Author's Note: Daria Morgendorffer and her fellow characters from Daria are owned by MTV/Viacom. Any other characters in this story are the property of Doggieboy. This is fan fiction and no money or other items of value have been exchanged for this story.
A Little Vacation
Part Three: Life Among the Dead
The next morning, Daria walked into the dining room to find Robert looking outside the window at the street, his expression troubled.
"What's wrong?" she asked and moved near him.
He pointed down at the street and said, "My one fear has come true."
On the sidewalk outside the building, several zombies milled around the front door of the office building as two of them beat on the door.
The teen gasped and moved back. "Are we in danger?" she asked.
"Eventually," he said. "Enough of them will take that door down - no matter how well sealed it is." He sighed and gave her a small smile. "To be honest, I'm surprised that they didn't figure it out before now."
She shivered and looked at the hall door nervously. "What do we do?"
Robert led her to the table and said, "Nothing - yet, except eat breakfast and plan for the day ahead. There's only seven or eight out there right now. It'll take two-to-three times that number to break the door. If even that many can do it."
He then set the table for breakfast. Each of them had a brown sugar-cinnamon toaster pastry, an applesauce packet and a couple of apple juice boxes.
As he sat down to eat, Daria looked at him and said, "Robert, if they break in, where will we go?"
He smiled at her again and said, "I have a couple of backup shelters. Don't worry."
"I don't know if I can eat," she said and rocked herself in the chair. "I just want to go home."
Robert took her right hand and squeezed it gently. "You have to eat to keep up your strength." He took the pastry and placed it in her hand. "Just relax. We'll eat, then prepare bug-out bags. Just in case." He turned his attention to his food and quickly ate the applesauce.
Daria ate her pastry and applesauce in silence, and looked at her right hand. Why did you squeeze my hand? she thought and glanced at him. He ate in silence as well.
But as he crinkled the wrapper in his hand, he looked down at the table. "I am sick and tired of cold breakfast pastries," he said. "I'm also sick of canned pasta dishes, canned soups and lukewarm canned soda."
He looked at the girl, who waited for him to continue. "Every day, I remember the foods I once ate. I miss going to a Chinese restaurant buffet. We had a good one here in town. I not only miss fresh bread, but I also miss the sub sandwiches that the gas station made. Damn, they were good, especially with an ice cold Dr Pepper and a bag of chips. Then there's Dairy Queen ice cream." He sighed and gave a short laugh. "I read somewhere once that it was basically ice cream with air whipped into it. I don't care - I want it again. Fresh made pizza. I want it, I want to burn my mouth with the melted cheese and I want the pepperoni grease on my fingers and chin. One time, little Jacob got the grease all over his new school clothes and Maggie got so mad...so mad...so..."
Daria watched as his expression fell; he closed his eyes and tears ran down his cheeks. She sat awkwardly still and waited.
After a minute, he looked at her again. His eyes glistened as he spoke. "If I go to your world, they may never be a Maggie waiting there for me. That doesn't really bother me as much as I thought it would. But what bothers me is that by going to your world, I abandon Maggie, Tammy, Jacob and Scotty. I don't know if I can do that."
She felt as if she wanted to cry then, but kept her expression neutral. "Robert, they're dead."
"I know that, Daria. I know that."
She looked at him and took a deep breath. "No matter where you are, Maggie and your children will always be with you. You'll keep them alive in your memories. Please, don't take this wrong, but I believe that they'd want you to stay alive. I believe they'd want you to start over."
Robert finished his juice and stood up. He deposited his waste in the trash can and said, "I'm going to shave, brush my teeth and work on an evacuation plan. When you're done, get your gear ready to go."
"Do I have to put on the chain mail yet?" she asked.
He shook his head and walked to the door. "Not yet."
"Why do you bother shaving?" she then asked. "I don't understand why you do that, all things considered."
He glanced at her from the hallway. "Because Maggie always liked me clean-shaven, and I like it, too."
"Describe Maggie to me," Daria said quickly. "Tell me about her."
A startled look crossed Robert's face and he stared at her in shock.
Uh-oh, Morgendorffer. You've pissed him off.
Then a smile appeared on his face and she relaxed as he said, "She was four years younger than I was. We married a month after she graduated high school - almost ten years ago. I'm five-seven and she was an inch shorter than me. She was slender, slightly muscular and had wavy light brown hair down to her shoulders. One of her front teeth was chipped from an accident on the monkey bars in elementary school, but it was a part of her charm. I could carry her as easy I carried you. Here I am, broad-shouldered and strong, but she held my b--" A blush crossed his face and he closed his eyes. "Uh, never mind about that. She was not only my lover and my wife, she was also my best friend. I dream about her at least once a week."
He nodded. "If I leave this world, I may lose that. I don't know if I can risk that." He held up his right hand before she could say anything else. "I'm still thinking about what you said. I will decide." Then he walked off.
Daria exhaled and turned her attention to her juice boxes.
"You'll need to clear away my stuff from the end of the van," Stone said. "When you create a teleportation field, anything in the way tends to explode. That's why I prefer outdoor experiments."
"Will we be able to bring back everyone you've sent over?" Jane asked. "You said that you did this nine times before you zapped Daria."
"I teleported her," the old man protested. "I didn't zap her. As to your question, it's possible. But for any of them to be brought back, they have to be where I sent them."
"What if they aren't there?" Trent asked. "What then?"
Stone looked at the two and noticed that their expressions carried a strongly implied threat. "You said that your friend is very smart," he said quickly. "She will know that, I'm certain of it."
Trent looked at him for several more seconds, then moved to clear out a space in the back of the van.
Jane leaned closer to the old man and whispered, "If Daria is dead, I'll bury you up to your neck in the woods. Just imagine what wild predators will do to you out there."
"She won't be dead!" he said. "I promise!"
