Daniel wasn’t very talkative. Of course he had the excuse of having to observe the surroundings, but even then Penny’s inquiries after the security situation could have been answered with more than one-syllable replies.
‘How does the team feel after yesterday’s eventsAuthor’s note AO3: Thank you Veronica for your comment on chapter 16. Some of your questions will be answered in a later chapter. I’m glad you like the history bits.?’ Penny gave it another try.
‘No nervousness, no slacking?’
‘Not on my watch.’
Four words: a record. ‘Another thing: Melody’s room isn’t very big. So I was thinking…’
Daniel turned to face Penny, trying not to smile. Penny hadn’t mentioned her idea to anyone, but having spoken to her father after her return to the farm she could make an educated guess as to what Daniel thought she was going to propose.
‘After Caroline moves to the Nielsen house, I’d like you and Melody to have her room.’
Daniel didn’t reply except for setting his jaw.
‘It’s bigger than Melody’s present room and it’s got sanitary facilities nearby!’ Penny said with acted enthusiasm. Daniel turned his back on her and continued to observe the view from tower two.
‘Melody’s room is small indeed. The new RV we got is big. You’re not going to grant it to your friends from Greeneville are you?’
Breath in, breath out, Penny thought. ‘I won’t.’
Daniel nodded. ‘I hope you will consider me and Melody for the RV. We’ll start a family and I’d say that I’ve – Well. I think you know what I mean.’
Daniel made a show of checking the surroundings through his binoculars.
Penny thought of telling Daniel to uncover the lenses, but she merely shrugged and descended the ladder. Her brother was waiting for her at the gate.
Penny and Randall walked to the Torsvik farm. Starting from the Nielsen house the road had been covered with mud to make strangers think that it had come to an end and a few years had been enough to make plants and grasses claim it. The sign indicating that there were three properties along the dead-end road had been removed at the start of the outbreak and as a result the Torsviks had not received a lot of visitors. It did not mean that they’d suffered no casualties though.
The sky was cloudless and there were no zombies around. Penny inhaled deeply. With the weather being mild she almost expected the first crocuses to appear. Winter is coming, she reminded herself.
‘We’re not going over to steal the last apples, are we Penny?’
The orchery of the Torsviks was two miles away from their old elementary school, but many pupils had gone over there to steal fruit. The fact that they’d had to try to jump over a wide ditch and pass a thick hedge had only added to the challenge.
‘Remember those stones at the bottom of the ditch?’
‘I remember the bruises and cuts they got me,’ Randall replied.
When they’d been at house zero waiting for Hank and Pete to arrive, Penny had known that her father had told Randall about her “situation” but she hadn’t talked to her brother herself. She’d planned to do that now, during the four minutes’ walk to their neighbours, but so far she’d not even gathered the courage to enter the reason why she needed to go to the Torsvik farm, for that was connected to said “situation”. Randall for his part didn’t seem in a hurry to question her: he continued to recall memories.
‘It was always an adventure. And when Marit moved in with her vicious dogs –‘
‘Vicious? Those dogs wouldn’t hurt a fly!’
‘To would-be thieves they were mean. Fred fled just because of their barking and he never accompanied me again.’
As if on cue a dog growled. The siblings, knowing about Marit’s training expected danger to be approaching but they saw none.
‘Hi Sandy!’ Penny greeted the dog. ‘What’s wrong girl?’
Sandy growled some more but she also wagged her tail. Being well-trained she didn’t jump over the wrought iron fence that stood in the front of the house from one hedge to another.
Fancy fence, Penny heard her mother say. Like their house is some castle or so. I’ll tell you Wyatt, that woman fancies herself to be quite something.
Teenage Penny hadn’t agreed with her mother. She’d thought that Marit Torsvik was admiringly self-confident.
‘Penny for your thoughts,’ the very woman now said as she appeared from behind some shrubbery.
‘A ten dollar bill at least,’ Penny replied as she’d done many times before.
