The End Came With a Kiss(4)

By: John Michael Hileman


"O-kay," she says, elongating the A sound. "You don't want to tell me. I get it."

Great, this is all I need. Drama.

I give her an irritated glance, and then look back out the windshield, continuing my numbing stare. "Have you always been this way?"

"What way?"

"Temperamental."

"I'm not temperamental." She huffs.

I shake my head and scrunch my face. This causes her to snuff out her nose and settle into her seat.

"Do you have a name?" I ask.

Her voice is weak. I can tell she doesn't want to answer, but she does, probably out of fear that I will consider her too much of a hassle and ditch her on the side of the road if she doesn’t. "Ashlyn," she says, "Ashlyn Scott."

"Why were the loopers chasing you?"

"The what?"

"The dead," I clarify.

She nods with understanding.

"I've never seen them chase a motorcycle before."

"I figured the best way to get around would be on a bike. I didn't know it was one of theirs. He came running out of a store screaming, and I panicked."

"And you picked up the rest trying to get away from the first?"

"Sort of." I can tell by her change in demeanor she is embarrassed.

"What did you do, run someone over?"

She swallows. "I hit a woman with a baby. Not a live one," she blurts defensively. "They were dead. I'm sure of it. The baby didn't cry or nothing when it hit the ground."

All I can do is wince.

"She's the one who got them all going. Everyone started going ballistic."

"And what made you decide going up into a parking garage would save you from them?"

"I was riding for my life, I didn't know what it was till it was too late." She grips the helmet in her lap, and her voice cracks. "I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I just keep running. I just keep hiding."

"Me too, Ashlyn," I say softly. She seems grateful for the tenderness of my response, and we drive in silence for a while.

"What's your name," she says at last.

"Ben Carter."

"Are you alone too, Ben Carter?"

"It's just me and my wife Kate."

"Is that where you're going? To her?"

"Yes."

This is enough for her. She looks out the window, and we drive in silence again. Not another word is spoken until we get to the gate of the cul-de-sac where I live.

"You live here?" she says, wide eyed.

"Yes," I say, turning in. My eyes scan the yards for any strange activity—well—stranger than usual. There is always something weird to see.

"You were a rich guy before all this went down." Her eyes brush over the expensive houses. Half the lawns are overgrown now. The loopers still mow them, but, without gas, the mowers don't do a very good job.

"I made a decent living."

I check my watch. I have five minutes. There were no surprises on the trip home, so I made up the lost time. "See that house?" I say, pointing to a two story on the right.

"Which one? They all look the same."

"The one with the green garage door."

"Yeah."

"That’s my safe house. The key’s under the mat.

She turns. "Aren't you coming?"

"I have to grab some supplies."

"What about your wife?"

"She's not in there. You're safe."

"Where is she?"

"Up the road."

"Then I'll go with you," she says, settling into her seat.

"No. You stay here."

"But I want..."

"You stay here," I say sharply. "This isn't a debate."

She studies the stern face I'm giving her and a look of understanding washes over her features. "I get it. You have to do this alone."

My muscles loosen. "Yes."

"Okay." She lifts her chin. "I'll wait here."

"There's food in the cellar. I won't be long."

She climbs out and holds the door open. "Promise me you're coming back."

"Of course I’m coming back."

After an excruciating pause she closes the door, and I continue on up the road around the long gentle bend. My house is the last one on the left before the dead end loop. I slow down and pull into the driveway.