The Watchtower is a serial novel about zombies.
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EPISODE THREE

It’s the way he’s always been.

There’s a wound, he’s there to patch it up.

He’s never been so good at finding out whatever caused the wound in the first place.

Especially when he’s the cause.

Crisis management.

Disaster relief.

That’s all he’s ever been good at.

Up until now, it’s all he’s ever needed.

***

The man with the gun inched closer to them.

“You two seem to be in a bit of trouble,” the man said, gesturing to their bus. “Is there any way that I can be of assistance to you?”

Rosemarie kept her eyes trained on his gun. He noticed and smiled.

“Oh, I see. This gun here has got the little miss spooked.” He lowered his weapon. “I’m not here to use it on you. It’s just a precaution in case any of the zombies show up.”

A few other men and two women came out of the jeeps, guns pointing toward the road, the bus, anywhere but at Rosemarie and Jace.

“What do you want?” Jace asked, taking a step closer to the man.

“What do I want?” The man laughed. “You’re the one who waved my group down. The question is, what do you want?”

“We’re trying to get to Homestead,” Rosemarie blurted out. “I need to get back to my boyfriend.”

“Now this is an interesting situation,” the man said, looking at Jace and then back at her. “You see, we’re heading to Homestead ourselves.” He turned to one of the men who had come out of the jeep. “Move Chris and Angie to your vehicle. I’ll take these two with me.”

“Wait a moment,” Rosemarie said, holding up her hand. “I appreciate your offer, but I can’t go with you unless I know your name.”

“Is that really the only thing you need to trust someone, little miss?” The man glanced at Jace. “Is that the only thing she needed from you?”

Jace didn’t seem to hear him. “What’s your name, sir?”

The man laughed again and extended a dirty hand to Rosemarie. “The name is Carl. And me and the rest of the group are Zombie Slayers. Now, is that enough information for you to trust me?”

***

“That’s not the way it works.”

They had been sitting here for all of five minutes, watching father and son argue back and forth. Lincoln was growing restless. It reminded him of conversations between his own father and Rosemarie. Maybe there was a reason his sister was involved with this guy.

It still would’ve been nice to know that, you know, he was lying about his identity.

“I’m sorry, Steven. Is there anything else you would like me to say?”

“There’s nothing you can say—”

Lincoln stood up.

“Okay, this is all very interesting, but it’s not Dr. Phil. We don’t have the time, nor the necessary education, to sift through all of this nonsense. Can we just move on with our lives?”

The room grew quiet.

“Miller, it’s kinda obvious that your son doesn’t want to talk about this,” Lincoln continued, “so maybe you should just let it go and wait for a better time.”

“Because that’s the most effective way to deal with problems,” Miller said, lowering his voice. “By running away from them.”

Who does this guy think he is?

“I think Lincoln is right,” Soren said, turning to his father. “I think it’s time for you to move on.”

Miller stood there, his face slowly becoming unreadable. Lincoln had seen this before, in his own father, after he tried to explain why he was staying with their mother. Whatever had happened between Soren and Miller was their deal, but he needed to find Rosemarie. That was the only thing that mattered.

“We’re going to the Watchtower,” Miller said slowly. “When you’re ready, that’s where we’ll be.” He reached out to shake Toby’s hand. “It was nice meeting you guys. I hope you find your sister.”

“Thank you for your help, Miller,” Toby said.

With one last awkward glance at his son, Miller walked out of the house.

“What was he talking about?” Lincoln asked. “What is the Watchtower?”

“It’s supposed to be a safe house,” Soren replied, crossing his arms, “but I don’t believe it exists. I don’t know how he expects me to find him there when it’s probably not even real.”

“Well, a safe house isn’t going to help us find Rosemarie,” Toby cut in. “Do you think she’s still in the Homestead area?”

Soren sighed. “To be honest, I think her car got stuck somewhere on the side of the road somewhere and she probably forgot her phone at home.”

“Then why weren’t you driving around looking for her?”

“I already tried that, but she’s not around.”