"We'll see about that," she said.
Daria made sure that her normal clothes were folded and placed in her book bag. She made sure that her weapons were loaded and she filled her pockets with ammunition.
After that, she walked in the hallway and listened. She heard a couple of thumps from the entrance and shuddered. Quickly, she moved into the dining room to see Robert place plates of canned lasagna in the solar cookers. "How many is out there now?" she asked.
"Take a look," he said.
"I...I'm afraid to," she said and bit her lower lip.
He moved to the window and glanced down at the street. "At least thirteen, maybe more." He stroked his chin and thought for a few seconds. "We may have to go to the secondary shelter if that...transporter thing...isn't used today." He looked at her. "Do you have everything of yours ready?"
She nodded and shook nervously.
"Stay calm, Daria. Even if they break the door, they still have to move the steel plate behind it. That will take them awhile, which is how I planned it."
Confusion showed up in her features. "Why didn't you plan on totally keeping them out?"
He snorted and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'd have to seal myself in here and never leave. It's possible, but not realistic. For one thing, I'd have to have a garden and a constant supply of water. I'm using five gallon water cooler jugs I found at a factory, supplemented by the rain. The supplies here will run out, eventually, even if they don't go bad. If I stay behind after you leave, I'll have to leave Fostoria, just to have a garden and a well."
Daria looked at him and nodded, then left the room.
In the book storage room, Daria moved to the table with the Lawndale artifacts. She looked at the door briefly, smiled at Buster as he walked up to her, then turned her attention to searching the items.
After a couple of minutes, Robert called out, "Daria?"
She closed one wallet and set it down, then yelled, "I'm in here!"
He walked into the room. "Here you are," he said. "What are you doing?"
Daria looked over one cellular phone and said, "Nothing much. Just thinking."
"O.K.," he said. His voice reflected a slight skepticism. "There's something I wanted to ask you." He fidgeted slightly as he spoke.
Uh, oh. Here it comes. "Oh?" She noticed his discomfort and tensed up. "What do you want to ask me?"
He looked away briefly, then at her. "If I get bit, will you shoot me?"
Relief swept through Daria, but his question still shocked her. "Excuse me?"
"If a zombie bites me, I want you to put a bullet in the back of my head. Make sure I stay dead, you know."
She blinked and looked carefully at him. "Are you planning something you haven't told me about yet?"
"No!" he said quickly. "It's just that I'm not sure I can...kill myself, if the worst happens. I just don't want to walk around like that." He hesitated, then added, "I would do the same for you, Daria."
The teen nodded and said, "O.K., I'll do it - but we won't be in that situation, will we?"
Robert gave her a weak smile, sighed, and said, "No, we won't. Thank you, Daria." He turned to walk out of the room.
He turned back around to look at her.
"At breakfast, you squeezed my hand. Why did you do that?" He blushed and she continued, "Are you trying to send me a message? If you have something you want to ask me, or just say to me, just do it. Don't beat around the bush."
The man cleared his throat and looked at her. "I apologize," he said. "I had no right to do that, I know. It made you uncomfortable and I regret that."
"You didn't answer my question," she said. "Why did you do it?"
"Let me finish, Daria. Let me finish." She nodded and waited, so he then said, "Since Lauren and Janelle left, I've craved human contact, human touch. Sure I've had Buster, but it isn't the same. I never realized just how much I'd miss other people. I never realized just how much I'd miss a simple, brief touch. When you arrived here unhurt, I was very happy inside. I had someone to talk to, to communicate with."
Daria raised her eyebrows, frowned and stared at him.
Robert got her message and added quickly, "At the same time, I was upset because as much as I wanted a friend, I didn't want one forced here against her, or his, will."
"Do you really want me to get home?" she asked.
"Yes! One, because it's the right thing to do. Neither you, nor your family and friends, deserve to lose you here. Two, because I want that old bastard killed! I sat up with Kay Daniels for three days as she slowly died. She had a two-year-old daughter who will never see her again. Billy Smithson cried for more than eighteen hours straight before he lapsed into a coma. Now I have a certain respect and understanding for a raider. I know where he or she is coming from. But this old man all of you have described is simply evil. Death means nothing to him. Only his...experiments, his goals, are important to him."
Robert leaned against the door jamb and sighed. "He is too dangerous to be allowed existence." He looked at the teen, who was shocked at the vehemence of his answer. "I will go with you. My purpose is to eliminate that son of a bitch. That way, if I'm caught, you can avoid jail."
"Maybe we can notify the authorities about him when we get back," she said.
"What if he's working for them? I don't know about your world, Daria, but from what I've seen in life, many government officials see their citizens as mere numbers to use as needed."
"It's that way in my world, too," she said.
"I'll deal with him, then." He looked at the teen and smiled at her. "I also squeezed your hand to calm you down. Yes, if the dead break in here, it's serious - but it's not the end, either. We will survive." With that said, he turned to leave again. Then he stopped and looked at the girl. "Your hand is soft, warm and...nice. I'm not making a play for you. I merely just stated my opinion. I apologize again for making you feel uncomfortable." Then he left.
A little later, Daria looked outside the dining room window at the zombies gathered at the front door and shivered. She counted at least seventeen and saw several stragglers in the distance. "Robert, I have a question," she said.
The man walked in the room and asked, "Oh? What is it?"
She pointed out the window and said, "I remember what you said about the fuel going bad, but do you still have some gasoline or kerosene? I was thinking that with some fuel, some glass bottles and jars with some cloth strips, we could make several Molotov cocktails and fry some of these dead bastards."
Robert looked at her and smiled. He sighed and said, "On the northeast side of Fostoria, there was a Christian school. Do you know what kind I mean? It wasn't a parochial school, but one run by Fundamentalist Baptists, to keep their kids from being 'polluted' by the public school system."
"What's that got to do with my suggestion?" she asked, her expression confused.
