the creature.

“That’s one of them!” Rosemarie shouted, trying to put as much distance between herself and the creature as she could. Jace made a dash for her and pulled her to the door beside the kitchen.

“No, no, I can’t go over there!” She tried pulling away from him but he was much stronger.

“We’re going to the bus now,” he said, not looking back at her. Despite her struggling, he managed to get her through the door and onto the bus.

“What about everyone else?” Rosemarie asked when he boarded the bus behind her. He gave her a look.

“Did you see the same thing that I saw? It was in the kitchen, Rosemarie. Do you know how much food we’ve been feeding these people? Thank God I haven’t eaten any food in days.” Jace felt for the keys in his lab coat and started the engine of the long, yellow school bus. “Who knows how many people are infected in there.” He pointed to the first row of seats by the door. “Why don’t you take a seat, Rosemarie? We’re getting out of here.”

More screams from inside the church forced her onto a seat. Rosemarie never thought she’d see one of those creatures ever again. But, if she was honest, she was glad she had seen it with someone else. What with the way the police talked on the phone, it seemed as though she had made the creatures up, or her kidnappers had put her on some drugs that were starting to wear off. Now that Jace had seen it as well, as sick as it sounded, she knew that this really was happening.

“Are you going to be able to drive through the streets like this?” Rosemarie asked. She hadn’t thought of it before, but the streets were crowded with people, and now that this was happening in the church, more people were probably going to flood it soon, just to escape whatever “it” was.

Or they would die.

The severity of it all was hitting Rosemarie hard.

What is all this, God? What is going on here?

“This vehicle is enormous,” said Jace, making eye contact with her through the large rear view mirror. “If there are any people on the street, they are going to be parting around us like the Red Sea…”

He jumped up from his seat. “Rosemarie keep your head down!”

But she couldn’t keep her head down.

Someone had grabbed her from behind and was beginning to strangle her.

***

Lyn was covered in dust. The wall had crumbled under the weight of the crash, and had sent whole chunks flying across the room. Thankfully, the cribs lined against the room had absorbed most of the debris, leaving trails of brick dust to cloud their vision and stain their clothing. She stood up and reached for her husband, who was also reaching for her. He helped her keep her balance.

“What just happened, Toby?”

He didn’t answer.

“All right, everyone move away from the wall!” Brian shouted, lifting his weapon and making for the nursery door. He pointed to Toby and Lincoln. “I need the two of you to come with me. We’re going to check out what this is.” As Brian turned to hug his wife, Lyn pulled on Toby’s arm.

“Toby —”

“It’s going to be fine,” said Toby, his calm voice indicating that he was, indeed, very much afraid. She’d learned a few things about Toby, and one of the most confusing was his sense of calm when he himself was most frightened. But, at the very least, she knew that despite the fear, he would be able to rationally make a wise decision. She let him embrace her and made her way over to the Elder’s wife, son, and the little girl they’d saved.

“It sounded like a car.” Lyn sat on the ground next to the boy, who was sulking. “Did they not let you go?” Lyn asked, nodding in the direction of the crash.

The boy clenched his fist. “They never let me do anything,” he said through his teeth. “Ever since my brother left, they’ve never let me do anything!”

“That’s enough, Seth,” the boy’s mother said, putting her hand on his shoulder. “Your father and I are acting for your protection. Going out there is not the best thing for you right now. Please, understand that we do this for your own good.”

“Well, it didn’t do anything to stop him from leaving, did it?” The boy mumbled under his breath, and Lyn was sure she was the only one who had heard it.

Him? There was more to this family than she realized, and not just an additional family member. Beneath their little facade of happiness and ideals, there was something dark hidden, and Lyn was satisfied. If even the good looking families were messed up, that meant all their family drama was, at the very least, a sign that they weren’t all that abnormal.

You are terrible, Lyn. Did you know that?

***

The car was a dark green Ford Expedition, probably a few years old. It seemed very well taken care of, other than the fact that the hood was smashed into the side of the church building. Lincoln followed closely behind his brother-in-law and the elder, wondering who, in their right mind, would crash into a church.

