Chapter Four: Boni
Among the many things a person could find himself yearning for at such a time as this, a firm ripe banana was probably not the first thing one would have on the list. If one were to look around, the vast array of billboards that crowded the flanks of EDSA might induce one to consider clothes, plastic surgery or fancy slippers. That was, assuming one could ignore the fact that barely thirty feet away were the hundreds upon hundreds of moans and groans of the eternally famished corpses. That, perhaps, would bring one to desire guns, chainsaws or maybe even a helicopter just to get as far away as from all of this as possible.
Ricardo, however, could not share the unexpected longing that his tongue had suddenly developed. It came without any hint of a warning, emerging after Ricardo had clicked his tongue. That act was one inspired by sheer boredom, having been walking down the line in its gradual but notable descent alongside the woman he knew to be named Julie. There were many questions regarding Julie that were in Ricardo’s mind. While he had hoped to find a means of asking them at some point, he had learned in the scant amount of time he had been with her that she was not one for giving away her secrets. And in Julie’s case, even something as simple as her last name was a secret.
A large billboard to the left of the line caught Ricardo’s attention. On it, the image of a handsome fair-skinned man wearing nothing but a white pair of underwear smiled at the viewer. While the underwear was nothing spectacular, being one of the more traditional cut, there was a hint of a half hidden tattoo that peered from his side that gave him a touch of subtle naughtiness. Ricardo found himself wondering if that model was still out there somewhere, barricading himself from the hordes of hungry dead or if he had befallen the change as others have and was now some desiccated thing that quite possibly was still walking around in a soiled pair of white underwear.
Julie caught him staring.
“So you prefer that over the ladies,” Julie asked out loud and Ricardo jerked his head back to focus down the line. He wasn’t ashamed of his orientation. He was, however, not too comfortable talking about it to women.
“I… can relate to the attraction,” he replied, unable to look at her.
Julie stopped walking, gave the surrounding area a quick look through, then sat down at the track with a clear view of the billboard. Ricardo turned around to see Julie patting the ground beside her, as if to invite him to sit down and join her. “I gave the area a quick check around. We should be safe for a quick break.”
“I am sort of in a rush,” Ricardo sighed.
“And you will end up rushing to your death,” Julie warned him and patted the ground again, “Come on. Sit for a few. Water and biscuits break. We still got a ways ahead of us anyway.”
Ricardo shrugged and walked back to where Julie sat. He remained standing, however. “We’re wasting time.”
“No, you are wasting time. I am taking a moment to gather my strength, recover some stamina, and enjoy the view.”
“This isn’t funny,” Ricardo lightly kicked her knee.
“I was not making a joke,” Julie clarified as she snatched his leg by the shin and held it in place. He looked up, saw the billboard, and audibly sighed as he relented and sat down beside her.
“You don’t fool me, you know. I know you are just doing this to make fun of me.”
“Make fun of you?” Julie asked innocently.
“Did you ever get his name?”
Ricardo saw no hint of humor in her expression. He studied her eyes and saw reflected back in them an honest desire to know the answer. She slid out a small foil packet of cookies and tore it open carefully, hoping to avoid aggravating her injured finger.
“No,” Ricardo admitted. On the days and nights prior to the coming of the zombies, he used to see the billboard while driving and would find himself wondering who the model was. He wasn’t the type to keep track of all the celebrities and models that graced the covers of magazines. While he recognized the big stars like JohnLlyod Cruz or Piolo Pascual, he found many of the younger stars and models seemingly following some unconscious mold of having to look a particular way. In short, most less popular personalities all looked the same to him.
The model in the tarpaulin was attractive, but wasn’t popular enough to have his name locked in Ricardo’s mind. And it wasn’t without trying either. Although Ricardo had no plans of admitting it to Julie, he did try to search for more images of the model online by googling the brand and description of the billboard and hoping to find some hits. Instead, he found loads of links regarding the brand and a different billboard they had released in the past – one more controversial thanks to the topless female model that graced it.
“Hideo Muraoka,” Julie offered, “And if I remember right…” She paused for a moment. Her eyes were closed, but her lips were moving as if she was mumbling something. Ricardo looked back up at the billboard and stared at the model’s face, studying his almost sheepish grin and wondered if the name matched. Ricardo decided he did look like a guy who would be named Hideo.
