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ZOMBIE SHARK HIGHWAY
Here comes chapter 9! Basically a continuation of Chapter 8, so this is also one of my fave chapters of Justin and Kayla. :) How are you doing? How are you feeling as the zombified tension begins to mount? You doing ok?
If you’re new to ZSH, find chapter 1 here!
You can find all posted chapters in order under the ZSH section of Authorstrator!
Justin stood on the first step, just outside the screen door to Kayla Girard's grandfather's trailer. Kayla stood inside, wearing an over-sized housecoat and holding a bowl of soup, a sandwich sopping up the broth like a sponge. She blinked at him.
She looked back over her shoulder briefly, into the trailer, before turning back to face him. She blinked again.
Justin felt a heat rush to his cheeks. This was stupid. He shouldn't have come here. Of course Kayla didn't want to see him. It was his fault she was out on Highway 3 in the first place. He'd practically dared her to go. And it nearly got her killed.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
He stepped down off the step. He suddenly felt like a freak, looking in at her from behind the screen. "I just, ah--" He didn't know the answer to that. Not anymore. "I just wanted--" What did he want? Why did he come here? He shouldn't have come here.
He watched her lean impatiently on one hip and felt his cheeks get hotter.
"I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head. "I didn't mean to bother you. I'll go."
As he turned away, he heard the squeal of the door spring behind him.
"How did you know where I was?" Kayla held the door open, her soup abandoned on the wicker bench behind her.
"When you weren't home, I just figured, you know, you'd be here."
"But how did you know that?"
He shrugged. "Carpool. Mrs. Campbell." Back when Justin had been on swim team, Charlie Campbell's Mom had organized a parents' carpool. Justin and Kayla were both in Mrs. Campbell's car. "I remember you'd get her to drop you at your grandpa's sometimes. When your dad was working late."
Was that creepy? That he remembered that? It hadn't seemed creepy on his way over. He risked a glance up at Kayla. She stepped out onto the first step and let the door close behind her.
"Where's your truck?" she asked.
"Couldn't drive it." It was with Officer Howe now. It didn't matter, though. He didn't want to drive. Not after what happened. It made his hands shake just thinking about getting behind the wheel again.
Justin figured she'd get it. She understood most things. Better than he did, anyway. It's why she told him to run when all he did was freeze; why she told him to go back for DeStefano when all he could think about was getting away.
He watched her tuck a loose strand of hair behind her right ear. She stared up at the sky, hugging herself against the cold. She looked so small, soft powdery skin and bird-like shoulders. Delicate, he thought, standing there in the yellow porch light.
But Justin knew better. Whatever Kayla Girard was on the outside, her insides were made of granite. She'd proved it today. She was tough. Tougher than Justin would ever be. It should have embarrassed him, but all he felt was grateful.
"It's gonna rain," she said.
Justin was alive, thanks to Kayla Girard.
But what about Sherriff Girard? "Have you heard anything about your dad?"
Kayla didn't say anything, but he watched her eyes close and her chest rise as she took a deep breath. So no, he gathered. Maybe he shouldn't have asked.
"How'd it go with Robbie?" she said.
Justin scratched at his neck. Not great, he wanted to say. Justin knew by the officer's frowns that he hadn't believed anything Justin told him. "I dunno," he said. "How would you take a story like that?"
"But you told him what happened, right? What we saw happen?"
Justin nodded. He did.
"About the sharks?"
"How they..." Kayla's eyes narrowed on him, and he got the sudden sense that he was being interrogated all over again. "...came out of the water?"
Justin looked down at his feet. No. Not exactly.
"Justin," her voice had an edge now. "You told him, right?"
Justin's memory spun behind his eyes, recalling every word that came out of his mouth as Officer Howe sat across from him in the suffocating interview room, remembering the etches in the corner of the doubtful officer's mouth carving deeper, longer with everything Justin said.
"I started to--"
Kayla's eyes widened. "You started to?"
"I mean," Justin shook his head, gathering his thoughts. "I mean I did, when he first asked me. I told him what happened. But..." His eyes flicked nervously to Kayla whose lips were pursed tight, her eyes sharp and accusing and Justin felt a faint panic stirring in his chest.
"But what?" she said, darkly.
"He looked at me like I was a psychopath, Kay!"
She raised a trembling finger, her eyes wild. "Don't call me Kay!"
He dropped his eyes back to his feet, surprised and hurt by her sudden outburst. She was right, of course. Who was he to call her Kay? Like they were friends. But, weren't they?
Justin heard Kayla scoff, and she began to pace back and forth.
"Then what?" she demanded, her voice hard. Granite.
