I woke early in the morning, before the sun had even risen. Zombie lay still at the end of the bed as I pulled the fluffy duvet down around her, careful not to wake her. She’d need her rest. I had decided today was the day we’d start towards the city. Al would have to take me, even if he didn’t completely want to. And I’m sure he was dying to get out of this house, especially with his dead brother in the ground only yards away from the house.

And as for myself, I had overstayed my welcome in this house. It wasn’t mine, although it certainly wasn’t anyone else’s. Still, I felt the unmistakable guilt of staying here when I knew for a fact that somewhere out there, there was my family and others who needed me with them. Not for my sake, but for theirs. I wanted to think that they had started back already towards the city, and I had this fantasy that we’d meet there in the city, and there would be this happy ending like in the movies. Well, it was fun to dream anyway.

The cold air hit my bare skin, and I considered getting back in bed and forgetting this ever happened. Maybe I’d stay a few more days, get to know Al for real. God knows I needed to trust him if we were going to be traveling together. If I were in a dangerous situation, I would need to know he wouldn’t try to just leave me. Or that he wouldn’t be the one putting me in said dangerous situation.

But no. I was committed to this. I steeled myself and pushed through the cold. I left the warm embrace of the bed, and I heard Zombie ruffle the sheets lightly. I turned to the direction of the bathroom in the dark and moved towards it, grabbing the pistol from the nightstand on my way. I closed the door behind me and flipped the switch, turning the light on. Well, a couple of them anyway. There were six light bulbs along the top of the mirror in front of the sinks. Four of them were burned out.

I went to turn the faucet on, but decided against that. I wasn’t really up for the even colder water that I knew would come out. Instead, I grabbed a washrag from below the counter and folded it over a few times, then getting it damp. I hesitated before applying it to the exposed skin of my body, including my face and arms. It was warmer than if I had applied it directly to my skin, but it still gave me chills. I did the same thing to my feet and legs with a new coat of water. Now for my hair; I sighed.

After about an hour, I had dressed with entirely new clothes, a tanktop from the dresser and a pair of dark jeans. I sat on the bed and pulled on a pair of white socks. My hair was damp since I had dried it with a fresher towel. I looked out of the window in the master bedroom and saw that there still wasn’t a light coming from any direction, and I wondered just how early I had woken up. There wasn’t any way to tell, unfortunately. Zombie had been stirring for a few minutes now, but still hadn’t managed to pull herself out of the bed.

I had been going through the drawers of the couple’s dressers and her vanity, not looking for anything in particular, but rather just for anything interesting. There was a bit of me that felt the guilt, but I knew they were dead and hoped to God they wouldn’t mind. Oh hell, of course they did.

I had found a few nice clothes of Diane’s, but not much was practical; it was all for show, to make her feel beautiful. I remembered Christina and her closet, how she didn’t even have sneakers. I smiled a bit. This would be her paradise.

I sat at the vanity and stared in the mirror, like I had at Christina’s house. I liked how I looked; I hadn’t before the disease, but with all of the competition gone, who even was there to be compared to? Christina, I guess, but I could survive on my own, and I wasn’t too sure about her.

I looked down and opened the left drawer on the vanity and moved some things around. There were a few elastics for her hair, but it was mostly makeup for Diane; all of the tones matched her skin tone, which was a bit darker than mine, but I still took them out of the drawer and set it on top of the desk part. Then I looked at the rest; lipsticks and mascaras. It had been a while since any of them had been used, so I assumed they would be all dried and gross, but I opened them anyway and checked them out.

Some of them were worth saving, so I set those on top with the foundations. I took a few brushed, not quite sure what they were for, but just because they looked important. Then I looked in the drawer on the right and found something was probably wasn’t meant for my eyes, but I picked it up anyway. It was quite obvious what it was with the blank cover and pen sitting on top of it. I opened it after a moment of pausing to evaluate how much she’d care. Oops. Too late.

I read the first page slowly at first to make sure I read it properly. It was dated at the week before the spread of the disease. The entry wrote about how her boyfriend had been arguing with his brother for the past few days prior about what they should do and how they would proceed. Then it continued to when the boyfriend, commonly referred to as, Harry, had proposed to her on the third of March. She knew why he had done it so suddenly, but she still said yes, and two days later, Harry had taken her to his estate south of the city, where they had stayed.

