Chapter Twenty Seven
“If you have to run, make sure that you separate into groups, and not on your own.” Lukas told them. “If you’re alone, you have no chance.”
“If we do get separated from the group, what’re we supposed to do?” Gwen asked, and Lukas was silent for a moment.
“You best hope that it doesn’t happen. They’re going to be getting closer soon. We’re moving slower than I’d like us to be.”
“There isn’t much we can do about that.” Dave said. “Some of us should’ve been left behind. We’re sick.”
“You’re better off dying out here than spending the left of your life in there.” James said. “I don’t know what they had planned for us and I don’t want to know, but I doubt that it was anything good.”
“It wasn’t.” Lukas agreed grimly. “You lot need to move faster. I’m sorry, but they’re going to close in on us soon. I can already hear them when they yell.”
It was true, and Gwen could hear them too. They sounded like children in a school yard, yelling and calling out for them every so often, and they were definitely getting closer, but Gwen felt so tired, felt like she was dragging herself on the road. She ached, her muscles burned something fierce and her brain seemed to move within her head with each footstep. She knew the others were suffering too, their faces pale and drawn, some shaking with exhaustion or fever. Despite how much Lukas had made it sound that they were going to make it out of here, that they were going to be fine, she could see that they had been empty words of comfort.
They were sick and weak, broken and wracked with grief, and the group from the hospital were healthy, excited and pleased at the prospect at new test subjects and they didn’t have any trouble with soldiering on. They were full of energy.
They were everything her group wasn’t. Yet, Gwen forced herself to walk a little bit faster though her muscles protested greatly at the strain, and at her sides, Zeke and James did the same. They seemed to be sharing in her exhaustion, and Gwen didn’t even want to think about how they were doing, if they were sick or just tired, if they had been put through the same hell she had been. She didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to find out. She’d rather believe that they were somewhat okay for the time being.
It was easier to believe that they were cracked rather than shattered.
“Go to the right.” Lukas called and Kel and Ariana, who had been at the front of the group and acting as scouts paused in their steps, turning. “What?”
“That’s one of the infected parts of the town.” Ariana said, her voice grim. “If we go down there, we die. Simple as that.”
“And if we keep on going straight, we’ll be walking into a much larger population of infected, and if we go to the left, we’ll find ourselves doing circles of the hospital which sounds very like it would be very dangerous and make us all very dizzy. We have weapons, we’ll make it through.”
“We don’t have strength though.” Kel argued, his voice low. “We’ve said it a thousand times today, and I’ll say it again. None of us are healthy, even if our appearances say otherwise. We’re unrested and underfed with a very minimal amount of bullets. We go that way and we might as well dig our own graves and lay down in them.”
“So what do you suggest we do?” Lukas asked with a harsh note in his voice. “Left and straight aren’t going to happen, and if we go back, we caught, you lot find yourselves back in the hospital in a much worse situation, and I’ll be dead.”
“He’s right.” Nick said tiredly. “As much as I hate to say it, I’d rather die by the infected than by the hands of them and if we don’t go now, they’ll catch up.”
“We could lose people.” Dave said quietly. “Haven’t we lost enough already? Riley, Chase, Nia, Leigh, Chris, Cheyenne... I don’t want to add any more people to that list.”
“We have no choice.” Gwen said, her voice rough. “As much as I hate it, we go that way and we go down fighting, or we turn around with our hands up and surrender ourselves. Do you think the people we’ve lost would be proud of us?” She fell quiet, letting them think for a moment.
“I agree with Gwen.” Leah said, giving the other girl a small smile that seemed far too strained. “Those who want to stay behind can, but I’m sure as hell going.”
“Right, then it’s decided. We go left.” Lukas said with a tone of finality in his voice.
“Here goes nothing.” Kel said quietly, but he steered towards the left. He was tense, obviously unhappy with the situation, but it was true that there was absolutely no other way.
“Aren’t you scared?” Zeke murmured to her. “You seem so sure.”
“I’m terrified.” She said quietly. “I’m so, so scared that we’re going to be killed by the infected or by them, and all we’ve ever done will be for nothing, but I know that I have to go down fighting.”
“I’m scared too.” Zeke admitted, and James hummed softly in agreement. “Before all this, I was just some city kid, you know? I’d never really been brave; Ryan had been the one for acts of bravery. I’m not scared to die though.”
“I’m not either.” James said, his voice so low that it was almost a whisper. “Death would be like a reward at this stage. I’m scared that we’ll let them down, the people who cared and died, and the people who we had loved. I don’t want to die knowing that I’ve let them down.”
