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Close Encounters II

Close Encounters II

*This is the second half of the story, “Close Encounters.” If you haven’t had a chance to read part 1, you can do so by clicking here.

 

A cold smile drifted up the man’s face.

The cruel glint in his gray eyes told Tina that he could’ve shot her and Beasley from behind, could’ve ended it all before she was even aware of his presence. But he was savoring this. He was a different kind of monster, one who enjoyed slowly toying with his prey.

Next to her Beasley crouched low on his haunches, ready to spring an attack. His low growl erupted into snarling barks.

“Beasley, settle down.” Though she tried to come across commanding, the crack in her voice gave her away. Beasley whined in response but maintained his position. Clearing her throat, Tina forced a gruff edge to her tone. “I said down, boy.”

With another pitiful whimper, he lowered his saggy body.

The man chuckled, and the harsh sound sent an icy chill skittering down her spine.

Tina held her hands up in surrender. “Look, mister, I really don’t have a lot here, but I’m willing to part amiably with what I’ve got.”

“Spoken like a woman who knows her life is coming to an end.” He stepped closer.

Every instinct in her body told her to turn and run. Instead, she remained rooted in her spot. “I don’t think you want to do this. I could – I could be of value to you.”

The man cocked his head to one side and leaned forward. “Oh, really? How’s that?”

“I’m good at bartering. When folks stop by the store, I always manage to get something useful in my hands.” Despite the brisk winter air, sweat streamed down her forehead. It dampened her shirt to her back and slicked moisture across her palms. She was hit with the sudden longing for a cigarette, for the calming drag of smoke and nicotine through her lungs.

Those gray eyes narrowed, and the smile deepened with sinister glee. “I don’t need someone to barter for me; I’ve got my own methods.” He waved his gun in a taunting gesture.

Beasley whined and let out a gravelly bark. Tina opened her mouth to hush him again, but a deep voice called out from beyond the trees. “Like the lady said, you don’t want to do this.”

The gray-eyed man froze, his gun still aimed at her chest. His eyes shifted to his periphery as he tried to catch sight of the voice’s owner. Tina kept her gaze trained on the sadist before her, though the impulse to flee strained through her muscles. The new person, was he friend or foe?

Beasley, unable to contain himself any longer, pushed to his feet and charged forward.

“NOOOO –“ Tina’s yell was cut off by an ear-shattering crack. Sharp pain bit into her ribs, and she stumbled backward. I’ve been shot! Gasping for breath, she fell to the ground. She heard another deafening crack and threw her arms over her face for protection. Her dog howled from a distance.

He cut off mid bark, and silence fell over the forest.  

Pain bloomed across Tina’s side as she lay panting on the ground. The Kevlar vest had saved her life, but the force of the bullet’s impact stole the breath from her lungs. She stared ahead, sick with shock. A body, sprayed with blood, lay on the ground several feet away. Lifeless gray eyes stared back at her.

The crunching of leaves drew her out of her daze, brought her attention back to the trail. She pulled herself to her feet as she saw a figure emerging from the woods.

“You okay?” the man called. Tina took a wary step back. This guy was tall and powerfully built, with broad shoulders stretching the seams of his black leather jacket. He had sharp, severe features, and his dark hair was shaved close to his scalp. A shotgun dangled from his hand. He looked like trouble.

“I’m fine.” She took another step back. Her legs trembled, threatening to give out under her.

“You sure? I thought you’d gotten hit.” Genuine concern tinted his voice. It was then that she noticed Beasley walking alongside the new stranger. Her old hound seemed unruffled by the man’s intimidating appearance.

She ran her hands over her orange vest. “Kevlar.”

His chin tilted up in understanding. “Ah. Very smart.” His gaze fell to the dead man. “Sorry you had to deal with the likes of him. Unfortunately, in times like these, those who harbor evil intent come out in hordes.”

She squinted. “You a cop or something?”

“Or something.” He paused a beat too long and then smiled. “I’m an independent consult of sorts.”

Doubt niggled at the back of her mind, but the guy had just saved her life, so…“The name’s Tina Sanders, and I can’t thank you enough for your… intervention.” A shudder rolled over her. She could be a corpse right now.