There were very few entries after they arrived here, and the mostly described what it was like as the world fell from there, but described from their perspective, isolated from the rest of the population. From the journal, it was obvious the two of them, well at least Diane, knew very little about what was going on around them. Until Diane died, she didn’t even seem to know what the threat even was.

I closed it finally and looked out the window again. There was a faint light coming from behind the trees, so I stood and closed the journal, setting the pen on top of it. I grabbed a small traveling makeup bag from the bathroom and returned to throw everything in it. It was official; I was now a thief, along with murderer, trespasser, and escapee, all of which would have gotten me arrested prior to the disease. It seemed like the list was getting longer with every day.

I threw the makeup bag onto the bed, causing Zombie to finally get up. She lifted her head first, but then stretched her paws out like a wolf. Then she yawned, and I continued with what I was doing, which was heading to the dresser to pack some of Diane’s clothes for the trip. I figured if she was my size and had a few stylish things, why the hell not?

So I pulled out a few blouses and two flannels and folded them lightly; they’d be for more formal occasions in the future, if there ever were any. Then I took a few jeans out; a white pair, a gray pair, a black pair, and two blue pairs. I folded those together tightly and set them aside with the blouses and flannels. When the majority of those were finished with, I grabbed the roll of duct tape I had obtained from the kitchen and ripped a piece off with my teeth. I did this a few times and wrapped everything together into a little bundle which I hoped wouldn’t be a burden. At this point, I was almost ready to leave, so I decided to wake Al and tell him now.

I moved from the left side of the bed to the right and pulled everything that I was taking with me together. I took the pillow from this side of the bed and shook the pillow out of the case. I then stuffed the bundle of clothes and bag of makeup into the bag. I threw my hair up with one of the elastics from the vanity and adjusted the flannel on my shoulders; it was the same from the day before. Since I had taken it off for digging the graves, it wasn’t dirty enough to discard yet.

Then I left.

Zombie followed me since I didn’t close the door, so the patter of my feet and the click of her nails on the hardwood floor was all there was to be heard. I knocked on the door Al had gone in the night before and listened. There wasn’t an answer, so I knocked again. This time, the door creaked open a bit, so I figured he had left the room, probably getting something to eat. I wasn’t surprised; I doubted he had slept at all last night. The thought wasn’t reassuring if that meant he wouldn’t be able to take me to the city.

I pushed the door open all the way now and entered. The lights were off completely, and I wondered if he was up. At first, I was surprised at the room; it was almost nicer than the master bedroom in which I had been staying. On the other side of the room, there were two double doors covered by window panels. The white curtains blew inward because they were open. I noticed now that it was lighter outside in this room than it had been in my room. This side of the house must have been facing the sun or something.

The room didn’t seem to be designated to anyone in particular, like a child or a guest bedroom. It had a simple black, wooden bed in the middle of the room, which had white curtains hanging from the frame, and the sheets were also black, but it was a softer-looking black than the wood. Thankfully, they looked like they had been slept in; the sheets were ruffled. And one of the black pillows was on the ground.

I continued into the room and looked down at my feet in unpleasant surprise. The floor wasn’t wood like the halls and master bedroom, but instead, there was tile of all things, which I hadn’t been prepared for. The thin socks on my feet didn’t do much for warmth, and the tile was felt frozen. So I walked a bit faster to the bed, where I crawled to the center. I rubbed my feet for a few seconds before looking at the other side of the room, where the double doors were. The wind picked up and the curtains blew in a bit harder. I wrapped my arms around my shoulders and wondered if today would be a good day to leave.

I stepped back onto the floor and began moving to the doors. I figured they’d lead to a balcony. I set a hand on one of the doors and moved it a bit more open. Al was standing a few feet away on the balcony, leaning on the stone railing. I said his name, and he jumped a bit, startled. He turned to me and stuttered. I noticed a puff of smoke floating away from his mouth, and looked down to his hand. A burning cigarette dangled between his fingers. I raised an eyebrow as he coughed. He tried to explain himself. “I-I- uh. It’s just something I do every once in a while.” he said. I laughed a bit and let my head drop. I walked towards the railing, too, and leaned on it. I nodded lightly. “Sure,” I said. “You tried quitting?” I asked, looking out at the trees. The leaves were almost all gone.

