Chapter 72: The Mandy Project

“What we need,” I said, “is somewhere nice and quiet to hide out.”

“If I’m not mistaken,” said Dudley, “there are some trees in that direction.” He pointed back the way we’d come.

I hadn’t seen any trees, but then I didn’t have Dudley’s superior eyesight. We headed off in the direction Dudley had indicated and sure enough, an hour so later, we found ourselves in a wooded area.

We put up the tents, built a fire pit and sorted out a latrine. It was all very efficiently done. Jenny and Mandy must have thought of us as quite the pros. Ah, if only they knew the truth.

We had three tents between seven people, but since there needed to be someone on watch at all times, it wasn’t too hard to sort out sleeping arrangements. First watch went to me and my good friend Mandy.

Once the others had gone to bed, I sat down by the sunken fire and took out my sword (no, that’s not a euphemism). I looked up to see Mandy staring at me from the opposite side of the fire.

It was a quiet night. Other than the occasional rustle from one of the tents—the less said about that the better—and the crackle of burning wood, there was hardly any noise. I began polishing my blade (also not a euphemism). I looked up again. Mandy was still staring directly at me.

She looked like she wanted me to ask her what was up. A conversation was the last thing I needed. I took out a whetstone and focused on getting the edge as sharp as possible.

After about an hour of intense glaring she finally spoke. “I feel like you’re always judging me. Looking down at me.”

“Mm hmm,” I responded. I carried on stroking my blade (stop it).

“I’m not a bad person, you know? Yeah, I’ve done some questionable things in order to survive, but we all have, haven’t we?”

“Yes. We have.” There was certainly no denying that.

There was a pause, I assume for me to continue the conversation. I began working on my dagger..

Mandy leaned forward, shadows flickering across her cleavage. “I’ve been talking to the girls, and they think it would be alright for me to join your party.”

It hadn’t even occurred to me that she would want to join us. I didn’t know what the others had said to her, but she obviously felt she needed to get the okay from me.

“No.”

“Why not? I can pull my own weight. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and I can follow orders.”

“I don’t care. You’re trouble and you can’t be trusted. I don’t want to have to watch you all the time just to make sure you aren’t about to fuck me over. It doesn’t matter if you have no intention of fucking me over, the fact I consider it a possibility means I’ll have to keep an eye on you and I don’t have the energy. People like you are exhausting.”

“People like me,” she muttered to herself. “Huh. Nice way to put it. I don’t know who the girl was who made you like this , but I’m not her.”

“Yep,” I said. “Some girl broke my heart when I was a kid and that’s why I don’t trust you. Sure.”

“And I suppose it means nothing if everyone else is fine with it. You get to tell everyone what they can and can’t do. Must be sweet.”

She wrapped her arms around herself. It wasn’t particularly cold, but it did have the benefit of nearly making her boobs pop out of her top.

“I think you misunderstand how this group works. I don’t tell anyone anything. If they want to form a party with you, that’s fine. You can all fuck off together, I won’t stop you.”

“Cute. You act like you don’t care what anyone else does, but you threaten to walk out on them if they don’t do exactly what you want.” She sat back and her cleavage disappeared from view

You had to hand it to her, she wasn’t dumb. It must have been hard for her to know how to handle someone like me. Someone who was a lot like her. Mandy had adapted to a difficult situation the best she could. She’d pulled back on her natural inclination to use sex as a weapon and acted like a regular person, almost.

I think she instinctively knew her usual brazen approach would only confirm my feelings about her, so there was no point going with her tried and tested “Yeah, I may be untrustworthy, I may be a bitch and most likely I will end up betraying you, probably with your best friend, but hey, look at these tits.”

Don’t get me wrong, it was a compelling argument. Very compelling. But the downside was all too clear to me. Nothing she had to offer would tempt me, and I think she knew it.

“So, you’re going to dump me at the next town and then what? I’ll be on my own with no friends and no way to support myself. I’ll probably end up like Amy.”

“Amy ran off like an idiot. I doubt you’d do something so risky. You could get a job. Work in a bar or something. I don’t know, I don’t care. Not my problem.”

Mandy glared at the ground. The fire crackled and I sharpened my spike.

“She wasn’t an idiot. It’s not her fault she ended up here. Nobody will remember Amy. No one will mourn her. She won’t even get a grave. She just wanted to get by in this stupid place. You killed her boyfriend in front of her and scared her off and now she’s dead. But that isn’t your problem either, right.”

When she put it like that, it almost sounded bad. “What do you mean, her boyfriend? I thought you were with Tin.”

“I was. She was with Marlon.”

It seemed odd that she would hook up with the shifty guy who was clearly bottom of the pile.

“So, Dag was with Jenny?”

“No. Dag and Jenny weren’t together. Dag had a thing for her but he never made a move.” Mandy paused to take a sniffly breath. “Not until she said she was leaving.”