Well, they might not have known it was a church. It could’ve been an accident. They could have been drunk. There’s a whole lot of reasons that might explain this thing away.

Brian held up his hand, and they stopped moving. He pointed to the driver’s side.

“Lincoln, you stay with me on this side. Toby, go around to the passenger’s side, in case he tries to make a break from there.”

Toby moved without a word.

“Open your door!” Brian shouted, moving closer to the vehicle. He reached for the handle and pulled on it, but it wouldn’t budge. “Unlock the door, son.”

A loud grunt came from inside the vehicle.

“This side is open!” Toby called out. Lincoln heard him open the door, then grow silent. “He’s hurt bad.”

“Unlock those doors, and let’s get him out of there,” Brian replied, lowering his gun. The automatic locks reversed themselves and Brian pulled open the door.

A middle aged, bearded man tumbled out, blood streaming from his face. The air bag had done its job of saving his life, but had left him in bad shape. Lincoln examined the car while Brian and Toby hauled the man away from it. Other than the hood, this car was in pretty good shape. He sat inside, pushing aside the deflated air bag, and turned off the ignition.

“Lincoln, why don’t you try getting that car out of there?” Brian said, before they disappeared in the nursery with the man.

“All right.” He turned on the car again and put it in reverse. After a few tries, he managed to wedge the car out from the wall and parked it near their own car.

It hit him right then and there. Even if it had a few scratches on it, this car was still fully functional, and powerful. He could just start driving to Homestead and search for Rosemarie himself. He didn’t have to wait until Toby came up with a plan. He could do this for himself.

Lincoln turned on the car’s ignition.

I’m going to find you, sister.

 ***

She didn’t have time to scream. Rosemarie tried to pull the arms away from her neck to no avail. Her fingers clawed at graying flesh and she froze. There was a creature on the bus. And it was attacking her. Why was she always attracting them? Why had she, in the past two hours seen at least three of them? All those thoughts found a place in her mind as Jace ran over to her. She struggled to find a breath as Jace began to hit the creature over the top of the head with his bare hands. Twice he slipped and smacked her in the face, but when the creature let go of its grip, she forgot all about it.

Rosemarie fell onto the seat next to her, choking and gasping for air. She barely noticed Jace dragging the decaying body to the door and tossing it out. She closed her eyes and heard him walking up and down the aisles, checking for any other stowaways.

Oh, God, save me, please!

Rosemarie felt his hand on her back. The gesture took her back in her memories, when she had fallen off her back at seven years old, and her father had helped her up. He had left his comforting hand on her back, and she had leaned on it to regain her balance after the spill.

“Are you okay?”

“I…” She opened her eyes, pulling herself from the memory. Jace was a mess. His face and lab coat were splattered with thick black liquid, and his hair was disheveled. He was breathing about as heavy as her, trying to gather himself after —

“Did you kill it?” Rosemarie managed.

There was a pause.

“It’s gone.”

That was all Jace would say. He stood up and returned to the driver’s seat. “We have to get moving.”

Rosemarie closed her eyes again. This was all too much excitement for one day. Even though she had managed to get most of her breath back, she felt herself slipping into darkness. For the first time in her life, she welcomed it.

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The Watchtower: Episode 13

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EPISODE THIRTEEN: No Perfect People

“You’ll have to forgive the mess,” Brian said, leading them through the door on the side of the church building. “We haven’t had much time to tidy things up since they forced us in here.”

Lincoln shuffled into the tiny space behind his sister and her husband. The room was dark, and filled with…cribs?

“What is this place?” No one seemed to hear him.

A woman and what appeared to be a twelve year old boy came forward.

“Brian, who are these people?” She glanced at them with suspicion, but her eyes softened when she saw the little girl. “Katie? Is that you?”

“I’m sorry, Julie, they need some shelter for the night.” He reached for the boy and turned to them. “This, my friends, is my son, Sean, and my wife, Julie.”

She greeted them with a small smile and quickly attended to the little girl, pulling her over to another door on the other side of the room.

“Well, make yourself at home,” Brian said, collapsing onto a dirty, beige rocking chair. “It’s going to be a long night.”