“Six foot two. Born in Sao Paolo. Of Japanese and Brazilian descent,” Julie opened her eyes and looked at Ricardo, as if waiting for a response. Ricardo cocked an eyebrow. “Well?” she asked again.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “Like I said, I just think he’s quite attractive. But I have no idea if what you just said is right.”
Julie broke a cookie in half and offered one to Ricardo. While the packet had three cookies inside, it was best to conserve them until they reached a station where food was a better possibility. Ricardo took his half and slid it into his mouth. He sucked on it, rather than bite it, and relished the sweetness and the texture of the cookie as it began to grow soft and mushy from his saliva. Julie chewed hers. She was happy just to get something sweet to encourage her saliva to wash her palate.
The sun was hanging low now, almost peering through the gaps between buildings. The heat was fainter now, and the cold ber-month breeze began to rise. Ricardo stole another chance to look at the billboard and found himself imaging meeting Mr. Muraoka. At six foot two, the model would have been slightly taller than him.
“We would still have to kill him,” Julie muttered and rose to her feet. She brushed her hands against her thighs to dust them, then offered a hand to help Ricardo pull himself up. “You do realize that?”
“What are you talking about,” Ricardo asked as he took her hand.
“Mr. Muraoka,” Julie pointed at the billboard with her forefinger and thumb extended, forming the hand sign of a gun. She made the mock sound of a gunshot and pretended to blow smoke away from the tip of her forefinger. “If we see him as a zombie, we’d have to blow his brains off.”
“You can be really disturbing, you know that?” Ricardo shook his head.
Julie just smiled.
The wire fence could not last.
At Boni station, the platform was practically only a few feet above street level. While access to the station itself was still a defensible position, being composed of raised walkways that had to be accessed by stairwells that could have been better defended, the platform itself, located at the center of EDSA like an island where the north and south bound tracks were laid was separated only from the street by a small distance of concrete followed by wire fences.
The massive numbers of zombies that leaned against wire fence had in time weakened it enough that parts of the fence began to give way. While traversing the gap took time and forced any who did so to move relatively slow, time was not an issue for the hungry dead.
In time, more and more zombies had crept their way inside, and those who were once in charge of the station realized there were far more zombies than they had bullets. Wanting to still secure the line, but keep the zombies from ever gaining a foot onto the line itself, the former tenants blew up the walking areas above, allowed the debris to fall down to the platform. With a stalled Metro rail transit train still in the station, the debris crushed hundreds of the monstrous dead, locked the train in place, and turned the platform into a long massive tunnel covered by debris. The people watching over the station had eventually abandoned it, choosing to seek shelter elsewhere than watch over a fallen station.
The rubble covering the tunnel and train, however, was thankfully secure. Far too steep for zombies to navigate over, the bigger threat that existed was someone choosing to take over the tunnel and force people to pay for passage.
“Boni. I remember Boni,” Julie mumbled, “A friend of mine lived over there not too long ago.”
Ricardo looked at the distance and only saw on the other billboards, and the hints of residences and smaller offices. He just nodded in response as he scanned ahead once more for any wayward zombies.
“She was going through some tough times before all this happened,” Julie continued, her thoughts lost in her memories, “She lost her house after Ondoy. She did not lose it from the floods, though. The area she lived in wasn’t too low an area. Instead, she was out at a volunteer station helping repack the collected donations for those who were affected by the storm when some jerk in her area fell asleep while smoking. She got home to discover half the block she lived in had burned down. Her place was just beside the source of the fire.”
There was movement ahead. Ricardo reached for the Armalite and pulled it close.
“Makes you wonder why shit like that happens to good people,” Julie shook her head in irritation.
Three. There were three of the walking dead on the tracks ahead. Like drunken animals, the four were shoving against each other in an insane display of hunger and selfishness. Ricardo couldn’t see what they were fighting over. He could not see any sign of a body on the ground. Two of the zombies were barely dressed in rags of clothing. Skin as black as pitch, the two were thin as reeds yet had bellies that seemed pregnant and engorged. Sick violet veins spider webbed across the rotund flesh. The third was a taller figure. The skin was heavy damaged, with areas where chucks of flesh were clearly chewed off. The figure was naked save for…
…a pair of dirty white underwear.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Ricardo exclaimed.