As the stranger’s smile grew broader, a dimple creased his cheek, softening the hard angles of his face. “Happy to help, Tina. Now, let’s get you somewhere safe.”

She gestured behind her. “My store’s back here.” She reached for the handle of her luggage. “I’ve gotta set up shop.”

The man scratched at the shadow of whiskers edging his chin. “Sure you’re up for that? You’ve just been through a pretty traumatic experience.”

“I’m sure. Can’t afford to take a day off, trauma or not.”

She expected her rescuer to part ways at that, but he followed her to the store, Beasley on his heels. He checked the perimeter of the building to make sure all was clear while Tina arranged her goods on metal shelves inside. When the task was completed, Tina moved to the checkout area and slipped behind the counter. Unlocking the bottom cabinets, she drew out a container of gasoline and offered it to the man. “I don’t have much, but it’s yours.”

His fingers traced the handle of the canister. “I’d be a gentleman and say it was all gratis, but I’m in desperate need of fuel. I’ll take anything I can get.”

She spread her hands to her small inventory. “Need anything else?”

“Got any coffee?”

“Just the instant kind.”

His lips twisted in a wry smile. “Of course. It’s all but impossible to find a good cup of joe these days.”

He turned to the shelves, perusing the odds-and-ends items that Jerry had managed to scrounge up, and his dark eyes lit up when he came across a six pack of Monster energy drinks. “I’ll take one of these.”

“You can have them all.”

“You’re a gem, Tina. A true saint.” Without hesitation he cracked one of the cans open and took a long swig.

Tina let out a raspy chuckle. If she couldn’t satisfy her own nicotine addiction, at least she could vicariously enjoy this man’s caffeine fix. “Anything else I can get you, hon?”

He seemed to debate for a moment, eyeing her up and down, judging her trustworthiness. He pulled a picture out of his wallet. “Have you been keeping up with the news?”

“Electricity’s not so great around here. We watch every now and then, when the TV’s working.” She studied the picture. A pretty blonde girl stared back at her. “This is that girl everyone’s looking for. What’d she do, raid Ft. Knox?”

“If only.” He scribbled some digits across the back of the photo. “Keep your eyes peeled. If you see her, can you call this number?” He handed it to her.

“Will do, if our phone lines are working, that is. But I doubt she’s wandering around in Oregon. Probably hightailed it to Mexico after that first outbreak.”

“You never know. Thanks.” He picked up the gasoline can and the remaining Monsters. When he reached the door, he turned and gave her a slight wave. “I’ll see you around, Tina.”

She waved after him, uncertainty growing into a knot in her stomach. There was something dangerous, something lethal about the man that raised a red flag of warning.

Even after all of his aid, she wasn’t sure if she’d just agreed to help out a rescuing angel…

Or if she’d made a deal with the devil.

 

 

*For those of you who have been reading these stories for a while, you may remember this mystery man’s  appearance in part 2 of “The Hunt.” So far he’s been helpful, but what are his true intentions? We shall have to wait and see.

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  1. SO GOOD!!!!!

  2. Another good read, Byna. I don’t recall “The Hunt” but I am going to look for it now. Thanks for sending.

    • Thanks, Barbara! “The Hunt” precedes “Bedside Manner,” and they should all be listed under the Zombie Short Stories category. The layout of that section is, unfortunately, a little confusing. The stories fall in this order – Occupational Hazards, I Spy…, The Hunt, The Hunt II, Bedside Manner, Bedside Manner II, Close Encounters, and Close Encounters II. Hope that helps! I liked the design of this site when I first chose it, but I’m not a fan of the way the categories are structured. :/

  3. Misha Nakagawa says:

    So enjoying your stories!

  4. pamela walker says:

    That was really good!! Keep ’em coming!

  5. pamela walker says:

    That was really good! Keep ’em coming!

  6. Sonia Vogel says:

    As always, you keep me intrigued. This is great. I love it.

  7. Deena McAllister says:

    Another great story! They always leave me wanting more.

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