"During the first stages of the zombie crisis, the church members, school students, staff and their families made that their emergency shelter. It was actually an excellent choice, because it had the latest in security. Thin windows on the first floor, easy to barricade and seal the doors. In fact, their doors were better than the ones here. They even had plenty of food and water. Compared to the rest of us, they had it made." He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead briefly. Then he looked at her sadly. "On the fifth day, a couple of their teens were on the roof and lobbed some Molotov cocktails at a bunch trying to break in their back door. They not only fried the zombies, they caught the building on fire."
Daria blinked and paled. "Wasn't it brick?"
"Sure was. Excellent brickwork built over a wooden frame, along with their thick wooden doors. By that time, what was left of the fire department wouldn't go out. They couldn't go out. Everyone in that school building died, and died horribly. Towards the end, some of the dead walked right into the openings created by the fire and attacked the people still alive in there. Some of the zombies were walking torches, but it didn't stop them from attacking their victims." He closed his eyes. "In a few of my dreams, I see the fire again and hear their screams."
The teen shuddered. "Never mind."
He looked at her. "I and two other men were there in a truck and all we could do was pick off extras with rifles. There were at least a hundred of those things there. We finally had to take off ourselves when a bunch of them tried to get us." He saw her expression and shrugged. "Don't feel bad about it, Daria. It happened. Nothing will change that. Millions - maybe even billions - of people died horribly in the last thirteen months."
"I just wanted to have a good idea," she said and shook her head. "Something that would help."
He moved up behind her and patted her right shoulder gently. "You thought it out. That's a step in the right direction."
"Where's the backup shelter at?" she asked and glanced at his hand. "Does it take us further away from the...'transport' site?"
Robert chuckled. "Actually, it's about four blocks away from it."
Daria knocked his hand off her shoulder, turned around quickly, and glared at him as she narrowed her eyes. "Why aren't we there right now then? Why make a trip across town when we could be right where we need to be in a minute by a run?" She crossed her arms over her chest. "Do you really want me to get home - or do you want to make sure I stay here with you? What kind of game are you playing with me?"
He looked startled by her sudden anger and held up his hands. "Daria, I am not playing a game with you, I promise. Like I said earlier, I want you to get home. As much as I enjoy having you here with me, I want to get you home. But the backup shelter is underground. Underground shelters can be extremely dangerous, especially if the zombies know you're in there. I always considered it a last resort shelter before I leave Fostoria for good."
"Is it a basement?" she asked. "Most basements I've seen aren't much to brag about."
"It's a bomb shelter," he replied. "Before the dead rose, my dad said that the man who owned it installed it during Reagan's first term. That was when some people were a bit terrified that either the Gipper or the Soviets would start a nuke war. The shelter has two rooms. One is a living space, complete with one bed, two chairs, a table and a stationary bicycle. The other room is for storage and a chemical toilet. The total area is almost the size of the room you've slept in."
He nodded and sighed. "Considering your earlier fears about me, imagine what you would have thought if we went there first. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about it earlier. I really am. If things had worked out for the best, we'd need never worry about it - or even go there."
"I apologize for getting angry," Daria said and blushed. "I just want to go home." She sighed and shook her head. "I keep thinking that I could be trapped here, for the rest of my life."
"It is a possibility," he admitted. "I prefer to work on faith that you'll make it home, and soon."
"Would it bother you if I was...stuck here with you for the rest of my life?" she asked and looked away. "Would it really bother you, or would you be happy?"
Robert gently turned her around. "You're a smart girl, and I've enjoyed talking with you," he said. "In fact, I've said more in the last two days than I did in the last month. If that did happen, I would happy with you. You're young, you're very attractive and I think we would get along. But I would want you to be happy, too. That means that more than anything, I want you to get home. Like I said, I have faith that you will make it home."
You think I'm very attractive? she thought and blushed. "You keep mentioning faith. Are you a Christian?"
Robert shook his head. "Maggie and the kids were. I went to church with them several times, but I...felt out of place." He sighed. "I wish I could go to church with them again. It makes me happy to think that they're in Heaven right now. Even if I don't believe in it myself." He shook his head. "When you get back home, there's something I want you to do - for me."
"Take a self-defense course. A good one. Learn how to protect yourself. I taught Maggie all I could about protecting herself. She got pretty good at it, too."
Daria relaxed and leaned against the wall. "You could teach me, too, then."
Robert blushed and shook his head. "My wife wanted the training to be as realistic as possible. So when I first started training her, she'd usually end up at least half naked. By the end of her training, though, she stayed fully clothed. But for me, however, she had bloodied my nose, blackened my eyes, gave me several bruises and even gave me a swollen lip. Thank God I wore cushioning other places or she would have really hurt me. If we're still here tonight, I'll teach you some basic judo. But you'd be better off not learning my mistakes. Stick with a professional trainer."
Stone looked at the back of the van from his position on the floor. "If you would untie me, this would be a lot easier," he said to Jane.
"If wishes were horses, Dr. Stone, rides would be free, too," Jane said. "Now, what do we do?"
The old man cleared his throat and blinked. "Change the fifth number to fourteen and the seventh number to two."
Trent watched as Jane changed the numbers as directed. "What does that do?" he asked.
"It's the setting for the return feature," Stone said. "Once you push the button, it should start the process to return your friend. Before you push it, however, looked at the power gauge in the upper left hand corner. What does it say?"
"Nothing," Jane said. "It's a gauge."
"Smart-ass," Stone whispered.
The girl leaned in close and stared at his face. "Care to repeat that little comment, 'Doctor'?"
"No!" he said quickly. "What does the gauge read, then?"
Jane looked at it carefully and said, "The thin red line is in the red."
"We need to charge it up before we use it then," the old man said. There is a plug-in near the power gauge. It's similar to the plug-ins you see for electric guitars."