“But it’s true,” Julie still stared at the street at the side, seeing the stumbling horde bumping into each other as they walked. It seemed even onto death, the masses were uncaring enough to bump into each other while walking into crowds and offer no apologies.
“What are the chances-“ Ricardo raised the Armalite to chest level and took aim.
“You’re not talking about what I’m talking are you?” Julie turned her focus on what lay ahead and saw the three zombies. The tallest one had noticed them. The two others were still wrestling their macabre dance. “Three. No other Zees further behind them. What do you think?”
“I don’t want to think.” Ricardo imagined a red dot on the tallest one’s chest. He imagined the dot to connect to the end of the Armalite in a straight line. He tried not to look if the shambling corpse resembled the model. Or if the build was anywhere near.
“Ricardo! The tattoo!” Julie gasped.
The tall zombie grunted, then began moving towards them. It could not run, but the pace it approached was faster than one’s usual walk. It raised its arms, fingers twitching in the air as it moved closer.
“Shut up!” Ricardo took a deep breath. Began exhaling softly.
The Armalite fired off a round, Ricardo felt the gun’s recoil punch into his chest. He staggered backwards at the same moment the tallest zombie did the same. But unlike the zombie, Ricardo stayed standing.
The two other zombies turned, having now heard the gunshot. With matching groans, the two turned to face them and began closing in. These too were hobbling faster, their undead limbs empowered by the call of fresh meat.
“I got these,” Julie muttered and drew out her pistol. She took aim, but hesitated. While her mind raced to recount the number of bullets she had used, the two dragged themselves closer and closer. Ricardo shifted his gaze back and forth between Julie and the zombies. He wasn’t aware why she was hesitating.
“I have enough,” she finally decided and fired off two shots at the lead zombie. The bullet tore into the zombie’s head, bursting the forehead in a shower of sticky gore. Unlike other zombies, this one seemed to have had enough swelling and rotting to turn disgustingly explosive. The second one did not even slow down. As was expected, none of the zombies showed any hint of actual intelligence behind their ravenous eyes. The second one navigated the distance quickly, stepping over the fallen body of the tallest one which Ricardo had earlier shot with relative ease.
“Damn it,” Ricardo threw his gaze at the sides and saw that the hordes at Edsa had been drawn by their gunfire. The masses of rotting things all turned to face the MRT line. Too close to street level, the hordes were able to see them so long as they remained standing. “Julie, gun down.”
Julie still fired off another round. The bullet lodged itself into the zombie’s throat, forcing it back a few yards. “I can take-“ her voice trailed off when a glance to Ricardo had her instead see the hundred hungry eyes staring at her down at the street below.
The Armalite slammed into the zombie’s face, forcing it down to the ground. Ricardo slammed his boot into the center of the zombie’s back, then knelt on top of it with his other leg. “We have to get out of sight!”
“Save the bullets,” Julie suddenly barked.
“Save the bullets. The thing is down. Use your scissors!” Julie looked around and saw the nearest zombies were already at the wire fence. Being still a few feet above street level, the zombies were unable to push against the fence to force it down. But many have learned the hard way that at least one out of every group of zombies seemed… smart enough… to climb up fences. Julie kept her eyes peeled for any of the sort being present.
“This is going to be so disgusting,” Ricardo hissed and threw the Armalite back, allowing the strap to keep it from hitting the ground. Drawing out the scissors, he quickly considered where best to stab the zombie and in the end, stuck to the usual method he had used before. With one hand to pin the head in place, he clamped his other hand around the scissors and plunged the sharp end into the zombie’s eyes.
The first plunge barely slowed the zombie down. It continued to thrash against Ricardo’s weight, but thankfully did not have enough leverage to hoist itself back to its feet.
The second one stilled it as the scissors plunged deep enough to hit the brain.
Ricardo stared at the mush of eyeball matter that coated his fingers and hand. It reminded him of runny egg whites had they been whisked with blood and meaty gelatinous bits.
Julie’s hands hooked under Ricardo’s arms and hoisted him back to his feet. “We have to move,” she commanded and started to move. But rather than let her drag him, Ricardo dropped himself down and dragged her to the ground with him. Landing on the bloody mess on the rocky floor, Julie felt Ricardo’s cleaner hand clamp over her mouth as he motioned at her with his soiled hand to stay quiet.
