It had been a few hours, and it was somewhere around midday by now. The sun was at its highest point in the sky, but I wasn’t feeling it. It was sometime in September. I think it was the twenty-eighth, but I wasn’t sure. Will had the exact date, something he had been keeping since the beginning. Above, the sun was about, but the clouds were all blocking it. I regretted wearing the tanktop because of the cold, but I couldn’t have predicted Caleb would be shot and I abducted while on a simple trip for another vehicle. One we never even found.
Behind me, Zombie started panting again. She had been following me since we left the gas station this morning and had been panting since about ten minutes into the trek. Her name was supposed to be a joke. In the circumstances, I thought it was a little funny to name her Zombie. Maybe a little ironic, too, but I needed some irony in my life at this point; something to laugh at. So the name stuck. And she was learning to respond to it quickly. She must have been owned by someone prior to the disease. And if she had made it this far alive, then she must have been resourceful, despite the whole “wounded in the back room of a run-down gas station” incident.
Right now, we were somewhere on an abandoned road. The highway had stopped a long time ago. It had led onto some kind of back road made of dirt. It wasn’t the same one as the farm, though. No. I made sure I was going in the opposite direction. I wasn’t trying to go back to those godforsaken rows of corn. In fact, I wasn’t sure what I was doing, my feet were. I had been debating in my head where to go; back to the highway where Caleb and the others might be, or to the city where we were originally planning to go. My feet had subconsciously started walking in the direction of the latter. And I was far too close now to turn back on the road.
So there I was with Zombie, walking along some kind of back road. I was hoping it would lead to some kind of shelter somewhere since I was starting to freeze. And I was tired, too. I needed somewhere I could sleep safely. It would be getting dark soon since it was getting towards the fall. Nights would be longer, which was a terrifying though considering the massive advantage the Creepers would have then.
So I when I stopped to eat and rest with Zombie, I decided we would make it fast. I stopped on the side of the road and sat down. Zombie plopped down beside me, still panting. I pulled out the opened box of Cheerios from my bag and turned back to see her sitting up, thumping her tail against the dirt with her head turned slightly to the side. “Aww,” I said to her. “Such a cutie.” I poured the rest of the box onto the dirt next to her. She stood up and started eating them. I took out a can of some kind of soup from the gas station. I used a rock to bend the can open. I looked at the white soup in the can and made a face. I know I didn’t have a choice, but I kept thinking of how disgusted Shauna would have been. Even after these past few months, she remained determined to eat good and healthy meals. I was glad she hadn’t been broken down yet by the current state of the world.
I downed about a quarter of the soup until I had to stop. It wasn’t expired, but it was thick and filling, so I figured I could save some for later. I grabbed some of the torn tin foil from my bag and unfolded it. I wrapped some of it around the open candle and a rubber band held it in place just in case. I threw it back in my bag and turned to Zombie. She was sleeping already. I guess the walk had tired her out. I didn’t blame her or anything; she was injured. So I laid down next to her and got comfortable. I didn’t close my eyes for fear of falling asleep, but instead I curled up in a ball with my bag in my arms. I let out a breath to calm down. I started working on a plan in my head.
They weren’t back. It had been an entire day, and they still hadn’t made it back. Tris and Caleb had left approximately 24 hours ago to the highway. We were waiting for them, the entire group. We all had our things in bags and packs. All that was missing was the two of them. The others were getting anxious, but I tried my hardest to remain calm. They needed me in this moment, even though Marlene was trying to tell me that she could handle the group if I needed her to. I appreciated it. A lot.
After the first few hours they had been gone, we had started taking the forts down as planned. Then it passed noon. They were supposed to be back for lunch, even if they hadn’t found a suitable car by then. When they weren’t, some of us considered going out for them, but I was the only one who was capable of handling a weapon well enough to defend more than just myself. We couldn’t split up, and we couldn’t all go together. That was the dilemma. So we had sat and waited for them to return. After it became dark, we figured they had just been held up and had spent the night somewhere and that they’d be back by morning. It was a stretch, but by then I was clinging to any possibility.
