It had been a complete accident that the tradition was even started. Columbus, who had strangely requested to stop at the local San Diego AAA, had just dashed in for a minute and came out with an armful of maps and guidebooks, telling Wichita, "Pick something!"
He had done more or less the same thing ever since in each city they'd entered - Phoenix, Tucson, and all of the smaller towns and suburbs in between. After finding an area with little to no zombies, he'd scavenge a local travel agency or rest stop for pamphlets, then Wichita would choose a destination and she and Columbus would take an hour to explore it.
At first, she had acted like it was an annoyance at being forced to pick, choosing at random and frowning all the while like Columbus was the craziest person on Earth. Soon, though, her veneer faded away and she was digging into the brochures with fervor, reading aloud descriptions to the whole car.
Tallahassee and Little Rock always came along to start, but then they'd go off on their own, Tallahassee giving the reason that he and the kid didn't need to witness the couple's awkward mating rituals.
"Yeah, you two make moon eyes at each other 24/7 as it is," Little Rock had groaned with undisguised disgust.
And so after a few minutes, it would be just Columbus and Wichita, the other two close enough to "hear their cries for help" but far enough away to "not hear any other sort of shouting they may be doing."
"That's a reference to sex, isn't it?" Little Rock had asked, to Wichita's abject horror. Columbus had reacted by suddenly finding something insanely interesting in a guidebook that required his immediate attention. And Tallahassee? Tallahassee had just laughed for a minute straight.
Wichita always tried to pick places where there wouldn't have been huge volumes of humans before, even in such large cities. In San Diego that was Balboa Park, where it was twice as swampy as in its prime, and twice as beautiful.
Phoenix had been the Grand Canyon, where only Tallahassee had ever been. So while Wichita and Columbus went off on their own, Tallahassee had given Little Rock the totally professional (aka highly inappropriate) tour of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Near Tucson, they had sat on the hills surrounding a destroyed biosphere and watched the sun bounce off the million pieces of broken glass like diamonds. That had been a short trip when they'd spotted movement and suspected zombie activities within the structure, but it had been worth the risk.
Their little sightseeing trips were temporarily canceled after they discovered a small town near Las Cruces to have an unexpectedly high population of the dead. They had started to leave as soon as they spotted a zombie, but they still barely made it out alive. Columbus's resulting twisted ankle during the escape had made them pause their tradition until he could move around safely again.
That moment happened to occur in Roswell, New Mexico, where they were greeted by a "Welcome to the Dairy Capital of the South" sign.
"I thought Roswell was the place where all of the aliens ate the residents?" Little Rock had asked, pushing back a strand of hair from her sticky forehead and leaning out the window.
Columbus's sigh had cut off Wichita before she could respond. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he'd just said," Tallahassee" in his eerily calm voice that he used right before he exploded. Wichita had been looking forward to Columbus reading the oldest member of their group the riot act for being a bad influence to the youngest. Instead, he'd pulled out a Roswell tourist guidebook that he must have picked up in the previous town, handed it to Little Rock, and said, "The aliens didn't eat anyone. They were already dead upon landing."
Little Rock, who had been sitting up front with Tallahassee, flipped through the guidebook, eyes wide. She was about to ask a question when Columbus went on, a little crease in his forehead caused by the frown he was directing towards the man in the driver's seat.
"Really, you shouldn't be making up stories about a species that was experimented on and has unfairly become entertainment fodder for several generations. Show some respect."
Tallahassee had just raised his eyebrows incredulously at Wichita in the rearview mirror as if to say "And you want to have sex with him?"
Following that, Wichita discovered that Columbus was a UFO conspiracy theorist and also made the unknowingly horrible mistake to have Columbus pick their next sightseeing attraction.
In Columbus's defense, he had warned her. Or maybe not warned, per say, but more of strongly protested that he be the one to pick the place.
Wichita had said it was someone else's turn to pick for once. Columbus had said that it was tradition that she picked and traditions were made for a reason. She had argued back that he had almost died and that he deserved to pick this time.
Maybe it had been the crack in her voice at the thought of his almost demise, or maybe it was the agreement from Little Rock who was practically vibrating in her seat at the prospect that aliens were real... but he'd finally agreed.
Which brought them to where they were now - standing in front of the supposed UFO crash site, surrounded by stretches of field and another, smaller sign with the outline of a cow. Presumably, a dairy cow if the Dairy Capital of the South claims were to be believed.
There was a moment of silence as they looked at the sign. Tallahassee crossed his arms and leaned back against the newest Jeep they had acquired, the familiar 3 painted messily one door. Then Little Rock shuffled her feet, squinted at the darkening sky, and turned to glare at Columbus in accusation. "That's it?! This is so boring."
Wichita cringed, daring a glance at Columbus which was just in time to see a crestfallen look pass over his face at everyone else's lack of enthusiasm.
"It's... different," she tried, tilting her head to the side.
Columbus just sighed in response, dragging his hand down the side of his face in defeat. "I did warn you."
"Yeah, you did," Wichita admitted, and as one, they both looked back up at the UFO sign. It was being held up by two white poles that were covered in rust and had seen better days. Much better days.
When Columbus suddenly clapped his hands together, Wichita barely stopped herself from jumping. "Okay," he said, and she had spent enough time with the guy to know what was coming. "Rule 105." Little Rock groaned, but he ignored her and continued. "Rule 105... Never let Columbus plan date night." He shot Wichita a knowing look.
She couldn't help the smile that quirked at the side of her mouth. "Seconded."
At this point, Tallahassee and Little Rock were getting back in the Jeep, but they paused long enough for Tallahassee to yell "Thirded!" and Little Rock "Fourthded!"
Columbus snorted and shook his head, slinging an arm over Wichita's shoulder and steering them back to the car. "A UFO crash site, really? Worst date ever," he muttered to himself, and Wichita just laughed. To her, he said, "So, where to now?"
"Well... I've heard there's a pretty cool museum in town."
Wichita could feel, rather than see, Columbus turn his head. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah," she said, with a small smile. As soon as the last door closed, Tallahassee started the engine and pulled away.
"Supposedly it has some alien models, newspaper reports, a piece of metal from the crash..."
"From the actual crash?" Little Rock exclaimed. "That's awesome!"
Wichita was going to go on when she felt Columbus reach for her hand in the dark and gave it a tight squeeze. "Thanks," he whispered.
Wichita squeezed his hand back and didn't let go until they reached the museum. You're welcome.