“It sounds stupid, but we stay out of sight. Now,” Ricardo stayed low, using the yard high concrete partitions on the sides of the line as cover from the zombies that were now looking for the missing sources of sound. “Was out there in the street for a whole day before I got to the line. Vicious as they are, they can’t think well enough to know a target that can’t be seen is just hiding.”
“Just like in the movies?” Julie whispered back.
“Aren’t you glad to know they got some things right?”
KaQoH looked at the three men that stood in attention in front of him.
The first was Ando, formerly a taxi cab driver who has had his share of tumbles back when he used to tackle the night shift. Having dealt with everything from drunkards to high tempered gang bangers, Ando had learned a thing or two on fighting in close quarters. Though he was no crack shot with a gun, he knew how to make sure of a knife real well and always had two butterfly knives strapped to his belt. The balisong knives had titanium handles, a gift he had earned from a recent food expedition to a nearby mall. The shop that had them had been ransacked and its bigger blades had been clearly their primary objective. Ando, however, was more comfortable with the foldable blades and was more than happy to get them instead. He had killed five zombies using these blades in the last few days with one facing its final doom after he slashed the blade into the thing’s neck, thrust his hand inside to grab its spine, then with that holding the thing steady, plunged the knife into the zombie’s ear.
The second was a burly man whose forearms were covered with a rich growth of hair. With dark skin and patches of growth of facial hair, he looked less man and more beast to some degree. His teeth were yellow, a result to the constant train of cigarettes he was smoking. The man was called Doc, not that he was in any way a doctor in his life prior to the zombies. His weapon of choice was a butcher’s meat hook. On the day KaQoH met him, Doc was dragging a zombie whose brain met final death on the hook’s unfortunate curved end.
The last was a woman who clearly celebrated the fact money was no longer of import in the Philippines. Dressed in a fishnet sweater, a Hello kitty bra, and a faux fur coat, the woman proudly called herself Otaku and would cheerfully throw out quotes from her favorite anime and manga whenever something… no matter how unrelated… supposedly reminded her of them. She wore thick eye makeup, accentuating her eyes to look like the big eyes of her chosen passion, and carried with her a violet hat box which contained her many wigs. Her weapon of choice? An Armscor pump action, side ejecting 12 gauge shotgun. With a capacity of four plus one shells, Otaku relieved the weapon from a half-devoured security guard who was begging for her to put him out of his misery. Instead, she took the weapon, pocketed the extra shells, and told him, “Your dream. I can make it come true. Yes, if I’m with you, I am sure you can do it and I’ll fly like the bird I could never become.” The man stared at her, confused, finding enough strength to ask, “Bird?” She raised the shotgun to his face, pumped a round into the chamber and told him, “I was Ayane Isuzu from Gatekeepers 21, baka!” and killed him.
KaQoH looked pleased. It was true that they weren’t an impressive looking bunch. What they lacked of actual military training, they made up in viciousness and the lack of concern for the loss of human life. KaQoH himself had no true military training. The closest he ever had to something military was being at one point in time the best friend of the late Capt. Santos.
“I understand you were all present when those two strode through our station without any respect for what we have achieved here,” KaQoH began his planned speech only to be interrupted by Otaku.
“Life and death come and go like marionettes dancing on a table. Once their strings are cut, they easily crumble.”
“Okay,” KaQoH turned to the two others, “We need to hunt those two down as soon as possible. Those two barged into our home and without any respect for what we had achieved here, and those two left without any concern for the safety and security of our station.”
“What’d they do?” Doc suddenly spoke.
“What?” KaQoH echoed, buying himself a few seconds to come up with something that sounded plausible. All he had was the desire for revenge. He had hoped the three would simply welcome another chance to take down a human life. He did not expect having to explain the situation.
“What’d the two do that they’d deserve to be killed?” Doc took a deep drag on his cigarette. He held the smoke in as he waited for an answer.
KaQoH could see Ando did not care much for the reason. The man was already fiddling with his balisongs. Otaku, on the other hand, seemed lost in her own world. She was preoccupied some internal dialogue in her head, and was smirking at some non-existent joke. Doc however waited for the answer, and began to let the smoke trickle out of his mouth like some demon rising from hell.