“Well,” he claimed. “Old habits, right?” I scoffed, but nodded still.

“Sure,” I agreed anyway. He put it back to his lips and breathed it in. We were quiet for a while, but then I had a thought. “But don’t you think it’d be ironic for that to be your cause of death these days?” I turned my head to look at him.

“Ahh, well,” he said. “Y’know. I think it’d be better this way than death by Eater.” I nodded again, but stopped quickly. I had never heard them called that before.

“Have you ever killed one, Al?” I asked, genuinely wondering. I couldn’t remember if he had mentioned it before. But he had made it miles from the city to here, and I couldn’t believe he hadn’t killed a single one, especially if he had run into Runners. In all honesty, he wouldn’t be able to outrun one for even ten seconds. He might be able to overpower one.

He was quiet, but nodded. “Yeah, a few,” he confirmed. “But only when I had to,” he said, for some reason feeling the need to defend his actions. “I had other people. They did most of the killing until I was alone. And even then, it was only a few…” He trailed off, not feeling like finishing the sentence.

“No, that’s fine,” I said. “I just wanted to know if you were comfortable with a weapon.” I waited to see if he would understand, but he just nodded his head to the side a few times to show his comprehension. He looked down at the railing and stubbed the cigarette out. He twisted it around, then flicked it off the balcony, letting it land in the leaves on the ground below us.

“Al,” I said, getting him to look at me. “Al, we’re leaving today.” His head whipped to my direction.

“Oh, Tris,” he said, standing up straight from the railing. “I don’t know-“

“I’m leaving with or without you,” I said, cutting him off. It was true; I wasn’t bluffing. I would indeed leave without him, but I’d hate it. I didn’t know if I’d survive. But I was determined, especially if my family would be there waiting.

I stood staring at him, waiting for him to respond, barely blinking. He finally sighed and shook his head. “I can’t, Tris,” he said. I nodded, although I was disappointed. It was fine; I liked to think I’d be able to handle myself. I had done it this far.

“But I can give you some direction and some aid. Like food and things,” he offered. I nodded.

“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate it.”

I had since packed a cooler of sandwiches and drinks. Trail mixes and stale chips were in a separate bag to stay dry, along with some other cans of longer-lasting foods. There was a camera, too sitting somewhere within the pile of supplies. I wasn’t sure why I had taken it, but those were hard to come by nowadays, and I couldn’t help myself. I had taken a too-big camouflage hunting jacket from Al’s brother’s closet. Al said I could keep it, and that it might help me. And it would keep me warm, too. I left it unzipped for better access to my knife and pistol in my belt. Al was on the porch with me, after driving a four-wheeler from the garage out to the front of the mansion. Apparently, Diane had been a fan of outdoor motor sports, too. His arms were crossed, and his eyes were squinted. I had packed a few other essentials the last hour, but finally decided it was time to leave; I didn’t want to waste any more daylight because of the threat of Creepers. I had about forty pounds of equipment strapped to the four-wheeler. I was standing next to it awkwardly before deciding Al needed a better goodbye. Especially if he was going to be alone for a while. I quickly jogged up the steps and stood in front of him. I laughed a bit as I moved into a hug. I wrapped my arms around him, and he stuttered to embrace me, too. He was a good hugger, like a bug teddy bear. We held that position for a few seconds before it became too awkward. He laughed as we parted and scratched the back of his neck.

“Hey, look,” he said. “Maybe you don’t actually have to go,” he suggested. I looked up at him and squinted my eyes a bit. I thought about arguing about how I should leave now before it becomes winter, but stopped when I realized what he meant, which was to say that I shouldn’t leave at all.

I opened my mouth, but he was already defending his point. “No, really,” he insisted. “I mean, it wouldn’t even be that outrageous of an idea. We don’t have anyone else, and starting a life must be appealing to you.” I was taken aback by this, a bit offended for multiple reasons.