"I see it," Trent said.
"Good," Stone said. "Get the cord hanging on the hook behind you. Plug one end in the box and the other end in the battery charger. Then start the van. That will charge up the device."
Trent hooked up the box as directed and started the van.
"We getting any attention from outside?" Jane asked her brother.
"Nope," he said. "Awfully busy here, though."
"It's Friday," she said. "Normally the big grocery shopping day."
Daria looked in Robert's room and noticed how clean it was.
"Is there something you want?" he asked as he came from down the hall.
She looked at him and motioned towards his living space. "Your 'apartment' looks so clean," she said. "I didn't expect that."
He shrugged and said, "It makes me feel civilized."
An 8 x 10 family portrait hung on one wall and she moved closer to it. In it, Robert was pictured with a smiling brunette and three little children. His hair was darker and cut short, plus his face had no lines in it. In fact, he looked relaxed in the photo. "This is your family?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Maggie was a beautiful woman," she said. You think I'm very attractive? Your wife makes me look so...plain.
"That she was," he said. "I was a lucky man."
She was a lucky woman, Daria thought quickly and blushed. "I'm sorry if I'm intruding on your privacy."
"Nonsense," he said and opened a desk drawer. He pulled out a 5 x 7 of the same photo and handed it to her. "You can have this, so that when you get back, you'll at least have a picture of me."
"We could always take one of you after we get to Lawndale," she pointed out, but took the photo. "Thank you."
Before he could respond, the sound of cracking wood could be heard and Daria quickly covered her mouth with one hand.
Buster rushed into the room and stood behind Robert's legs. He shivered and whined in terror.
"O.K., bug out time is here," he said and turned to Daria. "Get your gear together and put on your chain mail. We leave as quickly as we can. If you need to pee, do it now."
"What about lunch?" she asked. "It's still in the solar cookers."
He grabbed the infant carrier and put it on. Then he grabbed the dog and put him in it. "Stay!" he ordered the frightened animal. "If we have time, I'll deal with it. If not, it won't matter anyway. Now go!"
Daria rushed to her room as Robert ran to the stairway. He closed the door at the top of the stairs and immediately knocked over two filing cabinets in front of it.
The loud noise caused the girl to look outside the door, her eyes wide open. "Sorry," he said. "This will buy us several minutes." He ran to the kitchen. "Go back to what you were doing."
Daria moved back into her room and he rushed to his room.
Within ten minutes, there was loud thumps on the door at the top of the stairs. Robert and Daria met in the hallway and he asked, "Ready?"
She stood there in her chain mail, her weapons on her and her book bag snug on her back, while he was dressed like he was the previous two days, except for a large backpack on his shoulders. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be," she said. Her voice betrayed her fear.
He smiled at her. "Stay calm, Daria. They won't get us. Let's scoot."
"Why don't we fight them off?" she asked and shivered.
"A gunfight is a last resort," he said, "because once you start shooting, others always investigate the noise. Besides, if you can get back and for some reason, I can't go with you, I'll be able to come back here in a few weeks - or next winter - and salvage my stuff. Having no rotting bodies in the building will make it easier."
He led her up the stairs to the roof and shut the door. When they got to the ledge, he looked at her. "If...I don't make it, do you think you can get to the house where we waited?"
Daria paled. "What are you trying to say? Are you going to abandon me?"
"No. But if we get overwhelmed, I'll try to draw them off and you run like hell! You will abandon me."
She grabbed his arm and shook her head. "We stay together - to the end, if need be. You saved my life, and I'll be damned if I desert you." She gave him a brief smile. "Besides, you'll have to be there to help me explain where I've been to my parents - cause I don't think they'll believe it when I tell them."
Robert smiled and nodded. "It's a deal, Daria." He held out his right hand. She did the same and he gripped her wrist tightly. She got the hint and gripped his wrist as well. "Together we stay - come hell, high water or zombies."
They smiled at each other and she nodded as well.
"Now, let's get going," he said. "I'd like to see what Lawndale's like."
She looked at him, then looked away and shook her head. "You're in for a disappointment," she said. "It sucks - but I can't wait to get back there, either." She shrugged. "I guess it really doesn't suck, after all." There's no place like home.
Several blocks away from Robert's shelter, they stopped outside the same bar they rested at the day before. Quietly, they each drank a bottle of water and looked around. "So far, so good," he whispered. "Let's go!"
They moved on and as they turned one corner, a child zombie directly in front of them suddenly lunged at Daria. She stifled her scream, but pulled back and grabbed for her pistol.
"Don't shoot!" Robert quickly kicked the dead child back. It fell backwards over a curb and landed on it's back. Then it sat back up and moved to come back at them. Without a word, the man drew his crowbar back and swung it like a golf club.
Daria winced as the head swung at an unnatural angle; the loud crunch of crushed neck bones caused her to shudder. The body laid on the side of the street and repeatedly twitched as they moved on.
As they walked on, she especially felt the weight she carried on her back and shoulders. I want to go home, she thought as she scanned the area. I'm normally not one to pray, but if you're there, God, then please let me go home.
A loud moan sounded behind them and they quickly turned around. At least a dozen zombies moved out of what had once been a car dealership and headed their way. Robert looked at Daria and said, "I'm sorry, Daria, but now it's time for you to ride."
She closed her eyes as he quickly hefted her on his left shoulder, gripped the back of her left thigh and ran. I'm glad I didn't eat lunch! she thought.
They reached the white, two-story house without incident and Robert carefully set Daria on her feet. She wobbled slightly and he panted from the exertion. "Shall we go on the porch?" she asked as she steadied herself.
"Yeah," he said and checked his watch. "It's one-fifty. We'll rest and eat a light snack while we wait."
Quietly, they walked up to the house and onto the porch. Once again, Robert looked inside the house windows and listened, but noticed nothing moving...or dangerous.