“The two took with them the keys,” KaQoH finally answered, enunciating each word very carefully. All three focused on KaQoH upon hearing him utter that last word. Keys. Keys immediately meant doors and gates and elevators. Keys meant security. Keys meant locks.
And lost keys meant trouble.
“Ghost in the Shell, Stand Alone Complex… Oh God, how powerless we are!” Otaku clamped both hands on her cheeks.
“They got your keys?” Ando snarled, clearly unable to fathom such a thing happening.
“How,” Doc simply asked KaQoH not once taking his eyes off him.
“It doesn’t matter how,” Ando suddenly barked at Doc, flicking a basilong open and holding it close to his face. “What matters is we get it back before people start to notice.”
“Ando is right,” KaQoH clamped both hands together and turned to Otako, only to see her wiping away imaginary tears. He began to wonder if she had truly lost it.
“No,” Doc remained stoic and took another deep drag on his cigarette, “How.”
“We can’t waste more time by talking-“ Ando began only to fall silent the moment Doc clamped the hook around his neck. The sharp edge scraped against Ando’s throat.
“How?” Doc demanded an answer.
KaQoH turned away from the three and with his hands still cupped in front of his chest, walked towards the side of the station overlooking the Shaw boulevard cross road. His eyes wandered across the desolate landscape, taking note of the zombies, the closed and abandoned stores, the broken cars and the reinforced barriers. He caught sight of the living that kept watch by the gates, holding their weapons or fanning themselves against the intense heat. Anyone else looking at the same place would only see people who have found a way beyond all odds to survive. KaQoH however saw it as something else. For him, it was the beginning of what could eventually become the roots of a new country.
“The woman,” the words began to flow before KaQoH considered what he was saying, “I knew the woman from my younger years. She was an old flame. A previous love. She contacted me in advance. Asked me to let her in. Old times. Old friends. I decided to let her do so. But I did not expect her friend.”
KaQoH wasn’t exactly sure what direction his lie was headed. But he knew he needed to say something. He understood now that the two would easily follow suit. He was certain as well though that Doc needed an answer.
“The man he was with demanded I hand over the keys. He told me she was his hostage and that he would kill her if I didn’t comply.”
Ando pried himself free from Doc’s grasp. Thankfully, Doc did not angle the hook any further to keep him from moving. The man maintained his attentions upon KaQoH. Both easily ignored Otaku’s next quote.
“If you aren’t remembered, then you never existed!”
“I gave the keys, thinking he would let her go once we got to the exit facing Boni side. Only it did not happen that way. She was in cahoots with her. And they both played me for a fool,” KaQoH felt a teardrop form, barely clinging on the edge of his eyelash. While the tear was not for the supposed betrayal of a former lover, it was for the realization that was played for a fool by two very young adults.
“Let’s go then,” Doc grunted and brought the meat hook up to his face. He slid the edge between his lips and used it to dislodge a small piece of food stuck between his teeth.
The two carefully crawled their way down the line, even as the voices and moans of the undead loomed ever closer. Ricardo could feel his heard beating so hard it was almost as if he would be thrown back onto his feet. There were just so many that the struggle was less to keep moving and was more to keep from panicking. Each passing second, Ricardo felt the urge to look up and see if any of the rare climbers were among the zombies. While there have been rumors of other kinds of zombies – those that had the ability to run for sudden bursts of speed, to those that had much more terrifying mobility thanks to the ability to climb and scamper up walls – Ricardo had never encountered any such in the days that had passed since it all began.
Julie could already see Boni station ahead of them. In the dying sunlight, the still open last segment of the train was already visible. Atop of it, along the length of the train itself, was the collapsed upper bridge way that once lead to the platform area. She scanned the rocks and visible steel bar skeleton for any sign of climbers in the area. Thankfully, just like Ricardo, she found none.
“How many do you think are out there?”
Julie look at Ricardo and grabbed hold of his ankle. Unable to continue forward, Ricardo turned and threw Julie a “What?” expression. She motioned to the opposite sides and once again gave him a dour expression.
“Sorry,” Ricardo whispered back, “I just… use conversation to cut through tension. Didn’t mean to make things worse.”
