The Promise of Running Water

The aged wood creaked beneath Tasha’s feet as she peered through the dusty windowpane into the dark interior. Nothing. This was the last window she could check and she hadn’t seen even the slightest sign of life. Either it really was abandoned or they were hiding out upstairs. She retreated to the steps of the porch and beckoned. A dusky skinned woman appeared from the woods and moments later a boy’s head peeked out around her waist. Their clothes were filthy and most of their skin was caked in dirt. Tasha knew she looked no better.

“Looks clear. We’ll need to complete a room by room search when we enter, but it should be safe for the night. If we’re lucky, there will be running water.”

“If we’re lucky, there will be food stores,” Leesha said. She drew a pistol from her waistband. “Is the door unlocked?”

“In a moment.” Tasha knelt at the door and slid two thin wires into the lock. “Give me a hand, Rupe?” At her signal, the boy twisted the knob and she shouldered open the door. The wires disappeared into her wristband and she drew her own pistol. “Stay close.”

Staircase, closet, three rooms to choose from. She started with the closet. Nothing in there. “Get inside. The usual knock. If you hear any other pattern or if somebody opens the door—”

“I’ll shoot them.”

Tasha waited until she heard the latch click into place then tried door number one, just off the main entry. The dining room. She licked cracked lips with an even dryer tongue, the taste of copper flooding her mouth. She used an abandoned broom handle to lift the long, musty tablecloth. Nothing underneath it. More importantly, no one.

The dining room opened into the kitchen. Clear. The pantry revealed stacks of canned goods. Jackpot. Methodically, she moved from room to room, each one coming up devoid of life. The stairs loomed before her. Anything could be waiting for her up there. At least with the rooms on the lower levels, she’d been able to peer through the windows. Check for life. She was going in blind.

The stairs groaned creaked and groaned with her every step. She considered backtracking for the broom so that she could test if they would hold her weight. She stuck close to the edges. The carpeting upstairs muffled the creaks as she stared down a long hallway of doors.

She forced her nerves to quiet as she lay flat on her stomach to peer under the bed, her gun held awkwardly in front of her. Nothing. Bedroom after bedroom, each one empty. The last door held a bathroom. She turned the knob on the faucet and rusty water coughed and spat out for a moment then became clearer with each passing second. She stuck a finger under it and nearly yelped. Bone cold. Still, it was water and she could boil it in a kettle over the fireplace if the stove didn’t work. She leaned over and took a long drink. Tasted clean.

She bounded down the stairs with a whoop. “Leesha! There’s water!” She rounded the corner and froze. The closet door was open. “Leesha?” This time more softly as she inched forward, her gun held before her, clasped in trembling hands. The closet was empty. She swung the door shut and repeated her rounds of the downstairs, ending up back in front of the open door.

There was no sign of life in the house. This probably wouldn’t end well. What had driven them from the house? Tasha turned from the empty closet, trying to remember if she’d glanced at it again before heading upstairs. “Leesha? Rupe? Where did you go?” How long had they been missing?

She peered out the window, watching as a beam of light flickered out of view in the woods. She flung open the door and screamed Leesha’s name. The light turned, blinding her. She stumbled back and shielded her eyes. As the light swept away it glinted off hundreds of eyes. The building was surrounded.

“Are you alone?” Tasha knelt next to a boy.

“My mommy’s nearby. She was going to take me somewhere safe. A house in the woods.”

“I can help you get there. We could all use someplace safe to stay.”

“I heard it has running water.”

“Get away from my son,” Tasha jerked her head around to find a woman with a gun trained on her.

She held her hands up in the air. “Sorry.”

“Mama, she’s going to help us.”

“Sorry, it’s been a rough… day? Week?” The woman lowered her gun but didn’t holster it.

Tasha massaged the bridge of her nose. “Feels like a lifetime. Your son here was telling me about a house? Something nearby?”

“Up ahead through the woods. I can lead you there.”

“We’re going to die,” Rupe sat on the porch swing, rocking back and forth.

“Where’s your mother?”

“Dead. Dead dead dead.”

“Don’t say that. She could still be out there. Couldn’t have gotten far.”

“Dead for days. She led me to you. Told me you could get me here. Then she brought them.” He raised a hand and pointed out at the shambling masses.

“Why?”

“Because she misses me. Wants me to join her.”

“Rupe, come inside.”

“What’s the point? They’re going to kill us. Or turn us. It’s only a matter of time. I may as well go out swinging.”

“I don’t think that’s what the saying mean. We can beat this. We can fight.”

“My mom’s dead, Tasha. The world is dead. At least for now, I have this.”

Tasha pulled the door shut behind her and joined him on the swing. “You know, I always wanted a house with a swing.” He slipped his hand into hers and she laced their fingers together. “You were right, you know? It does have running water. Food too.”

He dropped his head onto her shoulder and they watched as the zombies approached.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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