The End Came With a Kiss(13)

By: John Michael Hileman

"The lab is on the other side." I bring the light around. Every muscle in my body rattles with fear at the sight of a face floating in front of me. I leap back and run the light up and down. My heart’s pounding in my ears. It's Kevin from accounting, standing with that sheepish grin on his face and a coffee mug in his hand. "Seriously, Kevin! You scared me half to death!" I say, straightening up. "That's a good way to get yourself shot."

Kevin mouths some words as he grips his mug to his chest. He was probably the most chatty and unproductive person in the entire company, for which I had to bring him into my office several times. Now he is sentenced to an eternity of non productivity—walking like a specter from employee to employee, standing with that stupid grin on his face and mouthing words no one will ever hear.

Ashlyn makes a funny face. "Welcome to Creepsville. Population: this guy." She stabs a thumb at him.

It surprises me that I laugh. I guess Kevin’s business-as-usual demeanor is having a calming effect on me. This isn’t the quarantine war. These are all broken loopers, content to cycle through a thousand unique work and social routines, undisturbed by my daily interference. So what’s going on with Lau? "Sorry, Kevin. Some of us have to work," I say with a wry smile.

Our passage through the room goes mostly unnoticed. The workers are busying themselves with all manner of toil. In one cubicle a woman works the copier portion of a printer as though it has power. In another, a man pantomimes the eating of a sandwich. He must be on his lunch break, even though it is nearly 8:00 p.m.

A loud thud echoes off the walls. Ashlyn and I spin around with shotguns pointed. Bang! Thud! The noises seem to be coming from a few cubicles down. Horrible memories of teeth snarling and corpses lunging oppress me as we creep forward, closer and closer. Beyond the half wall of the cubicle I now hear sporadic hissing noises erupting in soft spurts. Another loud bang and a corpse rises up from the cubicle in front of us, eyes filled with rage, veins popping from his neck. Everything in me is telling me to pull the trigger, but I’m frozen. What’s restraining me? Is it that I know this guy? Yes! That’s it! I know him!

"Wait!" I say, firmly. Not that I need to. My young companion has nerves of steel. "I know this guy. He’s not raging. It’s okay."

I see his hand pressing his phone tight to his head. I can almost hear him screaming: "I want four truckloads of distilled water on our loading docks by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow or you don’t get paid!"

Stan was the lead project manager, my go-to guy. He was a bit of a hot head, but he always got the job done. It’s still hard to see him like this.

His cellphone hand drops to his side and he raises the other to wave. There is a sheepish look on his face. He was always apologetic after losing his temper on the phone. As quick as he appeared, he drops down and vanishes behind the cubicle wall.

"And I thought things were weird at my house," says Ashlyn, lowering the shotgun. Her eyes snap to me. She must notice the look of shock on my face. "What?" she says.

"I’m just surprised you didn’t freak out and shoot him."

Her face curdles like milk. "I’ve been hunting since I was old enough to hold a .22. You can’t go shooting everything that twitches."

"That was a little more than a twitch."

"If you shoot a bear, it doesn’t kill ‘em, it just makes ‘em angry."

This young woman continues to surprise me. I don’t know why, but even with the hard leather biker jacket, tight leather gloves and padded motorbike pants, I pegged her for a college kid.

"Are you a farmer’s daughter or something?"

"Hardly," she says aghast. "My father was the most sought-after horse trainer in the States."

"Oh. So you were raised on a horse ranch."

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

I scowl. "I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just odd to see a beautiful young girl doing motorcycle stunts and handling a shotgun like a pro."

"Young girl?" she says indignantly. "I’m twenty!"

I shake my head and start heading back up the corridor. "I’ll just keep my observations to myself."