But then here we were. It was around noon, and Shauna had made a small meal for the rest of the group to give them something to do. I wasn’t eating it.
Suddenly, I got up. This startled the rest of them, since we were sitting in a circle. They all looked up at me. Marlene gave me knowing eyes. I then found myself lost for words. What was I supposed to tell them? That I was leaving them all alone to fend for themselves to be selfish and try to find my cousins, even though the rule was to leave without them if they were too late. Well, fuck it. The rule had already been broken.
“I’m going out,” I announced. Marlene then looked down at her small apple. She dropped it and let her head fall into her hands. I think I heard her mutter something like, “Jesus fucking Christ.” It didn’t stop me.
“I’ll be back in an hour,” I told them. “If I’m not back by then, Marlene will take you all out of here.” Lauren rolled her eyes. Okay, I was running out of time. I brushed my hands on my jeans and left the circle. I went to the entrance at the edge of the cavern, where the multiple duffel bags were. They held all of the stuff we were taking with us. We were supposed to wait for Tris and Caleb to be back before loading anything into the vehicles, but look how that turned out.
One of the bags was dedicated to the knives and guns. My pistol was already in its holster on my belt, loaded, but I grabbed two serrated knives and added them to the belt, just in case. Behind me, I heard footsteps growing closer, until they stopped right behind me. I didn’t have to look. “Mar, I’m sorry,” I said. “But they’re my cousins. I’m not lea-“
“I know,” she said. Except it wasn’t Marlene. No, it was the new girl, Christina. “I know you’re not going to leave them. And I’m not either. I’m coming with you.” She said this in a tone that suggested there wasn’t room for argument. I still tried.
“Christina,” I said in kind of a small descending tone. She raised her eyebrows. I tried to stand taller, but she was still my height. “You can’t come with me. You can’t even shoot a gun,” I tried to reason with her. But that wasn’t happening.
“How do you know that?” she challenged me. Well, she wasn’t wrong; I had never seen her fire a weapon. But from what had happened only a few days ago, I could tell she wasn’t ready for a fight. What if she froze up in the middle of the fight? I told her exactly this. Yet she continued to be stubborn.
“Well, what if my specialty is a knife?” she asked. I was about to argue more, but she cut me off with a wave of her hand. I made an incredulous face. She can’t just do that. She continued talking. “Look, Will,” she started. “Your cousin, Tris, she saved my life, alright? She didn’t even have to. She could have left me and none of you would have ever known. But the thing is: she didn’t. She didn’t leave me. And I’m not about to leave her. It’s not fair to her.” I stared at her for a long time. And she didn’t look away once. “Besides,” she said after a minute or two of silence. “I already told them I was going with you.” My shoulders dropped.
“Fine,” I caved. “But you follow me and do what I say. I got your back and you got mine.” Her face brightened and she nodded.
“Great choice,” she agreed. “You won’t regret it.”
Christina and I were almost to the highway, only a few minutes. We had just passed the camouflaged van. It looked the same, like Caleb and Tris had never even touched it. And maybe they hadn’t. They had probably just passed it without a thought. Still, Christina and I checked in and around it to see if they had left anything there. Or if maybe they were hiding out there.
But no one was there. And they hadn’t left anything to show that they had been there.
So there we were, just at the edge of the tree line. We could see the cars just ahead of us by a few yards. I remembered back to when Caleb and I had looted the gasoline from most of them. They were in red gasoline cans strapped to the top of the van.
Christina looked at me deep in thought before snapping her fingers in front of my face. I snapped out of it. Right. We were here for a purpose. I cleared my throat and spoke to her quietly.
“Okay, we’re going to go between the cars and check if anything moves, alright?” I told her. “I got the second row and you got the third.” She nodded. “Let’s move.”
