Jaxx Steele here to share zombies with you. I Love You to Death is my first zombie story. I will admit that I am not your average zombie fan. I found the whole ooey gooey falling apart thing totally disgusting actually until I watched an episode of the Walking Dead. I was surprised at how good the show was. The zombie thing didn’t overwhelm the story line like I thought it would which is why I didn’t bother watching it in the first place. That was my issue with all the books, movies or shows with zombies. That, and...well, they’re disgusting looking.
Then I decided what the hey. It was outside my comfort zone, but so what. I popped into a few zombie lover chat rooms, asked them a bunch of questions, then tossed around a few ideas and volia! I Love You to Death was born a short time later. Granted, it isn’t your typical zombie story, but those who read my stuff know I don’t do typical anyway. :-)
To start their lives anew, Mike and Bill are leaving the chill winters of Chicago behind for the warm breezes of San Fernando Valley. On their cross country road trip they experience different foods, cozy country towns and…zombies??
Mike chuckled while pulling the menus from between the condiments, then slid one across the table.
Bill crinkled his nose as he looked it. The ink was faded and the wrinkled paper had grease stains everywhere. He pinched the corner and flipped it back and forth.
“You’re not seriously considering ordering something to eat from here are you?”
“Yup. You cook enough healthy mumbo jumbo to keep us around for the next thousand years. I planned on eating my way across country with this trip. Every little dive we hit I’m blogging about the food they serve.”
“After four years of being with you, it still amazes me that you will put anything in your mouth,” Bill mentioned leaning on the table.
Mike lifted his eyes from the menu giving him a sly grin. “That may be true, but only special stuff returns to my mouth over and over,” he said with a wink.
Bill laughed. “You’re such a horn dog. So I guess Blakely’s famous Green Bean and Mountain Oyster Pie will make your blog?”
“Oh hell yeah. Who the hell is going to believe me if I don’t chroniclize that?” Mike added quotations in the air and burst into laughter.
Their fun was cut short with Mabel’s return. She placed their glasses before them, then stood silently, pen poised.
“Okay, well I will have the double cheese burger with fries and a piece of that delicious sounding mountain oyster and green bean pie,” Mike said returning the menu.
Bill grimaced again hearing Mike’s order. He opened his mouth to say something, but the heat of Mabel’s stare made him turn his head in her direction.
“Uh, yes, I’ll have the grilled chicken sandwich and a side salad with whatever vinaigrette dressing you have.”
Her stare lingered a moment longer before she scribbled on her pad. “All right then. Be right up.”
Bill released a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and slumped in the seat. “That woman hates me.”
Mike laughed. “Hates you? She doesn’t even know you. Now break out the map. After we eat we need to get some gas and get out of this one horse town.”
Bill shook his head and spread the map across the table. As they figured out their next move, he couldn’t ignore the burning eyes of the town’s people. With a clear plan of action, Mike pulled the paper off the table and folded the map expertly before putting it in his pocket to give Mabel room to set their plates.
“Here’s your food and the bill.”
“Thanks, Mabel. After we eat we’ll need some gas. Can you—”
“Blakely doesn’t have a gas station. You’ll have to go on down to Gideon. It’s about a half hour down the road. I suggest you eat fast, boys. The sun is already setting. The normal town’s folk don’t stay out after dark. Just pay over there when you’re done,” she told them before leaving.
Mike pulled out his phone to take a picture of his plates. Bill’s eyes widened looking at Mike’s food. Mike put his phone away and delved into his food without hesitation.
He scoffed. “God, how can you eat that, Mike?”
“What?” he muttered with his mouth full. “Eat your food.” Mike pushed his plate across the table.
Bill recoiled. “Are you kidding me?” he screeched, his tone a mixture of panic and amazement. He looked around conspiratorially and lowered his voice. “That burger is sitting in a puddle of dark yellow grease.”
Mike took two more huge bites, then stuffed some fries into his mouth and shrugged. “That’s the flavor’s essence.”
Bill made a face at him. “I swear, you must be an alien to have a cast iron stomach like that.”