Lincoln didn’t understand. Wasn’t she this guy’s boyfriend? Didn’t he care about her safety? Didn’t he want to know where she was?

“Listen, Soren, we’re going to need a lot more than this if we’re going to find my sister,” he said. “Did she know anyone in this area that she might have gone to for help?”

“I don’t know, Lincoln. I don’t know anything.” Soren coughed and leaned back in his chair. “Right now, I’m not feeling so well, so if you would just leave me alone—”

Lincoln stood up. “I guess this is it, then. Toby and Lyn, we’re leaving.” He stepped over to Soren. “I don’t know how you got a girl like Rosemarie, but she sure doesn’t deserve someone who doesn’t even care if she’s all right.”

Soren didn’t reply, closing his eyes and wiping sweat from his forehead. He really didn’t look so good. Lincoln looked at his brother-in-law and nodded.

It was time to go.

***

The seats in the back of the jeep were uncomfortable. Rosemarie fiddled with the seatbelt, but it was stuck. She had agreed to get in this car with Carl and the other Zombie Slayers mainly because she had no other choice. Besides, these people had guns and they seemed to be concerned about surviving.

These are exactly my kind of people.

“So why aren’t you back home with your boyfriend, little miss?” Carl asked, glancing at her in the rear view mirror. “You’d think a girl as pretty as you would want to stay at home instead of wandering around with some guy who ain’t your boyfriend.”

Rosemarie looked up at him. “I was kidnapped. My car broke down and some guys offered to help. Turns out they had…ulterior motives.”

“So you don’t learn from your mistakes,” Carl laughed. “You get involved with a pretty boy bus driver, and now you’re riding in a jeep with self proclaimed Zombie Slayers.” He shook his head. “You are something else.”

Jace crossed his arms. “Listen, Carl, I don’t know who you think you are, but I don’t appreciate—”

“And I don’t care. I’m not in the business of making people happy. I’m in the business of killing things that are a threat to me.” He lowered his voice. “So don’t make the mistake of trying to tell me anything. Because, in my book, that’s a threat.”

The car grew silent. This guy didn’t scare her. She had fought off two of the so-called zombies, and she had survived a kidnapping. But she wanted to know why he was headed to Homestead. The news stations seemed to say that Homestead was the only place without zombies. So why were Zombie Slayers trying to get there?

“How much do the two of you know about all this?” Carl asked, most of the aggression gone from his voice.

Rosemarie glanced at Jace. “Well, the makeshift hospital we were in was overrun by them. We think it spread through the food.”

“We were attacked by one on the bus,” Jace added. “I had almost killed it, but it managed to escape from me.”

“Yeah, they’re crafty little things. They’ll come at you only if they think they can win. And, no, this thing didn’t spread through the food.” Carl paused. “This was done to them.”

“What do you mean?” Rosemarie leaned forward. “I saw the guy who kidnapped me turn into one right in front of my eyes. No one was doing anything to him.”

“Well, you see, that’s how they managed to trick everyone. They put something in them, something latent, and then, when the time is right, they trigger it.”

“So why are you killing them? Aren’t they just victims?” Jace asked.

Carl frowned. “No, I wouldn’t say they’re victims. I don’t know why they were chosen for this, but they’re killing people. I can’t just sit around and watch that.”

“So you became a Zombie Slayer.” Rosemarie sighed. “I killed the one who kidnapped me. I guess that makes me a zombie slayer, too.”

Carl turned around to face her and held out his hand.

“Welcome to the club, little miss.”

***

“Some help that guy was,” Lyn said, slipping her arm through her husband’s. “What are the chances that he was Miller’s long lost estranged son?”

“I don’t know,” Toby said, “but Miller being there really complicated things. I didn’t think he would end up leaving us behind.”

“Now we don’t even have a car to drive back home once we find her,” Lincoln said.

Lyn sighed. This was getting out of control. They had absolutely no idea where to look for Rosemarie, and they didn’t have a car to protect them from the zombies, or whatever they were, that were roaming around.