Daria once again sat on the love seat and wiped sweat off of her forehead. She opened another bottle of water and ate a chocolate chip granola bar.
The sound of thunder reached them at about three-thirty and Daria perked up. "Is this it?" she asked, her voice excited.
Robert frowned and looked around. "That isn't the right sound. I think we have a storm coming up."
A wave of disappointment ran through her and she briefly bit her lower lip. "Do they...walk around in the rain?"
He nodded and sipped some water. "They walk around in the snow, too. At least until the weather turns cold enough to freeze them solid." A smirk appeared on his face and he looked outside. "I destroyed quite a few of them last winter. Damned shame I couldn't get them all."
The skies darkened slightly and a lightning bolt streaked across the sky, followed by a rumble of thunder. Robert stared outside and watched one zombie move through the backyard of a house on a nearby street. "One nice thing about this is that the sound of thunder sends them off to where they think are a bunch of people."
She looked confused. "What do you mean?" she asked. "I don't understand."
He looked at her. "Let's say the lightning strikes the ground, for example, halfway between Fostoria and Findlay." He shook his head. "Somehow they can detect the direction of the lightning strike - and head that way. Then after the storm passes and there's nothing there, they'll return back to town over the next few days." After he said that, his mouth dropped open and he sighed. "If the bolt does strike here, we'll need to leave quickly - if we aren't electrocuted, that is."
Rain started to fall in little spatters and then by four, it was a downpour. Daria and Robert waited on the porch, while Buster whined and wriggled inside the man's chain mail.
The storm diminished by five o'clock and Robert looked at Daria, who sat still and looked at the floor. "Let's go, Daria. Tomorrow, we won't have to leave so early to get here."
She looked up at him and tears ran down her face. "I want to go home, Robert," she said and suppressed a sob. "I think about my family and what they must be thinking and...and..." She took a couple of deep breaths and cleared her throat.
He reached out and touched her shoulder and she watched him through tear-blurred eyes. "Wait until we reach the bomb shelter. When we're locked up and secure, then you can cry and let the disappointment out." He then stroked the side of her face. "You will get home, Daria. Just be patient and have some faith."
"You're just trying to make me feel good." Your touch is so gentle. Part of me wants to cry on your shoulder. Just a part of me. The thought of Robert embracing her entered her mind; she blushed and looked down for several seconds. Then she looked back up and gave him a weak smile as she wiped her eyes. "Thank you."
He took her left hand and slowly pulled her to her feet. "Let's go."
They left the porch, stopped and listened for several seconds. Then Robert led Daria in the opposite direction than they came from.
Nearly five minutes later, they walked into a fenced in property and he carefully shut the gate behind them. He looked around the grounds and motioned for her to be quiet and follow him down a sidewalk that went through the lawn.
They walked quietly through the yard; both scanned the area as they moved and the dog whined nervously inside the man's chain mail. To her confusion, as they passed six solar-powered lawn lights, Robert pulled them out of the ground and handed them to her.
The walk ended at a small tool shed. The man pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked a Master lock that secured the shed. Then he opened the door and whispered, "Inside - quickly!"
Daria went inside and he followed her. He quietly shut the door and the lights slowly lit up. She listened as he locked the door from the inside and turned to her.
"Dad said that old man Feeney thought that nobody would remember his shelter." He laughed quietly and shook his head. "Everybody knew all about it. But we never talked about it."
"How come he didn't use it when the zombies rose up?" she asked as he moved around her.
Robert moved a white cabinet aside and opened a hidden door. "He died in 1993 of a heart attack. The new owner, who died on the first or second day of the crisis, used it for storage. It took me two weeks in January to clean it out for my possible use." He motioned for her to go in and went in behind her. She went inside and climbed down a wooden stairway to what seem to be a deep basement. He shut the door and followed her down to a second door.
Quietly, he opened it and they walked inside. She stopped just inside the darkened room as he shut the door behind them. Buster's whine was now very loud and he howled from inside the chain mail.
Daria felt a slight bit of claustrophobia as Robert then sealed the door. She then looked around the bomb shelter. True to her companion's words, there was one bed, one table with two chairs and one stationary bicycle. "What do I do with the lights?" she asked.
He came around her left side and took the lights from her. He set them each in a small frame and the light given was comparable to that provided by a thirty-watt bulb. "Not much, I know, but it's close to bedtime for me, anyway. We'll eat dinner, then rest. You should try to sleep when I do anyway."
"I'm not used to that," she pointed out.
"I know, Daria, I know. You should try to, anyway." He removed the dog from inside the chain mail and set him down on the floor. The animal looked around fearfully and cowered on the floor near the bed.
They removed their jackets and chain mail and hung their weapons in a gun cabinet set along one wall. He had her sit down while he situated their belongings.
Daria picked up Buster and held the shaking beagle in her arms. "You know, Robert, I didn't think of this until now, but if you're going with me and Buster, maybe you should bring some money with you." She shifted slightly in her chair. "So you can, you know, at least have a start until you can get a job."
He placed his backpack in the bottom of the gun cabinet and did the same with her book bag. Then he shrugged as he replied, "Well, I still have my wallet, with about two thousand dollars in it. I put it in there for laughs, then forgot it. After all, anymore, it's worth about as much here as play money."
Daria glanced at him, petted the dog and said, "You still have your wallet? Why?"
"Simple," he said. "I'm used to it. I've carried one since I was nine and I feel...naked without one." He pulled it out and tossed it on the table in front of her. "Go ahead and count out what I have, while I get us some dinner."
Robert went into the other room and Daria pulled the greenbacks out of the billfold and spread them out on the table. Buster jumped onto the floor and laid at her feet.
She stared at the bills for several seconds, then closed her eyes and lifted her glasses. For the next several seconds, she rubbed the bridge of her nose and her eyes and shook her head.
