‘Will Mariza be sitting at the table?’ Michael asked Missy.
‘No, but Mary-Elizabeth will.’
‘She’s only two,’ Michael mumbled. Of course his stepmother heard him.
‘Are you referring to the length of her name or to the fact that she’ll sit with us?’
‘You sound just like uncle Sheldon at times,’ Michael said. His father looked up from his paperwork in alarm and Michael winked at him.
‘No I don’t young man!’
Michael laughed. ‘Four plates then?’
Missy nodded and Michael set the table.
‘What are you doing dad?’
‘I’m checking my musical arrangements,’ John replied as he moved his pencil over the sheets of music he was reading.
‘For the weddings? What’s there to arrange?’
‘Sweety, don’t you ever listen when your father is talking music?’
Michael shrugged but he did give it a thought. ‘You can’t use the original music because you only have a few instruments?’
‘You got it. And I’ll even have less with Leslie not playing and Rebecca and Daniel being bride and groom.’
‘The Closes are like the Von Trapps,’ Missy said.
‘Will you be rehearsing?’ Michael asked.
‘We would have, but with the scavengers having encountered new people Leonard and Howard need time to prepare and Sharon’s in the tower guarding. We’ll just have a short after dinner meeting about the musical program. I reserved the kitchen for us.’
‘Wasn’t uncle Sheldon upset when you asked him?’
‘By Mr Wolowitz’s advice I told him that it was Anything Can Happen Thursday.’
How she could sit there so calmly was beyond her. It seemed more natural to shout and curse and throw things. Perhaps, Penny thought, this is what fear does when there is no way out.
She stared at her death warrant until the cooing of some pigeons made her aware that the world hadn’t come to a full stop. She looked at the ID from the zombie’s wallet as if that would somehow bring meaning. She’d gotten herself bitten by someone formerly known as Paul Parker. His picture showed a kind looking man.
Penny hit her bed. ‘Bitch! Bitch! You stupid!’
She wiped away her tears with the back of her hand and went in search for a piece of paper. A scribble would have to do: she’d lost too much time as it was. What had Sheldon concluded? Five minutes to six hours?
The musicians all arrived early for the meeting: Lydia and her daughter Cynthia were still cleaning dishes when they entered the kitchen. With a little help the ladies had soon completed their chore and they left. No sooner had the door fell close behind them or Sheldon entered.
‘I’m sorry for the intrusion, but I came up with an idea I’d like to mention to Howard and Leonard.’
John nodded and Sheldon started talking. His fellow scientists made suggestions and the other musicians made faces at their excitement, not understanding more than one word in ten.
‘After this meeting Raj and I will finish yesterday’s idea in the outdoor lab and then we’ll work on this. Could you fine-tune the formula?’
‘Piece of cake Leonard. I’ll tell Penny about it. She wasn’t present during dinner by the way. It is nearly her time of the month, so - ’
‘You keep track of that?’
‘She has moods Howard. I’d rather be warned.’
The women rolled their eyes.
‘I saw her leave the house some time ago,’ Leonard said. ‘Maybe she went to Tom’s place?’
‘Oh? Well. I will leave you to it then. Thank y’all for your time.’
‘That was about handling the robbers, wasn’t it?’ Rachel asked. Howard replied affirmatively and he was questioned some more, having seen the people Camilla and Martha had lived with after all.
‘Right,’ John said after his musicians had concluded that they’d be able to handle the robbers. ‘Let’s get started.’
Everyone proved to look forward to their contributions to both the fair and the weddings. Howard had mistakenly brought his harmonica and joked that it was easier to carry along than a piano or cello. ‘Isn’t that so, ukulele man?’ he teased Leonard.
‘The ukulele has captured my heart,’ Leonard solemnly said. Looking at his wife he added: ‘The tiniest part of it.’
‘I asked the brides and grooms for their favourite songs and I made arrangements to suit our modest orchestra,’ John said. He passed the sheet music around and he felt proud when Leonard and bass-baritone Alonso nodded approvingly.
‘In the future we’ll have Steven and Sansa join us I’m sure,’ Denise said. ‘They very much like their music lessons.’
‘And Sharon told me that Duane asked her to teach him how to drum,’ Livia said.
Rachel laughed. ‘He’s fifteen. My sister’s a woman.’