Lincoln crossed his arms. “What is this place?” He ignored Lyn’s fierce look and waited for Brian to answer him.

“This used to be a nursery,” the elder said, “before they kicked us out and forced us to stay here.”

“So they kicked you out, but forced you to stay here?” Lincoln reached for his brother-in-law’s arm. “This doesn’t sound right, Toby.” He could see that Toby was also a little confused.

“Brian, what’s going on here?”

“It’s what I told you,” replied Brian. “Lighthouse Church has never liked me, and they especially don’t like my big mouth.” He paused and looked at Julie, as though asking for permission to continue sharing the story. Lincoln sighed. Married people and the silly things they do. Like they actually care what each other has to say.

“When this whole thing hit, I was one of the only ones that wanted to do something about it. I wanted to transform this place into a shelter, or maybe even a hospital for people who were injured or hurt by this.”

“We’ve seen some of the grounds,” Toby said, nodding. “You have another building back there. You could’ve done it.”

“But they wanted to hide away in there,” Brian said, gesturing toward the rest of the building. “They wanted to hide away in there, where they think they’ll be safe, and where they can kick little girls like Katie out if they so much as sneeze.”

Lincoln looked over at the little girl, who was sitting on the lap of Brian’s wife, eating some crackers. Tears had dried on her cheeks, and she stared at Lincoln with wide, expressionless eyes. He quickly looked away. The scene had reminded him of a time when he’d lost a soccer game in elementary school, and his mother had scooped up his crying self in her arms, carrying him to the car. He’d been trying to eat some chips at the same time, hoping that the taste would wash away the pain of the loss. That was when he first learned that food never solved any problems. He’d have to turn other things to numb the pain.

What pain, Link? You don’t feel any pain, remember? No regrets.

“So what have you been doing in the meantime?” Toby asked. “It’s only been a couple of hours since this whole thing surfaced.”

Brian and Julie exchanged a glance, and the look in their eyes put a spot of fear in Lincoln’s heart. He swallowed as Brian began to answer.

“Son, this has been going on for at least a week.”

A week?” Lincoln felt the words come out, but didn’t hear them.

“They’ve been keeping the Homestead and some sections of the Redland area under quarantine,” Brian continued. “That’s why when you said you were looking for someone down in Homestead…your sister would never have made it to Homestead. They wouldn’t have let her in.”

Lincoln felt the weight of Brian’s statement, and refused to hold on to it. “That’s ridiculous,” he shouted, startling everyone. Brian stood to his feet, hands extended.

“Now, son, you need to stay calm.”

“What I need to do is find my sister,” Lincoln spat back. He grabbed Toby’s arm. “Listen, I appreciate all you’ve done to get us this far, but I can’t just sit here while Rosemarie is out who knows where.”

“Lincoln —”

“No, Toby, listen to me!” Lincoln cut him off with a growl. “I need to find my sister, and you can help me search for her or not. I don’t care. But I am getting out of here. And there’s nothing you can do to stop me.” He pushed Toby away from him, looking the older man directly in the eyes, daring him to a challenge.

“I think the theatrics are nice,” Brian said, standing up, “but I have to disagree with you.” The elder lifted his weapon and pointed the barrel in Lincoln’s direction. “You aren’t going anywhere, my friend.”

***

“So you think threatening me with a gun is going to keep me inside? What do you care if I die out there, or here?” Lincoln huffed from the corner they’d forced him into. He felt the little girl staring at him from the woman’s lap, but he ignored her. Instead, he focused on sneering at Brian and his gun.

“I am not a fool. I am not willing to sacrifice yet another life because I was unwilling to act. To protect.” He settled back into his rocking chair, gun still trained on Lincoln.

“Think about it, Lincoln,” said Toby, coming over to his side. “Who knows what kinds of creatures are roaming out there, especially since this entire area was quarantined a whole week before any of us even knew anything was wrong.” Toby paused. “Brian, how many did you say you saw out here?”

“Zombies?” The elder glanced at his wife. “How many zombies have we seen, Julie?”