"Is there a problem?" he asked as he came back towards her.
She looked up at him and said, "This might as well be play money, because it isn't worth anything...in my world." She motioned to the bills. "In my world, Ben Franklin is not on the twenty, John Kennedy is not on the fifty and Theodore Roosevelt is not on the hundred." She laughed bitterly, gathered the bills back together and placed them back in his wallet. "Did you, by chance, ever look inside the wallets and purses of the other Lawndale people?"
"Sure, to check identification."
"But not the money?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No reason to. It has no value here now, except as maybe a high-grade fire starter or toilet paper."
Daria looked up at him over the tops of her glasses. "I remember what you said about taking back the stuff that belonged to the others," she said. "But I figured that if you did come with us, then you'd need money. I took the money they had for you, and now you have one-hundred and thirty-eight dollars. It's not much, Robert, but it's a start."
He sat down opposite her and handed her a MRE. "Thank you, Daria." Then he laughed and shook his head as he opened his dinner. "How about that one?" he asked. "My idea that our worlds have some differences was right." His smile disappeared and he looked down. "Sometimes, being right really sucks."
She opened her dinner and they ate in silence.
After they ate, Daria looked in the other room and saw the chemical toilet set up out in the open. "I need to go," she said and pointed at it, "and that doesn't even try for privacy. Were you planning on watching me or something?"
Robert gave her a weak smile and said, "When I set this place up as a backup shelter, I never expected anyone to be with me. Lauren and Janelle had already left and I was alone. I hadn't even encountered any living Lawndale people yet. I'll tell you what, Daria. I'll lay face down on the bed and you can cover my head with the blankets while you go. I don't want to see that, and I'm not comfortable with you seeing me like that, either."
She blushed. "No," she said and looked away from his face. "I'll trust you to look away."
"Then, I'll trust you, too, Daria." He turned around and faced the wall. "I'm sorry."
Her blush deepened as she got up and walked to the toilet. She said nothing in response.
When she returned and he went in there, she faced the wall, closed her eyes and used her fingers to plug her ears.
As the transport device was being charged up, the sound of voices outside the panel van could be heard.
Stone yelled out quickly, "HELP ME! CALL THE--"
Jane suddenly jumped onto the man and rammed the gag into his mouth and listened carefully.
Trent looked at them and then someone appeared at the driver's window.
"Hey," a tall man said. "You O.K. in there?"
Trent turned, rolled the window down slightly and said, "Sorry, man. It's my girlfriend. She, like, bit my toe and it hurts when she does that."
"Well, quit putting it near my mouth!" Jane yelled out as she held the struggling old man down. "You know that I like to bite!"
The man held up his hands. "Sorry to interrupt, dude. You two should get a room, you know."
Trent nodded. "You're right, man. Sorry you had to hear it." He rolled up the window and got behind the wheel. He put the van in drive and drove off.
From the back, Jane backhanded the doctor and said, "You son of a bitch! I ought to cut your nuts off!" Then to Trent, she said, "Your girlfriend? Ugh. I bit your toe? Double ugh!"
"Hey, sorry, Janey, it's all I could think of right then."
"Remind me to never come around you when your shoes are off," she muttered. "Where are you going?"
"I'll park near Cranberry Commons. Then we'll see about how well charged this thing of his is."
"O.K.," Robert said. "I know this part is going through your mind, so here's my idea on sleeping arrangements. Tonight, you sleep on the bed and I'll sleep on a chair. Tomorrow, if we're still here, I'll get the bed and you sleep in the chair."
Buster laid down on the bed and looked from one to the other. Robert had given him some Meclizine in his dinner and it hadn't kicked in yet.
Daria blinked, looked down and said, "You...you can take the bed tonight."
"Would you at least look at me when you talk to me?" he asked. She did so and he smiled at her. "No. I insist that you take the bed tonight."
"O.K." She gave him a weak smile. "Thank you."
"Tomorrow, we'll try to get you home again. Hopefully, it'll happen this time. I know we're cramped in here alone, but don't be afraid of me, Daria. Please, don't be afraid of me again."
"I'm not afraid! I'm embarrassed! I'm a very private person and at the other shelter, you at least gave me my own space. Here, I have nothing." She crossed her arms over her chest and seemed to scrunch up. "This is more intimacy than I'm comfortable with."
Robert shrugged apologetically. "I'm sorry about that, Daria. I really am. Tomorrow, I'll work on trying to give you a private space. But for now, I just want to sleep."
"I'm sorry, Robert."
"I understand," he said as he stood up and retrieved several blankets from a cabinet. He handed two to Daria and took one for himself. Then he sat down on the chair and spread the blanket over himself. "Good night, Daria."
"What about night clothes?" she asked.
"Your bag is in the gun cabinet," he said. "If you want to change, I'll cover my head up until you're done."
She retrieved her bag and turned to look at Robert, who sat there with the blanket over his head. She rolled her eyes and searched the inside of the bag.
Sometime during the night, Daria threw the covers off of herself and sat up in the bed. She grabbed her glasses, rubbed her eyes and put them on. The solar-powered lights had dimmed somewhat, but in the corner of the room, Robert sat up, his mouth opened and his eyes closed. His blanket rested on the floor. The T-shirt he wore emphasized the muscle definition in his arms and his broad shoulders. The thought of peeling the shirt off of him came to her mind and she smiled.
So you think I'm very attractive, huh? Time to give you a little surprise. She stood up, stretched and pulled off her own nightshirt. She glanced down at her bra and shorts in the semi-darkness. Wait. Take them off - later. Let him anticipate it.
She moved over to Robert and looked him over slowly. You look really delicious tonight. Where should I start? Her gaze started with his face and moved to his neck, his chest, his midsection, then settled on his left hand.
