It wasn’t quite morning when Gwen quietly pulled herself out of the shared tent. Despite that fact, more than half the camp was up, packing as quickly as they could while eyeing the sky with trepidation. They were leaving at daybreak exactly and that meant that anything that hadn’t been packed up would be left behind. Victor seemed to believe that a strict schedule was the key to surviving.
Gwen looked up at the calling of her name and made her way over to the caller. “Morning, Laura.”
Laura was a beautiful girl and wasn’t much older than Gwen but she was easily one of the most respected members of the group. Her hair tumbled halfway down her back in soft curls and was the certain kind of beauty that had many of the males in the camp making extra efforts for her.
“Morning Gwen.” She said. “Could you do me a favour and wake up anyone who isn’t yet? It should just be the kids and the rest of your tent.”
“Sure. No problem.” Laura smiled at her, and then made her way over to another group of people and started to give out jobs to them as well. From the sound of the groans from the group, Laura had given her one of the better jobs.
Although waking up the rest of her tent wasn’t could hardly be considered an easy job, she mused as she walked back over and stepped back inside. James was moody when he woke up, and Elizabeth very was excitable – though Gwen could hardly fault her for that, she could hardly even be called a teenager. Chris was her best friend and she loved him like a brother but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t a beast to wake up.
Gently, she shook their shoulders and called their names. James swatted at her hand, rolling over, whereas Elizabeth immediately woke up, and sat up with a wide, sleepy smile that lit up her entire face. “Good morning Gwen.” She chirped. Her voice still carried the high pitch tone from childhood, sweet like the sound of a melody played on a piano.
“Good morning, Liz. Why don’t you go outside and see if Laura has anything for you to do?” Elizabeth nodded, the grin never once left her face. She leaped to her feet in excitement, and ran out of the tent door without a second thought. She considered Laura one of ‘the coolest people in the camp’, and was often found following after her.
Gwen sighed, looking at the two moody teenage boys who, if they had it their way, would wake up every day at one in the afternoon and go to bed at four in the morning, all the while living off a diet of energy drinks and junk food. She loved them like they were the grass and the clouds of her world, but often; she wished that she had friends that weren’t quite so… temperamental in the mornings.
“Come on,” She said with a fond type of exasperation in her voice, shaking their shoulders once again. Chris growled low in his throat – similar to that of an angry dog – while James had just simply burrowed deeper into his bedding, pulling the blanket over his head. Obviously, she was going to have to resort to harsher, yet more effective, methods if she was going to get them out of bed before daybreak.
She grabbed the corner of Chris’ blanket, ripping it away from his grip and before James could get it in his mind to think about protecting his blanket; she did the same to him and dumped both of the blankets out of the tent door. They both looked at her with matching betrayed expressions and injured eyes which she matched with a stare of her own.
After a long moment of that, James slowly sat up with a long suffering sigh. “You are a monster.” He mumbled while rubbing at his eyes. “The worst monster to ever exist.”
“I know.” She told him, a small smile playing at her lips. “I am a cruel and terrible person who takes delight in your suffering. Get up, before I have to devour your soul.” James offered her a half chuckle before nodding at her. He stood and stretched before stepping outside.
She knew that James would go off; drag himself around the camp for some time before seeking out Night Watch. She knew his routine well; he did it every morning in the hope that he would one day be considered helpful enough to hold a position on their team, but his every attempt at joining the group had been rebutted with the same excuse; ‘You’re too innocent and too young, once you get some years under your belt and some experience, we’ll think about it.’ It had never once stopped James from persisting though.
Now that James had left, she only had one problem left on her hands though it was the worst. Chris. He had closed his eyes again and was probably close to falling back to sleep – if he hadn’t already - and she knew she needed reinforcements if she was going to get him up anytime soon.
She stepped out of the tent again and jogged over to the large tent that held the children. Guessing from the amount of noise that was coming from their canvas home, most of them were already awake and active.
Sure enough when Gwen walked into the tent, there were only two of the eight children asleep. She gently coaxed them awake, smiling at their sleepy adorableness before turning to face all of the children, kneeling down to their height.
“Agents, I need your help on a very important mission.” She said seriously, fighting to stay in character as she saw their excitement. “Agent Chris is refusing to get out of bed, and I need your assistance to go get him up so he can help us save the world. Go, run!”