Marit opened the gate. ‘How nice to see you both! Sandy, stop growling crazy girl. I saw your sign is clear again? What happened?’
Penny summarized what had happened without revealing what had happened to her. On hearing that there’d be guards in house zero and the church Marit offered hands.
‘I’ll keep it in mind but we’ll manage for now.’
‘Are you here for the fair’s final preparations then?’
‘No, unfortunately not.’
Randall curiously looked at his sister. Penny reached into the breast pocket of her leather jacket, took out a piece of cloth and handed it to her neighbour.
Marit sharply inhaled. ‘You found her.’
Ingrid Nesbo had been Marit’s daughter-in-law and she’d gone missing at the start of the outbreak. Penny had only met her once, pre-ZO, and Ingrid had then worn her signature hairband.
Marit took them to the stables where her son was clearing manure.
‘Hi Penny! Hello Randall!’
‘Hello Lars,’ the siblings said in unison.
‘What’s wrong?’ Lars asked looking from the visitors to his mother.
‘Penny brought this,’ Marit said as she gave her son the cloth.
‘Ingrid,’ Lars whispered. ‘Where? Where did you find it?’
Penny knew Lars had searched for his missing wife for days.
‘In a ditch near the mall. You wouldn’t have spotted her there.’
‘She’s dead then. In a ditch?’
Laertes in Hamlet, Penny thought. Drowned? Where?
Lars made the hairband with its Nordic design go round and round between his fingers.
‘Thank you Penny.’
‘I’m sorry Lars.’
Marit hugged her crying son. He soon freed himself and drying his cheeks with the back of his hand said: ‘Was she hurt badly?’
Penny shook her head. ‘I think that she was bitten in her waist and that she turned rapidly.’
‘So she wasn’t ea–‘
‘No she wasn’t. I took her remains to our field.’
A white lie, Penny thought.
‘Thank you Penny. I’ll go and tell Haakon now,’ Lars said.
Lars left and Marit walked Penny and Randall to the fence. It wasn’t until they’d arrived there that Marit spoke again: ‘She went to the mall to get more canned food. Stubborn brave woman. I’m glad you found her. It will allow Lars to move on.’
They discussed some fair-related things after all. Marit said that her people were looking forward to it and she offered accommodation for four if need be.
On their way home Penny felt Randall look at her.
‘Was she really unharmed?’
‘I recognized her by her hairband.’
‘That bad huh? You found her in the mall, didn’t you?’
Penny nodded, glad that the topic was on the table now.
‘I can’t imagine what it must have been like Pen, walking between those zombies. Shit woman!’
Penny glanced at her brother.
‘Why didn’t you tell dad or me?’
’I didn’t know whether a herd of zombies wouldn’t attack me. So why tell you and give you hope? I could have died still. And it wasn’t as if there was a logical explanation.’
‘What are we? Scientists? Ha! Pen, to dad and me you’re simply immune.’
‘Don’t you believe that? Sheldon is convinced of it and so is Howard.’
‘I know,’ Penny said hesitatingly, fingering the chin-strap she kept in a pocket of her jacket.
‘You had doubts and you just walked into that mall? Bad-ass!’
‘It gave us an advantage. Not only when it came to Pete and Hank but also for the future. The more stuff we have the less we have to scavenge, the less likely we’ll run into others who mean us harm.’
Randall playfully punched Penny’s upper arm. For some fifty feet they walked in silence.
‘Seen any other people we knew?’
‘There was a body wearing Mrs Dawn’s nametag behind the counter of the weapons section.’
Randall kicked away a peddle.
‘She was bitten in her shoulder and she’d killed herself. What if she would have been all right, just like -.’
Penny couldn’t bring herself to finish her line. She was pulled into a bear hug.
‘You. Just like you.’