Daria smiled as she knelt near his hand; she gently grasped it to avoid startling him. Then she kissed each knuckle, her gaze on his face as she did so.
Then she lightly pulled his index finger away from the others. She licked her lips and took his finger in her mouth.
Robert stirred then, looked at her and smiled. His smile widened as she gripped his wrist and left thigh firmly in her hands and closed her eyes.
Then Daria bit into him; her teeth tore through his skin and tissue, then snapped the finger bone apart. Her hands clamped onto him as he started to fight. She tore the digit away from his hand and chewed on it. As his screams filled the shelter, a small rivulet of blood ran down her chin.
Daria sat up quickly in the bed, her eyes and mouth wide open. As she calmed herself down, she shook and felt her chin nervously. When she felt wetness, she pulled her hand up and saw only the glisten of saliva in the faded light. How typical. Not only do I have nightmares, I drool, too.
She looked to her right and saw Robert asleep in his chair. His blanket was up to his neck and the only parts of him that were uncovered were his feet. Quietly, she laid back down and pulled the covers up to her head.
Buster moved up to her side and worked his way under the covers. He moved up against her and settled down and she absently petted him as she closed her eyes.
I want to go home.
Some time later, Daria opened her eyes and took a deep breath. She heard Robert snore lightly from the chair and glanced over at him. The covers were still pretty much in place, but his arms were out and free. In fact, his left arm hung down towards the floor. She smiled at the thought of Buster moving over and licking his hand, then squinted as she tried to read the glow-in-the-dark clock he had hung up on the wall.
With a muttered curse on her lips, Daria found her glasses and put them on, then squinted at the clock again. Three-fifty. I slept, but not the way I like. She glanced at Robert. Told you that it was too early to sleep.
She saw something on the floor near his left hand and realized that it was a book. Quietly, she got out of bed, picked up the book and moved near to one of the still-glowing lawn lamps.
When she opened the book, she saw the pages covered in a man's cursive writing and quickly closed it. Oh, crap. This is his diary. She stood still for more than a minute, then opened the book up again.
'Lauren missed her second period and she's jumping for joy. Janelle even kissed me (I'm not her type, as she has said repeatedly). I'm glad it's over, cause the continual stress was really getting to me. I wish Maggie hadn't made that promise at the Christmas party two years ago. Who knew that they'd even remember it? Who knew that they'd call Maggie's promise in? Oh, well, what's done is done. They want a girl and I hope they get a girl.
'Janelle said that they'll start their on their journey to Montana at the end of July. I'm not so sure, because even the northern plains states get hot during the dog days. But they're both smart and good with guns. If anyone can make this trip, it's those two.
Daria blinked and her mouth dropped open. He got this Lauren woman pregnant? He didn't tell me that. What kind of promise did Maggie make to them? She flipped ahead some and read on.
'Once again, a mention of something I really miss. Red velvet cake. When I was quarantined during that TB scare five years ago, Maggie bought me a red velvet cake and it was so delicious. Even now, I can still taste it. She really knew how to lift my spirits when I was down. I miss her so much.'
"I hope I get someone who loves me as much as you love Maggie," she whispered,flipped ahead again and read on.
'Buster hasn't whined in nearly a week now and he's looking healthy again. Today I played with him, and he jumped and barked at me. But the real clincher is that he laid beside me as I slept. He knows I'm normal (well, as normal as I'll ever be, that is) and I think he was more scared and lonely than anything else. It's a wonder that the dead didn't get him.
'One thing confuses me, however. I've gone over several road maps and one atlas after another and I still cannot find Lawndale, Maryland on any map. When I can get a chance, I'll go to the library and check the maps in the reference section.'l
Daria flipped ahead several pages and read on.
'Found another one. A fresh zombie on the east side of town after that weird noise and thunder. After I eliminated him, I checked his wallet and found out that he was also from Lawndale. That makes three men, one woman and one dog from there. What in the hell is going on here? I have a lot of questions and no answers that make any sense.'
She turned ahead to another page and stopped in shock as she blushed. A pen sketch of nude brunette graced the page. The woman leaned in a doorway and the only thing she had on was a cowboy hat, cocked back on her head. Beneath the sketch was written: Margaret Jane "Maggie" Nelson. I miss you, baby. I'll be with you soon.
Quickly, Daria turned to another page. Not as good as Jane, she thought, but he's still good. And I was right about the suicide possibility.
'Here is my latest guess, based on what K. has told me. This bastard is testing some kind of transporter device and using anybody he can find as unwilling guinea pigs. I'd like to personally feed that asshole to some zombies.
'K. told me all about her daughter and her ballet lessons - and how much of a jerk her ex-husband was. She also said that she can't wait until she sees her daughter again. I haven't told her that she's dead already, and I'm not going to. I don't have the heart to tell her, and there's no point in it anyway.'
Daria shook her head and turned to another page.
'B. died tonight at 10:23. When he went into a coma, Buster freaked out and hid. I quickly took B. to the roof and waited until the end. Fifteen minutes later, he revived and tried to get me. I put him down for good. I'll put him in his final resting place when I can get the chance.
'I thought I could handle it O.K. I did when K. died. But with B., it was like seeing Scotty die all over again. I don't understand what this old man is doing, but if I can be there when he sends the next one over, then he or she won't be bit. Why is he doing it?
'I kind of hope it's a woman next time. I'm very lonely anymore, even with Buster's company.'
Daria glared at the sleeping man. "You got your wish," she muttered. "But you won't enjoy it." She turned to another page and read on.
'Daria is afraid of me. I can see it in her eyes and the way she moves when I'm near her. I'm not going to hurt her, but I don't know how I can convince her of it. I now feel guilty that I wished for a woman. It's like it's my fault that she's here. She told me about her family and how she wants to go back home to them.