His wife shook her head. “Sean?” She looked down at her son, who had sat quietly next to his father’s rocking chair ever since their arrival. The boy immediately perked up, however, at the prospect of having something to add to the conversation. Lincoln frowned. He remembered that feeling all too well. He was the last in a long line of children and adults, always the kid, never allowed in the adult business. Well. He’d done a fine job of acclimating to the adult business. If that business meant fighting and anger and never getting along with anyone.

“There have been twenty-two sightings, not including the seven that you shot and killed, Daddy,” the boy said with a small smile, as though he was uncomfortable with the sudden spotlight.

“That’s almost thirty zombies that have been seen around here.” Toby shook his head as he did the math in his mind. He put his arm around Lyn, who had also been sitting silently the entire time. Her face was still very pale, and she was still very shaken up over what she’d seen in that school.

Lincoln didn’t care that she felt bad about what she did. It was about time that caught up to her. How can you live without any guilt after doing something like that?

“So you killed zombies?” Lyn asked, breaking her silence. “Weren’t they people? Are you fine killing other people?”

“No.” Brian shook his head, lowering his gun. “I don’t kill other people. Once those things turn, they aren’t people anymore. They’re monsters, and they don’t care about anything other than themselves.” He looked at his wife and the little girl sitting on her lap. “Kinda like the Lighthouse folks. They only care about keeping themselves nice and healthy, not caring that there’s dozens of people out there that just need some shelter, folks like you who are stranded or searching, and just need something more than the nothing that this world has to offer.”

“Why did the people from your church kick you out, then force you to stay?” Lincoln asked. It’d been bothering him since he first heard Brian say it. “If you want to leave, and they want you to leave, why don’t you just get out of here?”

“Because it’s safe here,” Julie said softly. She looked at him with tired eyes, like a mother who had been kept awake all night by a sick child. “We don’t have the necessary materials or provisions to strike out on our own.”

“But that doesn’t mean they are keeping you here,” Toby cut in, joining the conversation. “It means you don’t have what you need to travel safely out of here.”

Brian sighed. “Lighthouse Church was supposed to give us some provisions for our journey, but they have yet to deliver. Until we have what we need, either from them, or acquiring it for ourselves, we are not going anywhere.”

“How do things like this happen?” Lincoln asked. “How do churches that are supposed to be all about God turn into places that will throw a little kid into the street because she might be sick?”

“They happen slowly,” Julie replied. “They happen with one mistake here, another mistake there, little by little until they’ve grown into something you can’t change even if you wanted to. It started in the leadership and worked its way down into every single other ministry.”

Lincoln frowned. If this had once been Christ Fellowship Redland, then he’d been here, right before the transition. Although things were pretty decent at the time, he remembered feeling like something was changing. “Was the church cut, or did it break itself off?”

“That’s a strange question, Lincoln,” said Brian, giving him a look. “I don’t feel comfortable discussing the particulars of the church split, but I can confidently say that what happened then needs to happen now. This place needs to be destroyed and rebuilt, from the bottom up. That’s the only way anything can ever change.”

“This is why I don’t go to church,” Lincoln mumbled. “There’s too much drama involved.”

The room grew silent. Lincoln watched everyone settling in for the night. Brian gave his son a hug and patted him on the head. He looked over at Julie, who was still holding the little girl, making small, distracting conversation. To his left, Toby was sitting on the ground next to Lyn, holding her, hoping that she might actually tell him what was wrong. Lincoln closed his eyes. He was, for the first time in his life, actually alone.

No, there’d been one other time. And, when it’d happened, Rosemarie had been there to save him.

Where are you now, Rosemarie? I need you to save me.

The sound of the car crashing into the nursery wall interrupted his thoughts.

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The Watchtower: Episode 12

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EPISODE TWELVE: The Intern

“Excuse me, miss, can I help you?”

It was the first person who’d noticed her entrance since she stepped into the place. Of course, she couldn’t blame anyone for not stopping to ask her what she was doing there. The place was bustling with people and action; nurses and doctors in which coats and scrubs pushed gurneys of bleeding people down the hallway that wrapped around itself in a huge cylinder. The man outside was wrong about this place: it wasn’t church. It was a hospital for sick people, not a place where she could find the information she was looking for.