“We’ve lost so many people.” Gwen said, her lips pulling down into a frown. “Our parents, families, friends, Riley, Ryan,” Her voice hardly even caught when she said his name, and she wondered when she had finally let go, wondered how only a few weeks ago she could hardly even think about him without tearing up, without wanting to curl into a ball and die, but now she remained strong, like he had been gone for years. “Chris.” This time, her voice did catch the slightest bit.
“Do you think there are any others out there?” Zeke said, loud enough for the rest of the group to hear. “Not like the city or these people, but like us, camps just trying to survive.”
“Maybe.” Oliver said, though his voice was tinged with sadness. “But I don’t think there would be many.”
“I think that there would be.” Gwen said. “When Ryan and I had been travelling towards the city, we didn’t catch sight of any infected, and I don’t remember half the journey back, but I don’t think there were any infected.”
“There was one.” Ariana told her. “You were down for the count when we saw it and Riley-” Her voice hardly even changed, though there was an expression of grief masking her face. “- killed it before it saw us.”
“But that was only one,” Oliver said, sounding hopeful. “The city must be hundreds of kilometres away, and only one on that entire journey is good, right?”
“Yeah.” Lukas said. “It’s possible that other parts of the country haven’t been hit quite as hard as we have. Maybe only a few states were infected, and the rest of world is going on like nothing has happened.”
“I hope so.” Nick said. “If we’re the infected and it’s only in the few states, it means as soon as we all die, the world is safe from the disease. We carry the disease within us, right? We die, it dies with us.”
“We can hope, but we’ll never know.” Kel said. “I’ll go scout ahead.” He parted away from the group at a jog.
“Do you think that the other continents are trying to help us?” James asked. “Do you think they’re looking for cures?”
“They might not even know.” Dave said. “It was pretty sudden. Just warnings of the colour, and then a week or two later we had an epidemic on our hands.”
“It’s kind of scary, you know?” Ariana said. “One day, we woke up and the whole world had gone to shit. We were all forced into a world where none of us had the slightest idea of how to live within, and people we once knew, people we called friends and families, were trying to kill us.”
“You think we would’ve met if this didn’t happen?” Zeke asked. “Like, do you think we would’ve crossed paths at all, even if it was just seeing each other on the street one day?”
“I’d like to think that we would’ve, yeah,” Dave said, “but, this did happen, so we’ll never really know.”
“I hope none of you met me, not to offend anyone or anything, but the only reason why I ever talked to people in your general age group was because I was arresting them.”
Before anyone could anything to that, Kel re-joined the group, looking out of breath. “There’s a herd about a block away.” He informed them. “Not too big, but there’s more of them than us.”
“Is there a way around them?” Lukas asked, and Kel shook his head. “Shit.”
“I don’t want to fight them.” Oliver said quietly. “We’re weak. We won’t make it through them.”
“Have hope.” Lukas said. “It seems really shitty now, I know, but we have no choice. If you make it through them, you make it through, and if you don’t, there ain’t much living for except for the ones you love anyway. Get your weapons out and be ready.”
He didn’t have to tell them, their weapons were already out, held in hands that weren’t quite steady. Gwen’s hand was wrapped tightly around the hilt of the knife, and she found reassurance in the familiar feeling that pressed against the skin on her hand.
“We’ll make it through this.” James told her softly.
“For them.” Zeke added.
“For them.” She echoed and she took a deep breath. She still ached and hurt, both physically and mentally, but she had to make it through this. She would make it through to the end, she had to. She had to do something to avenge their deaths, even though it would be hard. Those people had been fighting for one thing and that had been survival, it had been life.
She sure as hell wasn’t going to let them down without a fight.
“We might be able to alert hoards to their position, rather than ours. If we can create noise but move to a different area quick enough, they might go for the other group.” Kel said. “That’ll buy us some time.”
“That’s a good idea.” Lukas said, nodding. “I don’t know how we’re going to do that though.”
“We’ll come up with something.” Dave said. “It can’t be that hard.”
“Incoming.” Ariana called, and Gwen took another deep breath. Her hand felt slippery around the hilt of the knife, and she closed her eyes briefly, bracing herself.
“This isn’t over yet.” She said, more to herself than anyone else. “We’ll make it through this. Just another speed bump in this hellishly long road, right?”
She nodded to herself and forced herself into a jog. The group easily kept pace with her, and soon they were face to face with the herd, and she threw herself in without a second thought.
Their battle wasn’t over yet, but they were getting closer to the end every day. Gwen just didn’t know if she would end with the battle.