Forward they continued, moving a steady pace towards the last train segment. The groaning was starting to spread out once again, suggesting the zombies in the area were already starting to lose interest in finding them. Between the two of them, Julie was navigating through to the train easier, not being slowed down like Ricardo was by a heavy rifle strapped to his back. Julie was now within arm’s reach from the train segment but just as she was to crawl through the door, Ricardo noticed movement inside.
The thing was once a woman. She still wore the remnants of what might have once been an expensive silken thing. The cloth was perhaps once peach, and the playful embroidery around the hemline would have shot the price up from the typical nightie. She was probably beautiful, but whatever beauty once existed had faded away into the dark and purplish horror that now stumbled towards Julie. Julie rolled onto her back and raised both hands to aim her pistol at the zombie, but the sight of the previous attempts to stop the zombie kept her from acting. There was a knife stabbed into the zombie’s stomach that still hung precariously in it, kept from falling by the tight tangle of intestines and predigested human meat. Julie noticed a glint among the tangles and realized it was the reflection of light bouncing of a silver watch still strapped in an arm the zombie had swallowed whole.
The zombie lumbered forward, its maw opening in excitement as it sensed Julie’s still warm living flesh, only to explode in a massive splatter of gore. Bits and pieces of the zombie’s brain matter and hair fell on Julie as the zombie dropped to its knees, then fell backwards to join the truly dead. Ricardo leveled the Armalite forward, realizing that whoever killed the zombie came from inside the train.
“Come on in,” the voice called from inside. He sounded old, and the rough baritone of his voice had the scratchiness present among those who had been smoking for many years. “There shouldn’t be any more inside, but every now and then another climber wanders in here. Come on, get in here before the hordes start to notice you two again.”
Julie wiped a golf ball sized piece of brain bits from her cheek and slowly pulled herself up to her knees. Ricardo rose to a squatting position and inched closer to Julie, keeping the rifle trained at the entrance. He still wanted to stay cautious.
Inside was brighter than both anticipated.
The train had indeed become a tunnel underneath the collapsed station. Some glass windows had shattered inwards, with the concrete and debris precariously hanging through the openings. The floor was black, slippery and yet sticky enough to make walking require some level of effort. A bare light bulb illuminated the segment of the train the three were inside. If one were to follow the electrical wiring that had been installed, another bulb would be found in each train, all finally connected to a make shift power supply that had been cobbled up from broken parts, salvaged wiring and a car battery. At the end of the third train segment, a tunnel had been created between the front and rear trains for the two to remain accessible.
Save for the zombie that was closing in on Julie, Ricardo was surprised not to find any others.
“I throw them out in the morning,” the old man explained. He was used to that being one of the first questions people ask. He looked the part of a cheerful old man, with the puffed up cheeks and the circles around his eyes. His nose was touched by the ruddiness of gin and it didn’t take long for Ricardo to find the opened bottle resting on the seat nearby. He wore the bright yellow uniform of a janitor and had the heavy duty gloves an electrician would wear strapped to his belt. Amusingly, he wore a pair of swimming goggles over his hair, and a pack of cigarettes was tucked under the shirt portion of his left shoulder, held in place by the carton’s presence against the garment itself. “Nonito,” he told the two and drew a cigarette from the pack. “So, you two lovers?”
“What?” Ricardo almost broke into a laugh, “We were-“
“Recently married,” Julie gave Ricardo a firm elbow into the side. Ricardo felt the air rush out of his lungs and staggered to the side to try to breathe. Between gasps, he managed to mumble, “What… she.. said..”
“Newlyweds,” Nonito shook his head in dismay, “Talk about an unlucky wedding then.”
Julie reached forward, motioning for a cigarette. Nonito lit his cigarette, shook his head again to say no, then slid the pack back under his shirt. Julie drew her hand back, slightly embarrassed.
“Could have been a lot more times worse I guess. You two still together after all this, I guess just shows you two gonna have a marriage better than I did.”
Ricardo finally recovered, although decided it would be better to sit down for a second. Nonito stared at Ricardo, everything else about him suddenly frozen in place that the cigarette smoke trailed upwards in a straight line.
“Ricky, get up!” Julie shushed him.
Ricardo rushed back to his feet.