“Excuse me, miss, did you hear me?”

Rosemarie turned to the voice. It belonged to a young man, probably a few years older than her, holding a clipboard and dressed in a lab coat. His voice sounded impatient, but his eyes betrayed the care that he felt.

“Yes, I wanted to…” Rosemarie realized she didn’t know what she wanted. Why had she come in here? She couldn’t remember, only that she wanted to get off the streets, away from the terrified mobs running…where?

“I am sorry, miss, but if you aren’t sick, and if you don’t have anyone in here, you are going to have to leave.” His comment reminded her why she had come inside.

“Please, sir, I need to stay somewhere safe. I saw one of them, a few blocks away from here.” Her voice drifted. Rosemarie was still trying to process the dark, decaying mass of flesh that had once been Omar.

The man frowned and glanced at his clipboard. “You saw one of what?”

“I don’t know.”

He sighed. “Again, I am sorry miss, but you have to leave from here. We can’t let you inside if you’re not a patient, or a relative of one of our patients.”

“I have to get home,” Rosemarie said. She knew she sounded desperate, but she was desperate. She needed to get home, and she had absolutely no resources to get there. If this were a fairy tale, she’d be the sleeping princess, desperately in need of a prince to swoop in and wake her up.

And it sickened her. She hated feeling utterly helpless, a damsel in distress waiting for someone to come and save her. But she understood enough of her situation to accept the reality of it.

“Home?” The young man was doing a poor job of kicking her out, but she accepted his inquiries.

“I was…” she hesitated before continuing with her story. She knew that saying she had been kidnapped and then killed her captor after he turned into a strange creature would make this man think she was crazy. But, as she stumbled with her words, she knew that she could trust him. There was something in his eyes that told her it was safe.

He didn’t blink or change his facial expression throughout her entire story. When she finally closed her mouth, he cleared his throat.

“You’ve been through a lot,” he said softly. He offered her his hand, and gave her a solid, firm shake. “I didn’t introduce myself to you. My name is Jace.”

“Hello, Jace. My name is Rosemarie.”

“Listen, Rosemarie I want to help you.” He held up the clipboard he’d been holding. “This here is the list of patients we are transporting to our Homestead Branch.”

“Your Homestead Branch?” Rosemarie wasn’t sure she was hearing the words correctly. There was a chance she might be able to go home? “Why are you transporting them all the way to Homestead?”

“Well, you’ve been out there. You see how crazy it is. And they’re saying that Homestead is the only area safe from whatever this is. We’re putting together a shuttle to send out the healthiest patients, just to get them away from all of this.” Jace paused and looked behind her. A nurse was approaching them.

“Jace, we need to get moving,” she said, completely ignoring Rosemarie’s presence. The woman was sweating and had pulled her hair up in a quick bun that did little to keep the strands of hair out of her face.

“I know. I’m getting things ready.”

The woman was gone almost as quickly as she’d come.

Jace turned to Rosemarie, and she saw him clearly for the first time. He had no facial hair to speak of, and the hair on his head was cut low on the sides but swept across his forehead on top. Underneath his white lab coat, he wore a blue button down shirt and fitted khaki pants. Rosemarie didn’t even need to see his shoes to know that they were gray, suede boat shoes. This guy was one of those trendy/fashion types that she’d never gotten along with. Despite the fact that they wanted to be different, they were all just like each other.

But it didn’t matter what he was wearing, or what kind of person he was. There was a chance that she would be able to go home, and she was willing to follow that chance anywhere.

“I can try to make room for you on the shuttle, but we have to move quickly.” Jace led her by the arm around the hallway. “I am going to go upstairs and let our staff know who they can start loading on to the bus. You can wait here until I get back.”

They had stopped in front of what appeared to be a kitchen. A few people bustled inside the kitchen, carrying trays and preparing what appeared to be some kind of pasta. Rosemarie looked at Jace.

“I’m sorry, but I’m not really comfortable just waiting over here by myself.” The memories of the men pulling her off the road and stuffing them in their backseat were still fresh.

But how do you know you can trust this guy?