They walked away from Soren’s house in silence. The streets were busy, which gave Lyn a strange sense of comfort. If there were a lot of people around, maybe they wouldn’t have to worry about zombies.

“Excuse me, ma’am, do you have any change?”

Lyn felt someone tugging at her pants and looked down. A small elderly woman looked up at her, hands extended.

“No, I don’t have any—”

The woman’s face turned white. “I—I know you!”

Lyn glanced at Toby. What is she talking about?

“I’m sorry, I’ve never seen you before.”

“Yes, yes, you have,” the woman continued, pulling herself to her feet. “You were driving on the side of the road a mile from here. I saw you…” The woman suddenly started to cough and Toby pulled Lyn behind him.

“What are you talking about?” He asked. “You saw us in front of that elementary school?”

The woman continued coughing, doubling over and falling back. Lyn took a step closer. She felt a strange desire to help the woman, although she was sure she couldn’t do anything.

“Excuse me, ma’am, are you okay?”

Suddenly, the woman lunged at Lyn, reaching for her throat. Her face had turned gray and her fingers were cold around Lyn’s neck. She clawed at the fingers, trying to pry them away.

“Toby!” She tried to scream, but no sound came out. The woman was squeezing tighter and tighter, and she was struggling for her.

And then there was a loud noise and it was over. Lyn fell back into Toby’s arms, gasping for air, rubbing her neck, watching her attacker crumble to the ground in front of her.

“Toby—” she gasped. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Toby said, holding on to her so she wouldn’t fall over. “Lincoln did.”

Lyn looked to her brother. He was standing in front of her, shoulders hunched, eyes dark. Gun in his hands. He had fired at her attacker and had made it stop.

He had saved her life.

Thank you, she wanted to say. Thank you for stopping that…thing.

But she couldn’t.

He wouldn’t have accepted it anyway.

That’s just the way things worked.

***

The lights were off when he walked through the door. His wife must have gone upstairs to sleep.

Sleeps sounds so good right now.

Last night had been hard, waiting for his children to come home knowing he couldn’t do anything about it. But he was tired of letting things happen to him. Emmy hadn’t been herself this morning, rambling on and on about that man. How did she think that made him feel? Did she think he didn’t care?

“Emmy?” He called out as he climbed up the stairs to their bedroom.

“Jamison?” Her small voice floated from the top of the stairs. “Is everything all right? You left so suddenly, and I was worried—”

He didn’t reply, but continued climbing the stairs slowly. He was going to find out the truth behind her behavior this morning. Even if he had to pry it out of her.

“Why were you talking about him this morning?”

Emmy looked away. “Jamison, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking straight—”

“I thought we had an understanding, Emmy. You were never supposed to talk about him again, and I would forget it ever happened.”

“I know, Jamison, and I’ve tried, but this morning—”

He reached for her arm and pulled her close to him.

“You broke the terms of our arrangement, Emmy.”

She slumped forward and started to cough.

“Jamison, I’m so sorry. I’m just not feeling so well.”

This wasn’t the first time she’d pretended to be sick in the middle of a conversation. He wasn’t buying it this time.

“Emmy, this is the last time we’re going to talk about this, do you understand?” Jamison lifted her chin and waited until she looked him in the eye. “If I hear you talking about him—”

“It won’t happen again, Jamison,” she replied, her voice shaking.

He let her go and felt a strange satisfaction in her reaction. He’d never lashed out at her before, but this time, she had pushed him.

And she deserved it.

His cell phone began to ring and he felt a new anger rush through him.

“Jamison, this is Trace again.”

“What do you want, Trace?” He tried to stabilize his voice. There was no use in letting Trace know he was upset.

“It’s really bad, Jamison—”

“Just tell me, Trace.” Too late.

“They’re closing the quarantine, Jamison.”

“What?”

“They just packed up and left, blocking the entrance. No one can come in, and no one can leave.”

“…Thank you, Trace.”

Jamison hung up the phone. He looked at Emmy, his anger toward her forgotten.

“This is it, Emmy,” he said, trying to ignore the fear in her eyes.

“This is when everything changes.”