'I told her an idea about how she might get back. Ever since B. came over and died, I've thought things over. If this scientist or whatever the hell he is can send people over, what if he can bring things from this world to his? What if he gets a zombie or a whole bunch of them? The thought scares me. But I told Daria that if we're there right when he sends the next victim over, then maybe she can return. I also told her that she needed to kill that son of a bitch. I hope that idea works. Maybe she can stop this stuff from ever happening again.
'However, I have to be honest with myself. I just said that to make her (and myself) feel good. I really don't think it will work. It could, but I doubt it. The thing is that...transporting or whatever he's doing should be impossible, but it isn't. My idea about getting her back may be dead on. I hope that I'm right. My knowledge of scientific things is bad.
O.K., you're forgiven, Daria thought. On the next page, she read on.
'Daria blurted out that she was afraid I wanted to rape her. I must come across like some monster. I'm trying to be nice and decent, I really am. Maybe, I've stared a little too much. She's really pretty and I like looking at her. She also smells good and her skin's soft. That makes me realize, though, that the times I touched her scared her even more. Regardless, I need to find a still working Polaroid and maybe she'll let me take a picture of her.
'I wish she was a little older. Or else that I was just a little younger.
'I know that I could rape her anytime I wanted, and she couldn't stop me, but I will never do it. Mainly because I'm afraid that I'd lose my dreams about Maggie. She would be very disappointed in me if I did that. Also, raping Daria would not only destroy any normal relationship we could ever have, but I'd be afraid of her later revenge. I really don't want to wake up without important body parts.
'Besides, the second she'd start crying would end it all, cause I'd end up crying, too. I guess I'm a softie at heart.
'I need to find out why she wanted to know about MTV.
"Whoa," she muttered and turned to the next page.
There was another sketch, this time of Daria. She had on the long-sleeved sweater and long skirt, but held a pistol in her right hand and had Buster in her left arm. Beneath it was written Daria Morgendorffer and Buster. I hope that I'm right and they make it back to their homes.
She sighed and shook her head. They are not that big. Typical male. She flipped ahead to the last page and read on.
'I dreamed about Maggie...and Daria. They were sitting at a table in the diner, drinking coffee. They were laughing and talking. I came in and they looked at me, then at each other. Then they laughed. I wonder what I did. I sat down and they never really talked to me. They talked about me, however. Maggie said that I might be scary looking, but I was as gentle as a mouse. I protested and she asked me, "Are you a man or a mouse? Go on, squeak up." That made Daria laugh again.'
Daria closed the diary. Interesting dream, she thought and laid the book gently on the floor. Then she laid down and pulled the covers up to her neck.
"The needle is almost to the green," Trent said.
Stone looked at him and Jane and smiled. "You two haven't agreed to my terms yet," he said.
"Oh?" Jane asked, her eyebrows raised.
"I help you get your friend back and you free me, plus let me have all my stuff. We'll be even then." He cleared his throat. "You have to agree to it, or I won't tell you what to do next."
Jane started to jump onto him, but Trent held her back. "We agree, man, but Daria better come back - unharmed and alive."
"Help me to sit up," he said. "I want to be able to watch what happens here, so I can properly put it in my notes later on."
They helped Stone lean back on the wall of the van and waited.
"When the red line's fully in the green, disconnect the battery charger, aim the box at the blank spot on the van floor and push the power button."
"That's it?" Jane asked.
"What?" Stone asked. "You expected to jump through hoops or something? This isn't a Rube Goldberg contraption, girly."
Trent kept an eye on Jane, but she controlled her temper.
During breakfast, Daria ate in silence and Robert got the hint from her body language that she didn't want to talk. He finished his meal as quickly as he could, then briefed her in on the day's activities.
"For right now, I want you to stay here, Daria," he said. "I'm going to retrieve some supplies out of the tool shed and build a shield for the toilet."
She swallowed a bite of her granola bar and asked, "What do I do then? It's going to be boring as hell down here real quick."
"The more times we leave this shelter, the more undead attention we'll get." He smiled at her. "I've got the vent open enough so that we can hear the whine and the thunder when it happens again. You see now, the nice thing about the shelter is that we don't have to wait on that porch. We'll hear the noise, get our stuff and leave." He moved to the door. "You can ride the stationary bike, or read a book. I'll try to find us a lantern up there as well. I really want to avoid using candles."
He then left the shelter and Buster whined next to Daria. She pulled him up to her lap and rubbed the back of his head gently. "He'll be back," she said. "Don't worry, he'll be back."
He finished the work within an hour. The partition consisted of a wooden frame braced in by several cardboard boxes and covered with a white bed sheet. He looked at Daria, performed a mock-formal bow and said, "Here you go, ma'am. What do you think?"
Not much, she thought, but said, "Thank you, Robert."
"I know it's not much to brag about, but it at least gives you a little privacy."
She smiled at him and looked over both sides. "You didn't have to do all this, but I do appreciate it."
"I just want you to be comfortable around me," he said, "and not embarrassed to death."
"The needle is fully in the green," Trent said.
"Finally," Jane muttered and she looked at Stone. "So, do I push the button now?"
He nodded. "Push it and hold it in. I'll tell you when to release it."
Daria, I hope you're O.K. and make it back. Here goes. She pushed the button hard and held it in.
In Fostoria, Ohio, the sound of thunder filled the air, accompanied by a high-pitch electronic whine.
In the neighborhood above the fallout shelter, several confused zombies looked up in the sky as it turned gray.
Author's Notes: This comprises parts nine through twelve of A Little Vacation, as it was originally posted on various message boards and on fanfiction.net.
From the Paperpusher's Message Board, thanks go out to NightGoblyn, LSauchelli, smk, Brother Grimace, vlademir1 and Jonathan D. Parshall for their comments and suggestions.
Others I want to thank for their comments include psychotol from the Sheep's Fluff Message Board and from fanfiction.net, eltf177 and Dierhart.