Jace nodded. “I’d forgotten.” He pulled a phone from his pocket and began to type. He waited a few seconds, then typed again. He put the phone away and looked at her.

“Okay, I told one of my friends. He’s going to start loading people onto the bus.” Jace pointed to a door on the opposite side of the kitchen. “We’ll wait a few more minutes, and then we’ll go out there, where the bus is parked.” He put his hand on her arm. “I won’t go anywhere.”

It was strange, but that hand gave her a comfort she didn’t think she needed.

“Thank you,” she said quietly.

Jace nodded. “So where do you live down in Homestead?” He asked, trying to make some kind of conversation while they waited.

Rosemarie sighed. “Well, I live very deep in Homestead, but I’m currently staying with my parents in Goulds.”

Jace raised an eyebrow. “Goulds? I heard on the radio that Goulds was one of the only contaminated areas down there. I hope your parents are going to be alright.”

“No, they aren’t contaminated,” said Rosemarie. “They were just quarantining the area when I left, because they said it was one of the only areas that wasn’t contaminated. That’s why I was heading down to Homestead. I was going to make sure that my boyfriend was doing okay.”

“I see.” Jace crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “Have you managed to make contact with any of your family? Or with your boyfriend?”

Rosemarie blushed and looked away. “No. I…I don’t know any of their phone numbers.”

Jace’s laugh was friendly enough that she didn’t take it to heart. “I’m sorry. I know what that’s like. I don’t think I’ve memorized any number other than my own since I was a kid.”

“So what is this place? I thought it was a church, but…” Rosemarie let her sentence taper off.

Jace nodded and picked up where she left off. “But it looks more like a hospital than anything else, right? If you think about it, isn’t that what they say a church is supposed to be anyway? A hospital for the broken?”

Rosemarie frowned. “Well, if you think about it, the church is not really a place where we come to be made better. When you come to church, it’s to celebrate what God’s done, to worship him, to hear from his word, and to connect with other believers.”

Jace grew quiet.

“You didn’t think I knew anything about this, did you?”

“No, that’s not —”

“It’s okay. I’m just tired of those cliches, and I’m tired of people treating church like it’s just a place for them to come and get healed from Jesus. Because, sometimes, he doesn’t heal you.” The last sentence slipped out before she could stop it. It had always been there in the back of her mind, but she’d never been able to get it out, not in the dozens of talks she’d had with her pastors, not in the long conversations she’d had with Soren, pouring over scripture and spending time in prayer.

And, yet, it had surfaced, in the presence of a complete stranger, at that.

“Are you a Christian?” He asked.

She was confused. “Of course I’m a Christian,” she said. “Why would I be talking like this if I wasn’t?”

“I don’t know,” said Jace, slowly. “You sound a little bitter.”

Rosemarie pursed her lips. “Well, I can be bitter and a Christian. No one is perfect.”

And, just like that, her confession disappeared behind a wall of defense. If she had any luck, he’d forget about her comment. She didn’t need to wait for long for the tide of the conversation to turn elsewhere. A tiny buzz from his pocket caused his to pull out his phone. He read the message quickly.

“Okay, they are bringing them right now.”

Finally. Thank you, God.

Everything was going so well. Things were falling in place, and she didn’t even have to do anything. This was a rare thing for Rosemarie, especially since a few hours ago, she was tied up in a basement, about to be sold into slavery. Things didn’t just “go well” with Rosemarie. That was a fact of life that she had come to accept.

So when the first screams started coming from the kitchen, she had a sinking feeling that something much worse was on its way.

And she was right.

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The Watchtower: Episode 11

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EPISODE ELEVEN: An Unexpected Friend

The man stepped forward, shotgun raised, headed in their direction. “Hands up where I can see them!” The man shouted as he drew closer to them.

Toby lifted his hands slowly, trying to edge his way to the car. He had to get over to Lyn. If anything happened to her…He had to make sure she was safe.

The man noticed his movement.

“Hey! Stay where you are!” As he came closer, Toby realized the man was holding the gun awkwardly, as though he’d never held a weapon before.

“Sir, we’re stuck. Our car stopped a few blocks away and we pushed it into this lot,” Toby spat out as fast as he could. The man slowly lowered his gun.

