Let’s Write Something With Zombies – Close Encounter

The warehouse of the home centre was creeper-free. It had been locked up and the creepers had not come up with a way to get inside. The place was huge, big enough to park an airplane or two. It wasn’t full to bursting, but the supplies they found caused quite a bit of celebration. A caged lock up held a dozen Remington hunting rifles, and another lock box held a healthy supply of ammo. Plus a few composite hunting bows, arrows and hunting tips. Plus more camping supplies in the form of tents, sleeping bags, cook stoves and water purification tablets.
There was also a maintenance catwalk and metal stairway that led to the roof of the mall. That’s what Oakley really wanted to check out.
She and Sawyer made the trek up three storeys of metals rungs, broke the lock off the door and stepped out into the fresh air of a crisp, autumn day. The sun was shining, a slight breeze with a chilly bite to it lifted Oakley’s hair off the back of her neck, and the surrounding area was wide open for viewing in 360 degrees.
“Amazing,” Sawyer mumbled, walking to the edge to see the backside of the mall which they hadn’t checked out since first claiming the store. It was about two hundred yards of crumbling parking lot, and beyond that, a rushing stream. They could hear it from where they were.
“Holy shit,” Oakley breathed as she joined the other woman. Anyone who made it this far knew how lucky it was to find a safe source of water. Moving water was less likely to be dangerous. They had water purification tablets, and had intended to set up barrels on the roof to catch rain and show which would definitely be safe for drinking. But this was good to have as well; especially for cleaning. And bathing.
“I bet there’s fish in there, too,” Sawyer speculated, turning to Oakley with a smile. “And I know you noticed the deer droppings out front.”
“They likely come by here for the water,” Oakley surmised. “We might have stumbled onto a bit of paradise here. Completely by accident.”
“Yeah,” Sawyer agreed, turning back to the autumn vista that was turning orange and gold already. “I like this safe spot up here for fires and cooking,” she continued. “Don’t want to do that in an enclosed area. We’ll have shelter but I’m not sure how we get extra heat down in the store.”
Oakley shrugged. “Winters are short. We ransack a clothing store. Everyone bundles up, sleeps a lot. Bears hibernate in winter, don’t they?”
Sawyer grinned and turned back to the stairway, stopping short. Oakley spun, instinct causing her to reach for the handle of her machete. But she froze with her hand on the grip as she realized she was looking at their strange, overheard neighbour.
The three of them were frozen in an eyeball stand-off, so Oakley took the opportunity to really study him.
He was maybe older than she’d first thought; around twelve or so. At the age where young men start to stretch out without filling out. His limbs were long, and from the sleeves of the filthy T-shirt he wore she could see very thin arms, the elbows almost looking too big just because the rest of him was so thin. His hair was longish, so he didn’t let it just grow indefinitely. He even appeared to cut the front of it, likely to see better. The hair on his forehead hung in long, uneven clumps. He was dirty-looking, but his eyes were sharp on the two of them, moving back and forth like he was doing a math problem mentally.
Unarmed, she knew that as well. So she let go of the machete and straightened her posture, shooting a look to Sawyer.
Sawyer was already on it. She approached slowly, two steps, then stopped. “I’m Sawyer,” she said gently, hands on her own chest. One hand moved out towards Oakley. “This is Oakley. Do you have a name?”
Oakley’s eyes went back to the boy. He was looking at her, brow furrowed. He licked his lips, then softly spoke. “Sawyer?”
Sawyer’s smile was as wide as Oakley had ever seen it. “That’s right. Do you have a name?”
Lips were licked again, and his eyes came to Oakley. “Tate,” he said, uncertain.
“Your name is Tate? It’s nice to meet you.” Sawyer took another step. “We want to thank you for helping us the other day. You throw a screwdriver very well.”
Oakley nearly laughed at that, instead just smiling and nodding her agreement. “Thank you very much,” she added. “Tate, are you here alone?”
His head tilted the opposite way and he stepped back.
Oakley’s hand came up, palm out. “It’s okay, Tate. I don’t want to hurt you. I’m just worried about you being alone. Are … are you hungry?”
His look was wary as Sawyer dug in the thigh pocket of her cargo pants. But all she came out with was a Kit Kat from the drugstore. “You like chocolate?” she asked. His eyes were on that bright red foil wrapper and he looked intrigued. Sawyer held it out. “You can have this, if you want. It’s very good. Maybe a little too sweet but … a nice treat.”
They all fell silent staring at each other again, then suddenly Tate was spinning and running, around the back of the stairwell enclosure.
Oakley almost went after him but Sawyer grabbed her arm with a soft, “Let him go. He has to come to us on his own. He hasn’t made it this far by trusting people. He’s been alone for a long time. And he’s got his own secret way up here. I don’t want him to think we’re hunting him.” She set the Kit Kat bar down on a cinderblock that was left by the door, probably used by staff to prop open the door while they were up here for a smoke break. There were butts all over the roof.
Oakley followed Sawyer back inside, shutting the door and starting back down the stairs. Never before did Oakley feel that “mothering” urge stir, but it was right now, all because of that little boy.

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