‘You think so?’ Livia asked. Seeing Howard smirk, she was the first to laugh out loud at her remark.
Feeling shaky Penny dropped herself on the toilet seat.
So this is where it ends, she thought. I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die, I don’t! Stupid woman! You should have had your lower leg cut off, but no: you had to fool yourself, didn’t you? Tart! And what happens when the guys come for you? They’ll be devastated and their skills will kick in a moment too late. You’ll attack at least one of them!
Penny knew how to prevent that from happening. She took her gun and placed it under her chin, but no matter the vivid images her mind pictured of her eating her friends, she couldn’t bring herself to finish it all. Perhaps if the tiles hadn’t been reflecting, it would have helped her to do what was right, but seeing her own shady form this close to death made her drop the gun in the sink. Crying from fear and self-loathing she rested her head against the wall. It felt cold in contrast to her burning skin. Her limbs ached.
‘Moon kitty, soft kitty, little piece of pie…’ she sang as she lowered herself to the floor. She giggled. Thinking she was drunk after a high school party she covered her mouth with her hands lest her parents would hear her. A spasm ran through her body and she moaned. Not long afterwards she blacked out.
Sheldon wrote down the formula his friends would have to use on a white board in the outdoor lab and he rearranged tools, muttering to himself about chaotic scientists. He then walked to Tom’s house. It used to be Penny’s mother’s tea house, but last winter it had been improved by a loft, though that sounded better than it actually looked like. It held Tom’s bed and no more. Penny had helped Tom to build the extra floor. When she went scavenging, Tom was almost always in her team. As such that wasn’t significant, for so was Howard, but Howard had had a long distance relationship for the past eleven months.
Tom happened to be playing chess with Maud.
‘Are you practising for the fair’s tournament?’ Sheldon inquired.
‘Yes we are Sheldon. I heard you’re not allowed to play so therefore we might make it to the second bout,’ Maud said with a smile.
‘Your source was misinformed: I’m allowed to play. What I came to see you for Tom is to inquire after Penny’s whereabouts.’
Tom told Sheldon that he hadn’t seen Penny since they’d returned from their outing and Sheldon went over to Randall’s place. Penny wasn’t there but Sheldon couldn’t leave immediately: Leslie asked him his opinion regarding a physics dispute she had with Leonard. Livia and Randall watched the scientists walk from one white board to the other and listened to what Randall had styled “Syblah” as if they had a clue as to what it was about. Sheldon stated that Leslie was right and he left. He then walked to the outdoor lab where he found Leonard and Raj, both wearing leather aprons and safety glasses, busy working.
‘I just went over to your place to find Penny. FYI Leslie is right.’
‘Really? But –‘
‘Have you seen Penny Raj?’ Sheldon interrupted Leonard.
‘What? Uhm, not since we returned from checking the mall. I wish we could enter it. I’m sure it has portable telescopes in store. Those would have come in convenient last week to teach my class about the blood moon. It’s a good thing the moon is so big a satellite. Anyway, Penny killed a zombie at the back of the mall.’
‘She hasn’t brought me an ID.’
‘She took the zombie’s wallet all right. Must have slipped her mind. She stumbled over her shoe lace and there it was. The zombie. It had a little shuffle that hurt her leg. Astrid might turn it into something else.’
‘I’m sure Brienne is up to that. Now let me rephrase: do you know where Penny is?’
‘In her room?’
Sheldon went to Penny’s room. Walking past the community room he heard the sounds of people playing pétanque. After knocking on Penny’s door there was no reply and after a moment he stepped inside. Penny’s room was deserted. On her pillow lay a folded note. It was addressed to: Dad, Randall, John, Sheldon, the guys. Sheldon was more anxious than pleased to see his name singled out: the handwriting deteriorated starting after “Sh”. He unfolded the note.
When Sheldon burst into the CDL holding a piece of paper, Howard instantly felt terrified. His friend’s expression of sheer horror made him want to flee. Sheldon couldn’t speak. He held the note for Howard to read.
I got bitten. I’m so sorry. I’ll make it to the upstairs toilet of the Nielsen house and lock myself there. In case you need to do it: don’t hesitate. I love you. Tell Mary-Elizabeth, Niels and Babies W about me will you?
‘We must go there,’ Howard said through his tears. Sheldon, pale as a ghost, nodded.