The children screamed their excitement. They loved the idea of being agents, and they loved Chris even more. They pushed past her in their haste to be the first one to complete the mission, and she only had to wait a few moments before hearing Chris’ angry voice as he was forced out of the tent and into the cold air of the early winter morning.
She slowly followed after the children and walked over to where the noise was. It was quite a sight to see, children sitting on a very put-out looking teenager and she had to try extremely hard not to laugh.
“Good work team! Because of your success, I promote every single one of you to super-secret spies. Now, go see if any of the other agents have jobs for you.” She saluted, mouth twitching with the struggle to reign in her in amusement as they copied her action with a loud ‘Sir, yes Sir!’ before going off into separate ways. She turned to grin at Chris, bemused at his appearance; his hair was stuck up in as about as many different angles as there were in a maths test and he had a mock angry expression on his face, which promptly lost its effect when a yawn left his mouth.
“You used your power over the children to get me up.” He deadpanned, his voice slurring slightly with sleep. “I think that is considered an abuse of power.”
Gwen laughed at him, clapping his shoulder. “It’s not an abuse of power if it’s for the greater good.” She smiled good-naturedly at his grumbling and looped her arm through his, pulling him off in the search of clothes.
The selection of clothes was meagre today, as they didn’t dare do laundry in the contaminated water. Glad that they had gotten there before the other teenagers had; she grabbed herself some of the more decent clothes, a pair of jeans and a plain shirt. She quickly changed into the clothes, not caring much for modesty anymore. When there were monsters prowling the only world that people had ever known, the thoughts of modesty and other things of the like had become nothing more than that - thoughts.
She turned to Chris who was struggling to pull on a jumper that looked to be a size too small.
“I think it might be too small.” She told him, laughing when he gave her a foul look. He wrestled to get the jumper off his shoulders before tossing it at her face.
She shrugged it on and watched as he rummaged through the pile. “Come on; let’s pack up our tent before we have to leave it behind. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not sleep outside in the cold.”
They made quick work of the tent, having done the task a thousand times before in worse circumstances. It was really more of a routine rather than a chore. They had experience with packing up quickly and in any type of weather; an outbreak had once forced them to pack up camp in ten minutes in the middle of a storm that had been brewing for days and had finally lashed out. The amount of things that had been left behind had been more than a waste and far too many people had gotten sick from colds – it was actually a relief to see people sick with something other than the disease – but the leaders of the group had begged and pleaded with them, saying they didn’t want to risk infection.
And that word was enough to get the camp to haul ass and pack up. ‘Infection’. It scared half the camp and angered the other, such a simple word becoming almost something like poison. She had used to play a game at school that had been called ‘Infection’, where they had pretended to be zombies chasing after humans. It had been a well-loved game that they had played every single day; it had never once gotten boring.But now ‘Infection’ wasn’t a light-hearted game anymore. It was a death sentence.
The camp – as always – left exactly at day break, and Gwen was pleased to see that nothing had been left behind. Everything had been loaded into the cars and trailers with time left to spare.
“Come on,” Chris said, grabbing her hand and pulled her forward. “Let’s try to get one of the good cars before we get separated.”
Out of the six cars they had, a good car was considered one that was big enough to comfortably sit five people without making all the occupants feel as though their ribs were about to give out because of astray limbs. The worst cars were the minivans. Sure, they were roomy and fit more people, but the kids were split among them, and they were terrible to travel with, always squealing and arguing over one thing or another.
They were cute, sure, but extended periods of time with them were absolutely horrible. They never seemed to want to sleep, and didn’t ever want to play the ‘Silent Game’, and they got rather frustrated when the other occupants of the car didn’t share in their excitement.
Chris led her to a four-wheel drive, pulling himself up into the backseat with practised ease. She mimicked his actions and offered a bright grin to James who had already gotten into the car and made himself comfortable, feet propped up on the seat in front of him and looking much livelier than he had the last time she had seen him.
“Hey, monster,” James said with a grin crossing his face, “fancy seeing you here.”
Gwen scowled at the new nickname, though she had to put up a fight to keep the grin off her face. “It’s not my fault that you two are difficult to wake up. You should be glad that you got up before Chris did.”
They both laughed at the expression on Chris’ face. “Yeah, I saw what happened. I almost felt bad for you, Chris.” He said, nudging his shoulder. “It serves you right for not getting up earlier.”
“Says you.” Gwen said, rolling her eyes. “You got up less than five minutes before.”
“But I did get up before Chris and therefore avoided the rabid mob of children. I bet they squealed at you, didn’t they?”