“What?” I asked incredulously. “Why? Why would you think I’d want a family?” I asked further. “Is it because I’m a woman? You think I’m a woman, so I must want a family. Of course that’s my only concern in the world.” I wanted to continue my rant, but I knew that wasn’t what he meant. I started over by apologizing. “I-I’m sorry. No, I know you didn’t mean that,” I admitted. “It’s just… I have other things I have to worry about these days. Like survival,” I gave an example and laughed to lift a bit of the heat. “And I just can’t bring something into this world. That’d be selfish.”

“Well,” he said, not giving up. “I mean, maybe it wouldn’t be kids for you. Maybe it’d just be us. I could protect you. We could live out the rest of our lives here and –“

“I have a boyfriend,” I blurted. I wasn’t really sure where it came from, but I couldn’t backtrack now. I couldn’t explain to him how I wasn’t interested. Well, I could have, but not anymore.

“He’s with my family,” I lied instead. “We’ve been together for a while now, since like the start of all of this. I hadn’t known him before, but we’re pretty serious now. And he’s probably worried sick,” I finished lamely and shrugged.

He nodded and looked down. “Right,” he said. “Of course you already have someone, being as beautiful as you are.” I flinched. It felt like he was trying to guilt-trip me, but I wasn’t sure he’d do that.

“Anyway,” I began, but wasn’t quite sure how to finish. I looked down, too, but held my hand out now. I was wishing we had just left it at the hug. We looked up at the same time, and he took my hand. We shook, and I nodded one last time.

“Well, see ya,” I said. I didn’t actually believe I’d ever see him again, but it was better than saying goodbye.

I hopped down the porch stairs again and walked to the four-wheeler. I swung my leg around it and got comfortable. I whistled for Zombie, who had been in the surrounding trees for the last ten minutes. I called for her and waited. I heard her feet on the crunching leaves to my left. She ran to me and I called for her to jump up behind me. She laid down on the packs of our things. I pulled out the torn map which Al had given me, a sharpie tracing my route to the destination, a messy circle surrounding the city. I turned back one more time and waved back at Al. He waved back. Then I took off, turning around to the left, where Al had said there was a trail clear of trees, which would lead back to the main road.

After a few seconds of searching, I found it. I turned into it and began headed away from the mansion, and from the temporary safety it provided. And maybe even a life it might have held for me.

The scenery was one I doubted I’d ever forget. The leaves were all reds and oranges and yellows. There were barely any browns, and when there were, they were softer and light. Most of the trees were bare like near the house, but a few of the leaves were still in the process of detaching themselves and falling. Even now, as I was driving through the sweet leaves, I turned behind me and saw them swirling up from the ground, mixing from the spinning tires. Some even went ten feet in the air, and they took they’re time falling and settling again. I got an idea.

I sped up a bit and blasting the gas. After another thirty feet, I stopped quickly and hopped off. Zombie did the same, but I told her to stay by the four-wheeler. I dug through my supplies on the vehicle and found the camera. I turned it on and held it up quickly, holding it still to focus the image. I paused and held my breath.

I clicked the capture button and held it for a few seconds to get the perfect shot. Then I turned to get in the shot, putting on a smile, hoping it looked genuine. At this moment, there wasn’t an immediate reason it shouldn’t have been. There was no threat, except the one that had always been looming, but I had gotten used to that.

I clicked the button a few more times to get a few nice pictures. I dropped the smile and my hand and walked back to the four-wheeler. The leaves had settled and I sat at the seat, looking at the photos. I found each of my favorites and deleted the extras, fearing the lack of storage, but then I started scrolling through the other photos on the camera, only to find out there weren’t any. Either the camera had been new, or the couple had deleted all of their previous memories. I hoped it was the former.

I turned the camera off after admiring the photos once more. I set it away, deep in everything else, so it wouldn’t fall out and break.

I had left the keys sitting in the ignition, so I twisted them again now and started the motor. Zombie hopped back on and we drove off once again.

I began thinking about when I was telling Al about my boyfriend. I thought back to exactly what I was saying. He’s probably worried sick.

I wished there was actually someone like that. Someone who was actually worried sick about me. Not in the way Caleb or Will might be, although I did appreciate them. I wanted someone who would love me and hold me, but as I had already told Al, there wasn’t a time for that anymore. And I wasn’t sure there ever would be.

There weren’t many thoughts that messed me up more than that one did.
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