Sarah C wondered why her sister Sharon liked to spend time outside the wall. She congratulated herself on being selected for the house zero shift for she’d planned to apply for an apprenticeship as a scavenger and from her four hour stay here she’d learned that she preferred to face zombies where there was a gate or wall between them and her. No scavenging for her, thank you ma’am. And why should she? She was a guard, a cook and Marion’s apprentice. Enough to keep her busy right?
‘Yeah,’ she said to herself.
‘Day dreaming on the job Sarah?’
Another thing Sarah didn’t get about her sister was why she was attracted to Tom. Didn’t Sharon see that the man was intimidating as hell?
‘No sir. Just telling myself that I’ll shoot that zombie over there when it comes a bit closer.’
Tom didn’t look into the direction she gestured at. Of course he’d spotted the zombie already while she had only noticed it moments ago.
‘Why don’t you do it now?’
So Sarah gave it a try. Her arrow went through the zombie’s neck. She felt very small as she waited for Tom’s comment.
The zombie looked gross. Really gross. It smelled disgusting too.
The second arrow went into the zombie’s cheek. The creature came closer. Tom had already gotten his bow from his back and he now loaded it. Sarah expected him to kill the zombie, but he didn’t move.
‘Sarah,’ he calmly said.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, Sarah thought. She reloaded but then the zombie dropped sideways unto the road. The arrow sticking out of its head had an orange feather at the top.
Fuck, fuckerdifuck, Sarah thought, knowing who’s mark that was.
Tom and Sarah stepped away from the front door of house zero, past a bush. A jeep drove toward them, with Raj behind the wheel and Penny standing in the trunk.
‘I haven’t interrupted practice shooting have I?’ Penny said when she’d reached them. ‘I thought I’d better shoot just in case.’
To do something useful Sarah extracted Penny’s arrow as well as her own. Meanwhile Penny told Tom she’d come to see Howard. Sarah volunteered to get the engineer. She went inside the police station and was told by Neill that Howard was upstairs. She found him half hanging out of a window.
‘Hi, what are you doing?’
‘Measuring the height of this floor,’ Howard said. Talking to himself he added: ‘It’s more or less at the same level as that door in the tower.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘It makes it easier to connect the buildings.’
‘Wanna make a bridge or so? Lot of work if no one lives here.’
‘Who knows what might happen.’
Howard scribbled some numbers in a notebook. ‘Did you need me for something Sarah?’
‘Penny does. She’s downstairs.’
Sarah accompanied Howard to the front door. Normally she liked being around him, for he was charming and talkative, but today he seemed pre-occupied. On spotting Penny he smiled though and asked: ‘Where are you taking me fair lady?’
Fair lady, Sarah thought. Well, Penny’s pretty. But I’m not ugly either, am I? She smiled at Raj who waved at her from the jeep.
‘Shopping,’ Penny told Howard. She turned to Tom: ‘The moment Leo sees people approach, have him contact Howard by walkie-talkie.’
Penny, Raj and Howard left.
‘People?’ Sarah asked, knowing she sounded daft. When Tom told her that her shift in house zero would be cut short, she was sorry she’d displeased him and yet she was glad to go home.
Penny manoeuvred a cart with among others a compactly folded party-tent. She’d strained a muscle getting all six heavy packages of it and she was glad Howard would be there to help her unload it. On occasion she had to wait for zombies to cross from isle to isle. Some of them showed teeth due to not having lips anymore but none behaved aggressively. For as far as it was possible Penny had gotten used to it, but she kept her hand-bow with her just the same.
On opening the emergency exit Penny found the jeep gone. On the grass within the fences lay a ball of paper. It contained the key to the gate’s lock and a message. After making sure no zombie would get in or out, Penny mounted the bicycle the guys had left and hurried to house zero where Tom stood guard. A bicycle with a white flag at the steer that was parked in front of the building. Tom told Penny that a woman from Bill’s group had arrived. ‘She claimed to be alone, but there are nine RVs at the Van Dijk farm. Also a message came through from the CDL: Greeneville and Stein are spotted. They travel together. Their signs are on safe. Greeneville brought extra people.’