Chris sighed heavily and leaned back in the seat. “Why am I friends with you guys again?” He asked, “Because I regret our friendship. A lot.”
“No you don’t. You love us.” Gwen told him. “And if you weren’t friends with us, you’d have to be friends with the other group of teenagers and you’d hate your life even more than you do now.”
Chris visibly shuddered at the idea and heaved another dramatic sigh. “True. I suppose you guys aren’t all that bad compared to them. Although, I wouldn’t have to be friends with them. I could just be the weird guy that doesn’t talk to anyone and had no friends.”
“They’d probably kick you out of the camp for being a creep.”
Their conversation was cut short when the doors opened and the sound of light hearted arguing met their ears and two males climbed into the car, obviously their driver and their navigator for the day, or however long they would be forced to travel.
She recognised their navigator as Zeke from the night before and she felt her blood freeze the slightest bit when she saw that it was Ryan who would be their driver, but she forced herself to ignore the fear after she saw how obviously excited James was being in the car with not only one member of the Night Watch, but two. She almost felt sorry for the two men, being locked in a car with James, with no escape from his relentless questions and prodding, with no escape for several hours.
Zeke turned around to look at them. “Good morning.” He said, grinning and winking at them. “I’m sure we’ve travelled together at some point, but just in case we haven’t, I’ll introduce ourselves. I’ll be your navigator today and I’ll do my best to not get us lost, but I can’t say the same for Ryan.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “He’s not very good at following my instructions.”
Ryan cuffed Zeke around the head. “That was one time, and it’s not my fault that you said, ‘Go left, wait the other left, no the other, other left.’”
“Well, obviously, you should have gone left.”
“Do you want to drive?” Ryan asked sounding unamused but there was a fond smile on his face. “Because last time you drove, you almost drove into a river and killed everyone who was in the car. It’s remarkable that we all survived.”
Zeke held his hands up in surrender. “No! You can drive, I don’t mind.” He turned back to the amused teenagers in the back. “Just don’t blame me if we get lost.”
Once Zeke had sat in his seat properly, Ryan punched him in the shoulder, ignoring the loud indignant cry. “Next time, I’m requesting a different navigator.” He promised, starting the car. “I’m sure I could trust Sarah more than you.”
“I’m hurt.” Zeke said, rubbing at his shoulder. “You think Sarah would be better than me? You’ve known me your whole life; obviously I’m the better choice. At least I wouldn’t talk about cats for a good two hours.”
Ryan snorted but said nothing more on the topic. Instead, he asked, “What’s the bet that Victor will make us lead today?” and laughed at the horrified expression that crossed Zeke’s face.
“God, I hope not.”
Gwen glanced away from the two just as they got in another argument, trying her hardest not to look at Ryan. Though she still felt shaken from yesterday, most of the shock had been blanketed by the presence of her friends and the fact that death had occurred far too often in the camp. Loss was something that they got used to eventually and while it wasn’t something that was ever easy, the blows never seemed to be as hard as they previously were. She wondered how he was coping, for he had been the one that had shot Jared.
The radio crackled with static for a second, bringing Gwen out of her thoughts. “Car three, you will be leading today.” Victor’s voice came through the speaker, slightly distorted.
Zeke groaned loudly, reaching out and hitting Ryan. “You jinxed us man!”
Ryan laughed at his reaction, shrugging. “Sorry. Just try to not get us lost, yeah?”
Zeke grumbled angrily at Ryan while angrily shaking out his map, causing the three teenagers to laugh. The three teenagers had previously been in a car with them, but it had been quite some time since and they were definitely looking forward to their journey.
Gwen awoke slowly. It didn’t register at first when she opened her eyes and she blinked away the sleep. She looked to the sky, checking for the position of the sun.
And the sky was in colour.
Terror crept up on her and smashed into her like the waves of an ocean in the middle of a severe storm, and she blinked, and blinked again, rubbing at her eyes frantically like she could erase the colour. The tension she felt in her body physically hurt and her lungs felt like they belonged to a heavy-smoker, struggling to take in a full breath of fresh air. She closed her eyes and prayed to whatever deity would listen that it wasn’t real.
She opened her eyes again and the world hadn’t changed, bright, colourful and mocking.
She pressed her fist against her lips and swallowed back sobs, determined to stay quiet as to not alert the others to her distress. She was lucky that James and Chris were both asleep right now, and Zeke and Ryan too busy quietly talking to notice her.