“You aren’t from Lighthouse Church?”

Toby shook his head. “We aren’t part of any church. We were just seeing if anyone was inside when this little girl appeared out of nowhere.” He leaned closer to the man. “Do you know anything about this girl?”

The man knelt by the girl. He held his gun behind his back, away from the girl.

“Your name is Katie, isn’t it?”

Her eyes widened. “Y—yes, that’s me.”

“I knew your father,” the man said, taking the girl’s hand, as though he was holding his own daughter’s hand. “What are you doing out here?”

She sniffled. “They said I was sick and not allowed to stay inside anymore.”

The man sighed and looked up at Toby. “Yep. That sounds just like them.” He stood up and reached a hand out. “My name is Brian Miller. I used to be an elder of this church.”

Toby carefully shook his hand. “My name is Toby.” He gestured to the gun, which he still held behind his back like a teenager hiding something from his mother. “That’s an interesting choice of weapon, Elder.”

He laughed. “Oh, this is just a scare tactic, in case any of the Lighthouse folks decide they want to fight.”

“Sir, I’m sorry,” Toby began, “but we need some help with our car. Can you offer us any assistance?”

“There are two other people in that car, aren’t there?” Brian sighed. “I can’t offer you any help with your car. I’m not even that handy with this weapon, to tell you the truth. But I can offer you some shelter through the night.”

Toby stiffened at his words. Shelter. Through the night. The reality of it all hit him in the face: there was no way they were getting to Homestead before the quarantine took effect.

Lyn is going to kill me.

***

She couldn’t tell what they were saying, but at least the man had lowered the gun. Lyn watched as her husband shook hands with the weapon wielder, silently begging Toby to snatch the gun from his hands. They exchanged a few more words, and then they began to walk toward the car, the little girl grasping the man’s hand.

Lyn shifted in her seat. Lincoln was still standing by the trunk, hands in his pockets. She opened the car door and he looked up.

“What’s going on?” He asked. She shook her head. She couldn’t bring herself to say a word to him. The past had come to the surface, but it was too painful to look at. Lyn was afraid that if she acknowledged it, if she said anything to her brother, everything would come out, and this was neither the time nor the place to deal with it all.

How can you let something like this ruin you? You’re not acting like yourself, Lyn. Pull yourself together, she scolded.

Her husband gave her a small smile as he drew closer. She reached for his hand.

“Lyn, this is Brian Miller. He was an Elder for this church.”

The man smiled and reached out to shake her hand. He had tiny spots of gray in his hair, and a thick black goatee. He looked a few years older than her father, but his eyes retained a certain youthfulness that unnerved her. She had spent enough time in front of a mirror to know that her own eyes betrayed stress, anxiety, and maybe even some regret, but definitely not youthfulness, despite her relatively few years. How could this old man’s eyes hold youth?

“Sorry about the scare with the gun,” he said sheepishly, like a middle schooler talking to his crush. “I had to be certain your husband wasn’t one of my enemies.”

Lyn raised an eyebrow. “Well.”

“Brian says that he can provide us some shelter through the night.”

She was about to nod, when his words registered. “Through the night?

Toby tried to speak quickly. “I know, this isn’t what we planned—”

“No, this isn’t what we planned, Toby, this is crazy!” She looked into her husband’s eyes, hoping he would understand. “Toby, if we don’t get back in five hours, they’re going to close the quarantine, and we’ll be stuck out here.”

“Lyn, we’re stuck out here anyway,” he said, his voice getting that strain it did when he was trying not to get upset at her. “This car isn’t going anywhere any time soon. If you want to stay in the car by yourself, then be my guest.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t suggest that, my friend,” Brian said, shaking his head. They both turned to him.

“Why not?” Lincoln piped up from behind them.

Brian looked around at the empty lot. “This place isn’t safe. It doesn’t have any type of covering. If they come out, you’re going to be lunch. Or, actually, considering the time, you’re going to be dinner.”

“If who come out?” Toby slipped his arm around Lyn.

The man leaned forward and lowered his voice to a whisper.

“The zombies, my friends. Who else?”

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