We both sprinted into separate rows of cars. She disappeared behind some silver Toyota. I crouched down and held the pistol up in front of me, with the barrel fully loaded. I continued walking through the cars cautiously. I didn’t want to be caught by surprise. But at the same time, my mind was preoccupied by looking at the different cars. If they hadn’t already found one, then we still needed one. So I gave myself that task. I got sidetracked. I stood up on one of the smaller cars and looked around for a suitable one. I turned in all directions to spot one. I didn’t find a good enough car or any Turned, but I did spot a bus about twenty yards in front of me. I hopped down and landed in a crouch. I slipped my pistol back into its holster. There wasn’t any need for it at the moment. It was clear. I jogged a bit towards the bus. When I got closer, I stopped in my place. I looked down at the pavement next to the bus. There was a pool of almost-dried blood and a pistol lying a few feet from it. I recognized it; it was Caleb’s. I whipped my own pistol back out. I crouched back down to the puddle and examined it with a closer look. It seemed to be about a day old. I looked around for what might have caused it. It was obviously human, and although I didn’t have any proof, there was strong evidence to believe it was either Tris or Caleb’s. By the amount, Tris would have died, and Caleb would be unconscious, but I didn’t see either of them.
Instead, I noticed a thinner trail of blood leading between the rows, through the cars. I stood up straight again after placing Caleb’s pistol in my belt. I followed the trail of blood for a few yards before stopping at Christina’s voice.
“Will!” she shouted my name. It wasn’t a shout of pain or terror, but there was a sense of urgency in it. I whipped my head up towards the sound of her voice. It was close, so I started running. I crossed through a row of cars and turned to the right. There was Christina, standing next to a black Toyota Highlander. One of the back doors was open and she was leaning into the backseat. I started walking towards her, and she stood back up, out of the car and looked at me. I wondered if she had found something, but that thought was quickly erased from my mind when I saw one of them creeping up behind her. It was a Turned.
I guess she saw my eyes widen in alarm because she began to turn around to see what I was looking at, but it had already grabbed her by the shoulder. It was a death grip. She turned completely now and began to scream. She fumbled in her belt for her knife, but it fell out of her grip and clattered onto the pavement. I saw that her gun was missing and concluded that she had set it down in the Highlander. I started running towards her but realized that I wouldn’t be able to get to her in time.
I brought up my pistol to my line of sight and aimed. With two shots, the Turned dropped down and crumpled to the road. I rushed to her in the last few yards as she backed up to the Highlander. She looked shaken, but not legitimately harmed. I grabbed her by the elbows, and she rested her hands on my chest. I held her for a few seconds before she looked up at me.
“Are you alright?” I asked her softly. She swallowed and nodded.
“Yeah,” she said. “But I don’t think he is,” referring to the Turned that I had just shot.
I laughed at her joke, trying to make her feel better. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a real laugh, but I was too shaken to let it be funny. Then I noticed how seriously she was looking at me.
“No,” she argued. “I mean, I don’t think he’s alright.” I furrowed my eyebrows, confused by what she was saying, but then she stepped aside and nodded to the backseat of the car.
There was Caleb, lying in the back of the car, lying unconscious, covered in blood.
I woke to Zombie barking, and I knew at that moment that we were in trouble. “Shit,” I whispered. I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I sat straight up and looked around. It was probably around seven at night. The sun was going down, but it was still too dark to see much Still, I could make out the sound of a Creeper a few yards away. I stood up quickly and whistled for Zombie. She came running from the north. She started circling me in a protective manner. She faced towards the south, from which the Creeper was approaching. There was fog covering most of the area in front of me; I could only see a few feet. But there was s Creeper coming from it. I thought I could take it with a knife, so I started for it, but then another one became visible, and another, and another.