If they noticed her, if they noticed her distress, she’d have to tell them and she didn’t want to do that, not right now. If she told them now, they’d have to pull over and put her down. They would lose precious daylight dealing with her body, and they’d be stranded on the side of the road for the night.
The road was a dangerous place and though it was the quickest way to travel and consumed the least amount of fuel, it was a host to most of the infected. People had tried to escape while they were still sane, but they couldn’t outrun the disease once it had infected them, and their bodies had merely become puppets to the monster that lived inside the disease.
She pushed up her sleeve slowly, filled with silent fear and softly sighed from the small amount of relief she felt when she noticed her veins hadn’t gotten thicker – yet – but it hardly eased her panic.
She was infected.
There was the chance that she was also infecting the others in the car. She wasn’t sure which the worse of the evils was, running the risk of infecting her best friends and two other people she hardly knew, or slowing down the whole process and risking the lives of the entire camp.
‘I’m so sorry.’ She thought, but as much as she hated to say it, the lives of four people were hardly anything compared to the lives of almost twenty five others, no matter the relationship she had with them.
She gently shifted Chris’ head off her shoulder and pressed herself into the door – to the point that it was actually painful –trying her best to avoid contact with him. The boy stirred slightly, but adjusted himself into a more comfortable position leaning against James before settling down.
She clenched her hand into a tight fist, her nails digging deep into the skin and leaving pain that was not unlike the feeling of cats getting too friendly with their claws to try to ground herself.
Despite the ground-breaking terror she found herself in absolute awe of the beauty of the world. While the colour terrified her, it amazed her as well. She found herself noticing the colour of everything. Hers and Chris’ jeans were a darker colour of the sky, whereas James’ reminded her of the colour of the road. She noticed the colour of the seats, and of the carpet and the roof, the colour of their skin and their lips.
She turned her attention to the sky, feeling like she had just been told all the world’s secrets as the sun slowly got lower and as the sky got darker. Sunset, she was sure, would be beautiful.
Her terror faded the slightest bit. Surely such a beautiful thing could not be the start of something so terrible. The disease was a bad thing, and it could only mean death or turning into a monster, but the colour… She could hardly think of it as dangerous or deadly.
But it was, she reminded herself harshly. Since the disease had first been made known to the public, colour had always been known as the main symptom of the disease. There were no other reasons for people to see in colour unless they had the disease.
She turned her attention to the roadside, watching as trees and too-long grass went by, the environment slowly changing the closer they got to the coast. She was brought out of her amazement when Chris grunted next to her, stirring and blinking sleepily. She looked at him, taking in the colour of his face, of his hair that was the colour of tree bark and his eyes that matched the colour of the grass that wasn’t quite alive.
She realised now that he was truly beautiful, she had never really admired him before. She had recognised that he was pretty, as well as being fit with a beautiful smile, but she hadn’t noticed how beautiful he actually was. Her eyes flicked to James, noticing that where Chris was beautiful, James was handsome, with hair that was a much softer colour than Chris’.
She turned to Zeke and Ryan, who were talking softly among themselves, whatever they had been arguing about before now long forgotten. “Heading east was a good idea.” Zeke said. “I always loved the beach.”
Zeke’s hair was dark, similar to the colour of James’ jeans, but even darker, whereas Ryan had hair that was a few shades darker than James’ hair colour – like James’ hair was dry sand and Ryan’s was wet sand. Like Chris and James, they also seemed to become beautiful and handsome, something she had never noticed before.
It intrigued her that colour had made life so beautiful.
The sun had begun to set now, turning the sky into a pastel drawing before slowly darkening to the colour of lips.
She glanced at her own hair, tugging gently at a lock. It was a similar shade to that of the colour of the sunset and she loved the vibrancy of it.
Despite what horror the disease would bring to her in the near future, she found that the colour was far too beautiful to be scared of.
They found a place to set up camp only minutes after the sun had set a large space on the outskirts of a forest and while it wasn’t exactly the safest place, Gwen failed to care. The forest was beautiful.
“Gwen!” Victor called as they began to set up. Sudden terror coursed through her, worry biting at her like annoying bugs at the thought that Victor knew, and he was going to kill her. She wondered if her death would be like Jared’s yesterday, or if they would put her down a nicer way, if Ryan would be the one to kill her, and if he would feel regret. She wondered if they would tell the truth, and say that she had been infected, or if they’d lie and say that she had been killed by sickness or a random attack from a rabid animal.
