Clown World: Book One, the conclusion of Chapter Five…unedited, incomplete…

“Fine,” Emily said, as she walked to the edge of the tower and looked over the carnage. Rae motioned for me to come up.
“You can come up now, Jake.” Rae turned to Emily and said, “if you’re done feeling sorry for yourself, and if you want to learn how to be a help to your partner and survive this insanity, meet up with me later.”
I walked up the stairs and passed Rae.
“I’ll have some ammo brought out to you, but first I need to go recover what’s left of my team.”
Emily and I watched as Rae left, and I sat behind the machine gun. I didn’t need to see her to know what went through her mind, it was the same thing that went through every combat leader’s head when they lost people.
“Why them and not me?”
Me and Emily watched as a truck pulled out of the main gate, followed by Rae, Francis, and a slew of other people, as they began to recover the remains of the fallen. Not that there was much left to bury. The Lurkers had devoured much of the team, only a few limbs were left. Francis shoved a cigar into her mouth and looked up at the tower. She gave me a nod.
Unlike Rae, Francis wasn’t what I called ‘functioning fit.’ At first glance, she looked like she was morbidly obese, and shaped like a refrigerator. That’s to say she was square-shaped from the neck down. She kept her hair cut short, and her hair was auburn not black like Rae’s. However, after I got a closer look at Francis, I realized she wasn’t fat at all, she had thick muscle and was solid. It wasn’t the dense, veiny slabs of ripped muscle that bodybuilding magazines embraced, and there was no denying the woman had physical and mental strength.
Rae on the other hand looked, and was, fit. She carried two weapons, a rifle and sidearm, along with a plate carrier, and a pack on her back. Plus, extra magazines for the weapons and hand grenades. Her raven black hair was long and tied into a ponytail, and she had her mother’s gunmetal grey eyes.
“Someone’s coming this way, Jake.”
A flatbed truck pulled up next to our stairs. Two pre-teens, one a sandy blond female with a pock marked face, the other a short, chubby, red headed male who looked like he’d been shot with a freckle gun, carried boxes of ammo up to us. The blond handed me a box of ammo and said, “here you go, gunner.”
“Thanks.”
Both of the kids stared at me as I linked the ammo together. I turned and faced them and raised my eyebrows at them.
“What?”
“Rae said you mowed down dozens of Lurkers, gunner. Did you do all that?”
“No, I didn’t fight them by myself.”
“You’re a bad man,” the blond said, and the boy nodded in agreement. “I sure am glad you’re on our side.”
I laughed and the kids joined in with me. It felt good to laugh. Lord knew, the fight had cost us several lives, but here we stood, rearmed and ready for round two. The kids brought up three more boxes of ammo, and then left. Emily waited until they’d driven off before she turned and spoke to me.
“Things aren’t ever going back to the way they used to be, is it?”
“Things won’t always be dark, Emily.”
Emily scoffed and said, “how do you know that, Jake? You seem so sure of that.”
“You’ve gotta have faith, Emily. I couldn’t do these things if I thought this was all there would ever be. Besides, there are plenty of good things in the world for it to turn out all bad.”
“Good things? Like what?”
“You. Amid the chaos, there was you.”
Emily grew quiet and I let the conversation lapse. “Stupid,” I chided myself. “She’s way out of your league. There’s no way she’d accept you, not even in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.” The sun had broken through the darkness, and Emily walked to the edge and watched.
“Jake, you know I’m not a virgin, right?”
I chuckled, and my face blushed red. Emily turned and grinned at me.
“Say again?”
“I’m not a virgin, Jake. I’m not some pure, unblemished vessel you need to die to protect. Don’t die out here because I’m clueless about this new world.”
I wanted to take her in my arms and kiss her. I didn’t, but man if I didn’t want to.
“Okay. Then, let’s make a deal.”
“What kind of deal?”
“How about both of us live. When we get to Estes Park we go and find a cabin up in the mountains, and you tell me that story.”
She gave me a wolfish grin and wrinkled up her nose at me. I swear, at that moment she was the most beautiful in the world, and I could see why men all over the planet had wanted her for themselves.
“I’m more show than tell, Jake.”
“Deal,” I said as I extended my hand to her. She gripped mine, and I smiled. I let go of her hand and looked at the sky. The sun had painted the heavens a blood red, like a sign that things would get worse before it got better.
At least now, I had something to live for.
About an hour later, Francis showed up with our relief. After we swapped over, she drove Emily and I back to our tent. She turned toward us and said, “You two get some rest. The bus leaves at 0600.”
“Thanks, Francis. We will be up and ready to go,” I said as I waved goodbye. Thea waited for us inside the tent, per usual, she had nothing nice to say to either of us. She gave Emily a hateful look, and turned her attention to me.
“You’re to strip your bed in the morning before you leave. That includes the mattress cover and pillowcases. Put it at the foot of the bed, and don’t make me tell you twice.”
Emily and I watched as the tent commander walked away. When Thea was out of earshot, Emily said, “I hope the Lurkers eat her last.”
“She wasn’t always like that, Emily.”
We both turned, startled at the sudden reappearance of Francis. Her eyes were cloudy with tears, and for just a second one could see the vulnerability behind the ferocity of the battle-hardened woman.
“None of us are the same.”
“Why are you back?”
“I forgot to tell you where to meet the bus. You can catch it at the command tent, but I’d recommend you get there early. Seats are first come, first served.”
Emily stepped close to Francis and whispered, “what made Thea the way she is?”
Francis pulled a cigar stub from her cutoff denim shirt and stuck it in the corner of her mouth. She lit it and inhaled smoke into her lungs, and then blew it out toward the ceiling.
“It’s possible to lose so many people that your mind breaks from the strain, Emily. Everyone that stays in this tent thinks that Thea hates them, but she doesn’t. She hates herself.”
“What?”
I cleared my throat and changed the subject. Francis gave me a tight-lipped smile and a nod. In this new world of mutated humans and God only knew what else, no one escaped the grasp of loss. All of us had felt pain, and more waited for us in the long shadows of the unknown.
“Thanks for letting us know, Francis. We’ll get up early and head that way.”
“One last thing, Jake. My daughter wanted to see you both at the mess.”

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