"He left," stammered Justin. "I-I could hear him with Maddie in the next room, and she was just screaming...for Sarah and Mike." He could feel Kayla's eyes burning a hole into his head as she waited for him to go on. Something told him she wouldn't be happy with the next part. "And I just sort of sat there, thinking about what happened to them. How the water turned red..." Justin's eyes began to sting. "I started going over it, again and again in my head while I listened to Maddie scream. And then Howe came back and he asked me what happened, and I went through it all for him a second time while he watched me like he was ready to bust out the straight jacket. And then he left, and I started to wonder what DeStefano would tell him, and what you would tell him. And then Howe came back, and he had a camera, and he asked me to tell him again. And I just--I got confused."
"Confused?"said Kayla. "Confused about what? You were there. You saw them!"
"I know but..." He felt the flush returning to his cheeks. How could he explain it to someone like Kayla? A brainer. A genius. She got straight A's across the boards while Justin barely managed a C in drama. Someone like Kayla wouldn't let herself get so confused. Someone like Kayla wouldn't understand what it was like to remember something over and over until it all started falling apart, like sand through his fingers. "How could I ask him to believe that?"
"So, what?" said Kayla. "You took it back? You lied to him?"
Justin took a step back from Kayla. He was embarrassed. Humiliated to have her look at him like that -- like some kind of traitor. And maybe he was. Because he let his memory change -- change to make it easier on Officer Howe. Or maybe on himself. "When I got to the part about Mike, about the way that shark...lunged for him...I just...I stopped. But Howe, he wouldn't let me. He asked me to tell him what happened next, and I couldn't...I didn't want him thinking I was crazy." You're pathetic. You're pathetic. "When I didn't say anything, he asked if I ran to the truck. And I nodded. And he asked if I ran because I was scared. And I nodded. And then the interview just...stopped."
"Stopped?" Kayla's voice was quiet now, her anger replaced by something else.
Justin forced himself to meet her eyes. And he saw fear there. The things he was saying were scaring her.
"You stopped?" she asked again.
Justin forced himself to answer her, to nod. "He told me that I did good. And we just, left it at that."
Kayla's eyes went blank, and Justin desperately wanted to know what was going on inside her head. Did she think he was a coward?
"And DeStefano?" she said. "Did he tell Robbie about the sharks? The way they moved on the beach?"
Justin swallowed, suddenly realizing what she was working out. "When I got out of there, I had like twenty texts from him. Begging me not to talk about it...like ever."
Kayla's eyes remained empty as she listened, and Justin felt his chest tightening.
"He just doesn't think anyone's gonna believe it, Kay."
She flashed him a glare so hateful that he took another step back, and wished he could grab the nickname out of the air and stuff it back down his own throat.
"He's scared," Justin tried. "We all are. They're gonna think we've all cracked up -- brain damaged or Post Dramatic Sicknesss or--"
"Traumatic," corrected Kayla. "Post Traumatic Stress."
At that, Justin's mouth clamped shut.
He watched her eyebrows dip down. "Is that why you came here? Did DeStefano want you to come shut me up?"
"No! No!" Sure, DeStefano had asked him to go talk to her. But that's not why Justin came. That's not why he walked halfway across town to see her.
He wanted to tell her that he just wanted to see her. That he just wanted to know she was alright. That all he wanted was to hear her talk and say things to him that made him feel alright too. He just wanted...
Kayla pressed the heels of her palms hard into her eyes and growled. When she brought her hands away, the rage was gone. Just wet eyes and that fear again.
Justin felt the urge to spew I'm sorry, but Kayla's worried face stopped him. She wouldn't even look at him. He shouldn't say any more. Not one more thing. Until she let him.
With a heavy sigh, Kayla lifted her head to look back at the black sky above them. "So what you're saying is, Maddie couldn't tell Robbie about the sharks coming on land...DeStefano wouldn't tell Robbie..." She dropped her head and looked at him with glossy eyes. "And you just decided to leave that part out."
Justin winced. He hadn't planned to. It just happened. He wanted her to understand. "Kayla--"
"So now I'm the only one who told the truth." There was a tremor in her voice, her chin quivering. "But they'll all think I'm crazy."
She looked down her nose at him, like he was nothing but a potato bug she'd found hiding under a rock. Justin felt an ache in the back of his throat. Why had he done it? Officer Howe gave him a way out, and Justin jumped on it. Because he was scared? How could he expect Kayla to accept an excuse as lame as that?
"Go home, Justin," she said, stepping up the porch and pulling open the screen door. "Tell DeStefano not to worry. I won't talk to anyone." She glanced back over her shoulder. "Not even you."
And with that, she let the door slam behind her as she disappeared inside.
Justin stood there, his insides withered into nothing. He was a coward. And Kayla Girard would never forgive him for it.
Cold, accusing fingers jabbed at his head, at his shoulders, from above. Justin looked up. Fat drops fell onto his over-heated face, drenching his skin, his shirt, his sneakers. He let the water run down his neck, listening to it ping and tap on the roofs of the trailers. He was in for a long, miserable walk home, though for Justin it had less to do with the rain and more to do with a heavy head, full of Kayla Girard.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for chapter 10 coming Friday!
And as always, if you want to read the full story, its available now for paid subscribers here.