Looking down at his plate, Bill had never seen a more deplorable salad. The lettuce, pitiful wilted pale green leaves with brown edges. Six pieces of what looked like petrified chicken sat in the center with shriveled cherry tomatoes, croutons and a small dose of blue tipped shredded cheese. Curling his lips in disgust, he pushed the plate away.
“I am not eating that,” he said, wrapping his arms around his chest.
Mike wiped his mouth on his napkin and pulled his other plate closer to him.
“Suit yourself, baby, but all we have in the car are energy bars, trail mix and waters. It was your idea to stop in the ma and pa spots along the way to Cali to eat our main meals for the experience.”
Mike wiggled his head from side to side emphasizing the last word with a dramatic, wavy voice.
Bill stared at the food in front of Mike. Though he couldn’t tell what the ingredients really were the dark brown, lumpy piece of meat wrapped in pastry didn’t look like any pie he had ever seen, nor did it have same effect on his olfactory senses. Instead of the sweet smell that tickled your nose and made you smile when one came in proximity with pies that were considered desserts, its aroma made him want to hurl. When Mike’s fork scraped the tip away, the pie made a sick squishy sound. Bill’s breath caught as he watched in awe as the utensil rose to Mike’s mouth without hesitation. Mike ate the foul smelling dessert with gusto.
“Well,” Bill asked eagerly.
Mike pushed the plate away. “Oh, yeah, that tastes gross.”
“This surprises you?” Bill asked on a chuckle.
“Not really. I figured it would be, but I didn’t want to assume,” Mike admitted with a laughing grin.
Bill rolled his eyes and his arms relaxed. “Can we just get out of here now? Everyone is leaving,” he said nodding his head.
“Oh yeah, I’m done.” Mike looked around. “What the—”
Bill followed his gaze. “Where did everyone go?”
“Everyone started leaving just before you started in on that delicious pie of yours. See, only those two bubbas are left at the counter,” he added in a lower tone.
I guess these little country hicks are afraid of the dark.”
“So how do we pay for the food?”
A mischievous smile spread across Mike’s face. “I guess it’s free.”
“Now you know we can’t do that. Regardless to how nasty the food was, I think that’s too much like dining and ditching.”
“Okay, you boys ready? We’re closing right now. It’s past time,” Mabel said returning to their table.
“I’ll wait in the car,” Bill said hurrying away from her.
Mike chuckled and followed Mabel.
The sky darkened quickly with just the glow of the sun behind the mountains in the distance. Bill lingered a moment to take a picture of the beautiful colors in the distance. Grinning at the image, he continued across the parking lot to the car. Before pulling the door open, he caught sight of a man coming toward him. Dressed in dark blue with a wide brim hat, the man had a large intimidating presence like the cops Bill knew in Chicago. A dull golden star on his shirt pocket glinted in the dwindling light as he came closer. Bill turned toward him to intercept.
“Hello Sheriff. We just ate in the diner and were wondering if you could tell us how far the next town is. We need to get some gas.”
The officer didn’t answer but continued to close the distance between them. Bill stopped walking and his brows furrowed. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.
“Sir, is everything all right?”
The sheriff reached Bill, grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him forward. Bill gasped, trying to pull away, but couldn’t break the strong grip.
“Hey! What are you doing? Let me go!”
The man’s pale skin and vacant stare was horrifying. He continued to pull on Bill trying to bring him even closer, but Bill jerked himself from side to side struggling. The cop gave no explanation as he leaned down to bite Bill on the shoulder.
Shock shot through his system followed by pain. Swinging wildly, he beat the man on the head. Finally, the sheriff reeled backward, tearing a chunk of Bill’s shoulder away. Bill screamed again. His assailant’s grip loosened momentarily as he chewed Bill’s flesh. He took the opportunity to jerk away and make a run for the car. As Mike came from the diner, Bill waved frantically to get his attention.
“Mike, get in the car quick!”
Bill swung the door open, then slammed it shut behind him. He reached toward the backseat to grab his jacket. Balling up one of the sleeves, he pressed the material to his arm. He looked out the window. To his horror the sheriff was walking slowly toward the car. Other people were coming from around the corner as well. He pushed the lever down to lock his door. The driver’s door swung open and he screeched.
“What the hell is going on?”
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