Nonito broke back into a smile, and slipped a hand into his shirt. “Lots of our brothers and sisters out there, terrible terrible times.”
Julie’s eyes began to check the old man for any weapons. What she found disturbed her. A heavy black sledgehammer was hanging on the man’s belt. Bits of the female zombie’s hair still clung on the hammer’s head.
“Cigarette?” Nonito offered. Julie saw Ricardo reach for one and motioned him to stop. To her surprise, Nonito allowed him to take one. Ricardo, rather than lighting it, slid it at the small space between his ear and head. “I’ll save it for later.”
“Smart man,” Nonito grinned, showing perfect white and straight teeth. Julie was certain the old man wore dentures.
“We’re just passing through,” Ricardo explained and wrapped an arm around Julie’s shoulder. “We’re hoping to get to my parents and find them okay. We haven’t heard from them for quite some time.”
“What about hers?”
Ricardo turned to Julie, leaving her to answer. She chose her words carefully.
“They died some years ago. My father all the way at Mindanao – military guy. My mother died a few years later. The doctors say it was an aneurysm.”
Nonito focused on Ricardo, smoke trailing as he turned his head. “She a good wife,” the old man asked. Ricardo was about to answer when he continued, “She cook? Clean the house? She keep you happy?”
“Of course,” Ricardo hugged Julie even tighter, “We’re perfect for each other. Never been so happy. Well. Happy considering the circumstances. I mean we could be happier if there weren’t any zombie-“
“Honey,” Julie shook Ricardo to loosen his hug, she sensed his tension and had begun to see how bad a liar he was. Hoping to interrupt him to change the topic, she was considering expressing to Nonito how much in a hurry they were when the old man suddenly slapped a meaty hand across her left cheek.
Ricardo panicked, pulling her backwards to stand between the two. Julie however moved on muscle memory. Even as she was hoisted backwards, her left hand spun out, holding the pistol securely. She trained the weapon at Nonito’s face, breathing rapidly from the surprise blow.
“A good wife never interrupts her husband,” Nonito calmly explained and took another drag on his cigarette. “You should remind her of that.”
Ricardo wanted to argue. He didn’t agree with the old way thinking this man espoused. But he understood how delicate things were and it dawned upon him that this man’s grasp on the old ways may be the only thing keeping him from just giving up and throwing himself at the zombies. Everyone had to find their own way of dealing with all this.
“You are so right. She needs to be reminded sometimes.”
Julie caught on quickly. She brought the gun down slowly and began to feign an expression of shame. “I am sorry, Ricky. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“That’s okay, sweetie. We’re all coping with the zombies.”
“Oh they’re not zombies,” Nonito remarked. He pulled on a level and a door began to slide closed over the Shaw side doorway. He clamped down the two soldered latches and locked the door in place. “It is almost dinner time, so I suggest you two stay to eat.”
The old man began walking ahead of them, moving through the next segment of the train with calm movements. Julie and Ricardo noticed in the second segment, there was enough space from the debris to see the street level. The zombies were all just standing there, unable to force their way past the debris or through the glass. But the stood there waiting, eternally patient, with their hungry hungry eyes.
“It is really okay, we need to-“ Julie began but quickly shut up the moment Nonito merely stopped walking. She turned to Ricardo and mouthed, “Tell him we have to go.” Ricardo nodded and was about to form the words when he saw the two sleeping bags, the shotgun, and the plastic bottles and cans of milk on the side. He looked at Julie, guiding her to what he saw, and she quickly looked at Nonito’s hand to confirm what she suspected. True enough, on his left hand, a clear lighter band of skin was present on his ring finger.
“We can stay for dinner,” Ricardo answered.
“Good,” Nonito turned to look at them and smiled now. “I still have some Arroz caldo cooking. Let’s go to the eating den and we can have a nice dinner.”
“I was hoping to ask,” Julie decided to risk it, even as Ricardo kept squeezing her hand to stay silent. Ricardo thought she was going to inquire about the second bunk and the baby things. He was wrong. “You said they weren’t zombies?”
“No,” Nonito shook his head, “They aren’t zombies.”
“What are they then?”
Nonito turned to Julie, his expression one of shock that she didn’t realize what he knew. “They’re our katipuneros, of course.”
Julie and Ricardo glanced at each other. The answer did not seem to make any sense.