Rickett woke to darkness. He had been blindfolded and restrained, his hands bound behind his back with zip ties. His head throbbed from where Gus had struck him with the rifle, and the jostling in what he figured to be the bed of a truck exacerbated the pain. He was moving, or was being moved, lying in the aluminum truck bed. He kicked his legs around, hitting bags and not corpses. At least he wasn’t bound and lying with those who had been bitten.
He had a fleeting sensation of jumping from the truck’s bed and onto the road. But this wasn’t a movie, and he was an old, aching man. Instead, he turned his mind to focus on how he messed up, and did he mess up? I fought to help that son of a bitch. I saved his ass. I put everything on the line for a guy who I thought was human, more than a survivor, someone who wanted to set things right with others, and now I’ve got a huge fucking headache as my Boy Scout reward.
He settled down, and instead of thinking about escaping, he began replaying the scene in his mind, capturing faces, accents, and names, memorizing the most recent events as well as he could. Johnny, Stan: dead. Terry, Clint, and Gus: living. Vince—who’s Vince? He repeats it over and over to the rhythmic throbbing of his head wound until the truck eventually comes to a halt.
Gates screeched and people talked. He could hear Clint’s drawl, and then someone banged on the side of the truck. Rickett grew nauseous from all the sounds and the throbbing in his skull. The truck lurched forward and Rickett slid on the aluminum. Laughter. The truck lurched again. Clint’s fucking with me. But then the truck accelerates to a steady speed until it finally parks.
Rickett was pulled from the truck’s bed by his ankles, and he swallowed the rising pain induced groan to avoid making a noise. The throbbing and aches overwhelmed him, and just as multiple hands grabbed him to lift him to his feet, the darkness took him again.
Rickett startled awake and tried to rise before the pain summoned the vertigo, and he lay down, trying to steady himself. He stifled any moans or groans with clenched teeth and taught lips, not wanting to show how much pain he was in.
The blindfold remained, and he could feel something—probably blood—caked to the right side of his face. The throbbing had subsided to a dull ache. He was in a cot, still in his clothes. The faint smell of bleach gave him comfort. He was safe from the biters, at least—somewhere inside, away from the trauma of the outside world. He knew people were watching over him; he could sense their presence. Perhaps outside of a door, or maybe even in the room staring at him.
His hands were bound now in front of him, and his ankles had been zip tied together as well. Not good, he thought. But at least I’m not out there in the wild, dying world.
A door opened but didn’t close. Two men mumbled, and the smell of ham and gravy made his mouth water. He swallowed, unsure of whether there was actual food and if it was for him. The protein bars he scarfed down at the gym were long gone, and his body reminded him of his hunger. Yet another ache. Add it to the list.
“Don’t try anything stupid; we’re armed.” Gus spoke as he entered. Rickett heard his voice move closer. “Just got you some food and water so you’re able enough to answer some questions.”
“Where am I?” Rickett’s words came out like a coarse, grumbling whisper.
“Safe,” Gus replied, “and that’s all that should really matter for you.” There was rattling and clanking, the jingle of keys and the sounds from jostling firearms. “We’re going to cut the ties from your wrists and remove the blindfold. Don’t move, or you’ll likely be shot.”
Rickett acquiesced and followed instructions. The ties were removed, and the blindfold pulled from his head; the dried blood on his face cracked and flaked. He opened his eyes to blurred vision and a dimly lit room. Four armed men stood around him as Gus moved a school desk towards the cot.
“Eat up,” Gus said, pointing to a cafeteria tray. Rickett sat up, slowly moving his bound ankles over the side of the cot before clumsily grabbing for the plastic cutlery. “There isn’t much time before you’ll be seen.”
Instead of making eye contact with anyone to avoid confrontation, Rickett focused on the food, trying to blink away the blurriness.
“We’ll be back in a bit.” The armed men began to file out of the room, and Gus stayed at the group’s rear.
Rickett dipped a biscuit into the mashed potatoes, sopping up some of the gravy. Before he took a bite, he asked, “Who is Vince?”
“Huh?” Gus turned and looked at Rickett, puzzled. “How do know that name?”
“I heard you and the other fellow talking before all hell broke loose back in the street.” Rickett kept his eyes on the food, unsure of whether this may be his last real meal or not.
“What are you, some kind of spy or something?” Gus chuckled—a dry chuckle that masked sincere interest.
“No.” Rickett took a bite. “Just observant.”
“Yeah? Well, you can observe Vince when he gets here.” Gus left the room and closed the door behind him. Rickett raised his head enough to look at them from the corner of his eye. He could see their heads through the window in the door, but soon they were out of sight.
Rickett took his last bite and washed it down with some water Gus left next to the tray before stretching out on the cot again. They’re going to want to know what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and whom I was with. Rickett looked around the room, a classroom converted into a shelter of sorts. Furniture pushed to the side, wired glass windows through which an afternoon sun shown. The real question is, how much of the truth am I going to give them?