“And he let Marlon have Amy? Doesn’t sound like the Dag I knew.”

Mandy looked at me over the fire, her eyes questioning me. “I don’t suppose it matters telling you. Amy would help Dag relax when he got worked up. Gave him a helping hand.”

“Jesus. Did Marlon know?”

“Yes. But he knew it was for the best. It meant both him and Amy could stay with the group.”

The warm night and the sputtering fire did nothing to stop the chill running up my spine. I was reminded of the girls who had jumped to their deaths. They chose to die rather than have to deal with the kind of shit Amy had decided to put up with. Doing what you had to in order to survive in this world, and then going back to your boyfriend.

I leaned away from the fire and threw up. I know, pathetic.

We had rationed the food and there wasn’t much in my stomach, so it was mostly acid and jerky that came out. You wouldn’t think it’d stink so bad. After I finished retching, I used some water to wash away the remnants on the ground, which at least got rid of some of the smell.

I looked up to see Mandy staring disbelievingly at me. “I don’t get you at all. You kill two guys without even flinching, yet the idea of a girl giving out a few unenthusiastic handjobs make you upchuck like baby. It’s not that big a deal.”

I wiped my mouth and took a drink of water. My throat still burned. “If you think Dag settled for handjobs, you’re kidding yourself. And if you think Tin didn’t get in on some of that…”

“No,” said Mandy, her mouth shrinking to a tight-lipped grimace. She shook her head. “Amy wasn’t like that. She wouldn’t.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than me.

“You know the easiest way to take something precious from someone? Convince them it has no value. If they think it’s worthless, they’ll give it to you for free. What do you think Amy thought she was worth?”

Mandy wrapped her arms around herself again. She looked like she was trembling, but not from the cold.

“I’m not looking down on Amy,” I said. “I’m not disgusted by her. In many ways she reminds me of me. People have been telling me I ain’t worth shit my whole life. Do what you’re told because that’s the only way you’ll get anywhere. But I don’t think you should be forced to suck a dick to get by in life. Literally or metaphorically, either way it leaves a bad taste.”

Mandy was staring at the ground. Maybe she was reconsidering her views on using sex to get what she wanted, maybe she was thinking of a new way to manipulate me into letting her join the group.

“Yeah, I killed those guys, but I just took their lives. I didn’t take their humanity. The fact you can’t see the difference is why I don’t want you in my group or in my life.”

Mandy looked up at me, eyes flashing with rage. “You self-righteous, sanctimonious prick. Why don’t you—”

There was a rustle as one of the tent flaps opened. Flossie came crawling out, yawning.

“Ahh. Hey guys. Ah just need to go to the little girls’ room and then me and Dud will take over for you.” She yawned again and got to her feet. It took her a moment to get her bearings, then she stumbled off towards the toilet area.

Flossie’s intervention had derailed Mandy’s train of abuse. Now she just sat there, head bowed.

Mandy was right about one thing. I had killed people and it didn’t bother me.

By all rights, I should have been freaked out, at least a little bit. Shame, guilt, PTSD… some sort of reaction.

It didn’t make me feel like a big shot, either. My basic desire to be left alone and not have people rely on me was intact.

Maybe I sound disingenuous. Most people want to be looked up to, respected, revered. Giving orders and being obeyed is most men’s goal in life. My goals are a little different because I view the majority of people as idiots. Being told you’re great by an idiot isn’t much of an ego boost. Getting to be their leader just makes you King of the Idiots.

Still, I had killed people. Did Tin and the others deserve to die?

When you have to solve your own problems and have the option of using lethal force, even someone small and weak like me has a chance. If I get the first hit in and make it count, I win. In fact, that’s the only way I win. If my opponent can get up and hit me back, it’s GG for me.

Once you realise those are the rules here, your approach becomes much more simplistic. Are you willing to kill/die for this matter? If you are, go all in. If you aren’t, run away.

In the end my choice to kill Tin wasn’t just the right one, it was the only one. Whether or not it was fair didn’t matter. At least that’s how I saw it.

My thoughts were interrupted by Flossie running back into camp, out of breath and in a panic. “They’re coming. I seen ‘em. Zombers! Zombers are coming!”

I jumped to me feet, sword in hand (still not a euphemism). “Flossie, calm down. You need to tell us how many and how far they are. And more importantly, what the fuck is a zomber?”

“You know, zombers. ZOMBERS!” Flossie jumped up and down and waved her hands about.

The commotion brought the others out of their tents to find out what all the noise was about, just in time to see Flossie start to dance.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

She made T-rex arms and stomped from foot to foot.

“Isn’t that the dance from the Thriller video?” said Jenny.

“Oh, I see,” I said. “You mean zombies. Zombies are coming. Fuck.”

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