But Victor was wearing an easy smile, his hair the colour of the night sky and the clouds mixed in together. “Our scouts have found a clean pond nearby, would you mind going and doing the laundry since there wasn’t a chance to do it, considering yesterday’s events?”
Gwen smiled at him politely. “Of course.” She said, and watched as he walked away, relief washing over her like waves of the ocean on a calm day. She liked Victor well enough, but his dedication to the camp that had once seemed admirable had turned to something that scared Gwen. Victor wouldn’t hesitate to kill her now if he found out.
She shook her head and searched out the laundry before making her way over to the group of scouts, and waited patiently for them to notice her presence.
The scouts were composed of the Night Watch and a handful of other members from the group. Not one of them had ever given Gwen cause not to like them, but she couldn’t help but feel cautious. “Good evening.” She said, when there was a break in conversation. “Victor asked me to do some laundry down at the water source, but he didn’t tell me where that is exactly.”
There was some debate on the directions, the group loud and none of the instructions were all that clear. She had a feeling that they might have gotten their hands on the limited stash of alcohol.
“I’ll take you.” Ryan said, silencing the group. He stood up, seeming sober enough, though slightly tipsy. “The rest of you can go hunt. Preferably don’t mistake one another as game.” There was a collective good natured sigh from the group, but no arguments.
“Come on.” He said to her, leading the way out of the camp. It wasn’t exactly a long walk to the water, but the silence between them was awkward, seeming to make time drag.
“About yesterday…” Ryan said after a while. “I hope you don’t think any less of me for it. I did what I had to. To protect the camp and the people, all that jazz.”
Gwen glanced at him. “I just wish things didn’t have to be solved that way.”
“We all do, but there’s nothing that we can do to change it.”
Gwen knelt down at the edge of the water before looking at him. “You don’t have to stand here and watch me, you know. I think I can do laundry by myself, it’s not exactly a hard task.”
Ryan grinned at her slightly. “Yes, but if you get lost in the woods on the way back, that’d be my fault, and I’m sure your friends would murder me for it.”
“They wouldn’t murder you.” She said, “They’d only torture you a little bit, and then you’d probably become best friends with them.”
“Good to know.” Ryan said, “But I’m still staying, just in case I have to fight a bear to defend your honour or something.”
That gained a startled laugh from her. “Have you fought many bears before?”
“I was the champion at bear fights in my home town” He told her in complete seriousness. “I’ve fought over 900 bears in my entire life. I fought my first one when I was three months old.”
They fell into companionable silence, the only noises coming from deep in the forest and the splashing of the water.
“How old are you?” Gwen asked him suddenly.
“Close to turning twenty, I think. Why?”
“So you would’ve been in college before all this?”
“What were you studying to be before all this?”
“I told you, I was the champion of bear fights, I didn’t need a job.”
“No, seriously. Tell me.”
Ryan was silent for a moment. “I hadn’t really had it planned out, but I was really interested in becoming an architect. Why are you asking me this?”
Gwen shrugged. “I don’t know. I was just curious.”
“Okay. So now it’s your turn to answer three questions.”
“Because you asked me two. Now, is Gwen a nickname or is it short for something?”
“It’s short for something.”
“What’s it short for?”
“I’m not telling you that.”
“Because it’s long and complicated and only my parents would use it when I was in trouble. My turn, how long have you and Zeke been friends?”
“We knew each other from birth, but I hated him for a few years. So about fifteen years, probably. How’d you meet your friends?”
“I met both of them back in school. James was in my class, and Chris was friends with James. Why does Victor trust you so much?”
“My parents knew him before the disease. They shipped me off to him before all this.”
“Your turn is over.” He said, though he didn’t ask any more questions. “It’s not something I’m comfortable talking about.”
They fell into silence again, though it was no longer companionable. Gwen quickly finished the laundry and turned to Ryan. “You could be helpful and carry the clothes for me.”
Ryan heaved an over-dramatic sigh and rolled his eyes. “Fine.” He turned to pick up the basket but paused as if something had caught his eye, reaching out for Gwen and grabbing her arm, flipping it over.
Gwen froze and glanced at her arm. Her veins were no longer thin and spidery, but thick and telling tales of the truth.
“How long have you been infected?” He asked, and his voice wasn’t light-hearted anymore. It was dangerous. It promised death.
And Gwen knew she was screwed.