I began to back away. I let my knife fall to my side as four became five and five became six. There was a crowd, and it was growing fast. I decided to opt out of this particular fight. I sheathed the knife and turned to Zombie. She was growling now, but still waiting for my command. I was surprised at her sudden and full trust in me and my commands, how she didn’t question them. But I would marvel at it later. Right now, we had to get out of here.
I grabbed the bag from where it laid and called for Zombie to follow me. I began running north, where I had already planned on going. I was grateful for that. I slipped it onto my back while running and looked to Zombie. She was right next to me, running a bit faster than I.
We had been going strong for a few minutes before the sun really started to matter. It was going down quickly now. And I began to notice the tens of Turned coming out from the trees. It wasn’t just the Creepers, though. No, some of the others started coming out now. Except, they weren’t as much as a threat. The Creepers were the only ones who could see well in the dark, and the sun was almost gone. Still, if one or two stopped me, the others would all gather around at the commotion. And besides, they could always smell me. Or hear me. That thought sped me up.
It was useless. The others started crowding around the road. They began to block my way, and there wasn’t any use trying to go through them. I turned around to think of a new plan, but stopped. They were right behind me. I turned in a circle, looking for an exit in any direction. Zombie was barking now and snapping at anything that tried to grab her.
I whistled at her again and turned to one of the areas with the smallest threat. I pulled up my pistol and started shooting blindly into the crowd. It lessened enough for the dog and I to get through. From there, we didn’t stop. In fact, we ran even faster. We ran straight into the dark woods, leaving most of them behind us. Still, a few stayed on our trail.
After about a half mile of running, I realized just how bad of an idea this was. Now, I had lost my ground and didn’t know which direction was which. I didn’t know how to get back to the road. I didn’t know what kinds of Turned would be in this area. I stopped to catch my breath. I bent over and put my hands on my knees. My head fell down between my shoulders, and I started panting like Zombie. She was tired, too, but could still run if we needed to. We were both high on adrenaline. A noise came from behind me of crinkling leaves and I turned around. A Creeper was stumbling towards me, but it was slow and stupid. I remembered their only advantage they had on humans was the dark and if they were in a group, and this one wasn’t.
“Really?” I asked it, tired of its bullshit. Maybe I actually though it would respond. I sighed and pulled out the large underrated knife I had stolen. The other one was for my food. I walked toward it and grabbed its head. It made a weird noise I hadn’t ever heard before, but I buried the knife in its head before it could finish. It dropped to the ground undramatically, the knife slipping back out as it fell.
I backed away and called for Zombie to follow me. We began walking again in no particular direction.
After a few minutes, Zombie’s ears perked up, and she stopped. I looked at her, then in the direction she was looking. She didn’t give me much time, though. She took off running again. “Zombie!” I shouted, and then stopped. I cursed myself before running after her. Any Turned in a five-mile radius would have heard me in the dead silent of the dark woods. I had to get away from that point. Ahead of me, I began to loose the sound of Zombie crunching the fallen leaves below her feet. I worried I would loose her for good. Then it was gone altogether. I still ran. “Zombie!” I called again. A second time. Then a third. I waited for a response.
Then she barked. Once, twice, three times. It was close, so I decided to walk the rest of the way.
It actually turned out to be only about twenty yards ahead of me. Zombie was lying on a pile of leaves. I walked towards her cautiously. She was looking at something on the ground. Nudging it. As I stepped closer, I realized what it was: a Turned. I’m sure my face had shown shock by her. Zombie had killed one by herself. A Creeper, by the looks of it. I looked down at it again. Yeah, it was dead. Completely. I even nudged it with my foot to be sure.
Then, a weird thought came to my mind. What the fuck was a Turned doing all the way out here? It either Turned out here, meaning the human part of it had once lived out here. Or it had been attracted by something else out here. Something that might have been human. I looked up to find some kind of evidence of this. I turned a bit and my question was answered. There I stood, right in front of a massive manor in the middle of the woods, wondering how in the hell I had missed it.
“What the...?” I said to the dog.She barked.