Excerpt: El Presidio Rides North

I was absolutely certain I was going to die, and it was because I’d wanted to wash my hands. The last thought that was going to go through my head was going to be that I could have lived a long and happy life if I’d just been satisfied with that bottle of hand sanitizer. And the worst part of it was that I’d die getting my hands dirtier, what with how the zombie I was trying to wrestle off of me was covered in dirt and that undefinable zombie sludge that they seemed to create. I’d hoped it wouldn’t end like this, in a Wendy’s bathroom, while I still needed to pee.

I had started to accept the inevitability of my death when I heard a voice yell, “EAT SHIT!” right before the zombie’s head was removed with a blow from what looked like a shovel with nails in it. I pushed the limp body off of me and was genuinely surprised to find I had not pissed my pants. I wiped my face and checked my sleeves to see if any of the zombie sludge had gotten on me; I was mostly clean. I stared past my shaky fingers up at my savior. Well, the shovel was more specifically my savior, but the guy holding it was pretty important, too.

He had hair like a badger that’d been in a wind tunnel, tattoos on his neck, and abdominal definition I could see through his t-shirt. “Don’t mess with Texas, shitstain,” he said, and stepped over me to the zombie corpse to give it a kick with one scuffed up cowboy boot. Oh, thank god, he wasn’t talking to me. He gave the zombie another kick in its decomposed ass and turned his attention to me. “You get bit?”

“No! No, it didn’t get me,” I said. He sized me up, narrowing his eyes. He gave the back of my knee a nudge with the toe of his boot.

“Get up,” he said, and I pulled myself up. He gave me the head-to-toe, and then a walk-around. “Push your sleeves up.” I did one, and then the other, showing them unmarked. “Lift up your shirt.” I pulled it up to my underarms, exposing my soft belly to the world. He seemed satisfied. “It get any shit in your mouth?”

“No, no, not any. Just a little on my face.” He narrowed his eyes again—actually, the more I thought about it, the more I realized his eyes were just like that, permanent sun-squint.

“Okay, but if you turn, I’m not gonna hesitate.” He thunked his shovel against one of the sinks, knocking a little gore onto the floor. The sound made me jump because I am a nancy. I held up my hands in front of me.

“Of course! No hesitation. Law of the wild and whatever.” He kept looking at me that Clint Eastwood way and then rested his shovel up across his shoulder.

“Well, come on,” he said, and started to turn towards the bathroom door.

“Come on?” I said.

“I’m not leaving a cute little thing like you here,” he said, and I was glad his back was facing me so he couldn’t see my eyes go wide. Oh, Jesus, I had been hiding from the few living people left for months just to avoid this kind of situation. But I was kind of cornered, and he kind of had a death shovel and knew how to use it. I guessed if I was going to become someone’s apocalypse bitch, it would probably be less unpleasant all around if I went willingly.

“Uh, one second, okay?” He looked back over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow and I hurried to the urinal to piss, and then finally washed my goddamn hands.

I followed him out of the Wendy’s into the parking lot, holding on to the shotgun I’d picked up a while back. I’d run out of bullets some time ago, but it was still nice to hold on to, like an uncuddly metal security blanket. It probably would have made a good blunt weapon against the zombie in the bathroom if I had been paying attention. My mom always had told me I didn’t pay enough attention.

“So, um, I really appreciate you saving my life,” I said to the guy. “That was a really cool thing of you to do.”

“Gotta look out for the ones we got left,” he said. I could see the edge of a tattoo peeking up from under the back of his shirt, black lines spreading out in rays.

“Yeah, I’m glad you went for that instead of, like, killing me for food.” I hugged the shotgun a little closer to my chest. “Is that why you were in the Wendy’s? Sometimes they have like sauce packets, those last forever.”

“Nah, I was checking the grease. Rigged up El Presidio to run on cooking oil if it needs to.”

“El Presidio?” I asked, and he turned to me and gave me a big grin, then pointed off just at the edge of the parking lot, behind some trees.

“Oh, querido, you’re going to like El Presidio.” I followed him.

“Holy shit,” I said, when I saw it. El Presidio, it turned out, was an RV that had been converted into some, like, mobile death fortress. The whole thing was reinforced with a mishmash of welded-on steel, with only slight slits at the windows. There were spikes around the wheel wells and it had a jagged cowcatcher on the front that had marks of gore and torn fabric on it. Not so much cows, then.

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