We stared at Caleb, lying in the backseat of the car. I couldn’t believe it until Christina said my name to snap me out of it. I was in such a state of shock. She placed a hand on my shoulder, and I turned my head to look at her instead. “Is he dead?” I asked her. She shrugged her shoulders up and down.
“You didn’t check?” I asked incredulously. His time could be running out at this very moment. I boosted myself onto the side of the car, but didn’t get in; there wasn’t enough room for the two of us. It was dark, and the inside of the car was cooler than outside. I almost began to shiver. Behind me, Christina kept a look out for any other threats, the fall air blowing her hair across her face. The sky was becoming darker, and I wondered if it was about to rain.
I placed two fingers on Caleb’s neck, searching for a pulse. I noticed his skin was cold and pale. Paler than even his sister’s. It took a few seconds, but I eventually found a steady beat, although it was faint. I told this to Christina and she seemed a bit relieved. She pushed the hair out of her face and shivered in the air. The sun above us seemed to disappear completely as clouds moved to cover it. Another gust of cool air swept the almost lifeless road. I began to sit my cousin up. From behind him, I slapped his face lightly, just enough to get him to wake up. He moaned a bit and tried to life his arm, but he was weak from the lack of blood. “Caleb,” I said hesitantly. His eyes opened, but they were fluttering like they’d close again. “Caleb,” I said again. “Oh, thank the Lord. Where’s Tris?” I asked him. If she were around here, too, I wasn’t about to just leave her.
“Wha-?” he started, but it was faint, and it was obvious he wasn’t going to be able to string four words together. He shooed my hand away from his face. But some recognition shone on his face as the rest of my sentence registered and he heard his sister’s name.
“She-she’s gone,” he stuttered. “They-they hurt her.” I wanted to freeze right there and ask him what the hell he meant, but it was pretty clear. And he was already going to pass out again. He did.
“We’ve got to get him back to the camp. To Marlene,” I suggested. Christina nodded. She holstered her pistol in her belt. And leaned into the car, too. She grabbed his legs and began to slide them out with her. She stepped back until he was almost completely out of the car. I jumped down beside her and righted myself. I threw him over my shoulders and addressed Christina.
“You know where to go?” I asked her. I knew where to go and how to get back there, but if I was going to be carrying 180 pounds of meat on my back, I could have screwed up and gotten lost by a distraction. I hoped she was good at navigation, despite this being the first time heading back to the cave. She hesitated and seemed unsure of herself, but I think she realized the impending danger of a storm, so she nodded and began walking. She looked at the two of us over her shoulder every few minutes until we entered the trees, and she had to keep an eye on the ground to keep from tripping over any brush.
By the time we had made it to the camp, it had begun to pour. I had some cover provided so generously by Caleb’s limp body, but that left Chris victim to the rain. I felt bad when we finally made it into the cave, but she was assuring me it was completely fine. Still, when we came to the opening of the cavern, and the others had spotted us, I asked Shauna to get her a blanket. They both stayed at the entrance, where everything was still packed up. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lauren and Molly still sitting around the area where the food area had been before they had torn it down. They seemed unimpressed by the sight of the guy who had saved both of their asses on multiple occasions lying unconscious on my shoulders. Bitches.
Marlene had rushed over faster than any of the others, and she was trying to get me to give Caleb to her. She stopped when she realized the ridiculousness of her request. She dropped her hands to her sides and wiped her palms on her thighs. “Okay,” she said. “Is he dead?” she asked me, starting with the most obvious question first. I gave her a look.
“Right, right,” she said. “Stupid me. Of course he’s not dead. Okay, well. You can just set him right here and try to wake him. It’s fine if you can’t. I’ll just go get my medical bag real quick.” She rushed back off to the entrance quickly. I dropped Caleb onto the dirt cavern as gently as I could and sat next to him. I shook his shoulder and said a couple of things to him, but he didn’t budge. I checked his pulse again. Still there. I wondered if Marlene would be able to help him. If she could calm down a bit. I think everyone could tell she had a minor crush on him. If might have just been a small fascination with him, but if it affected her work on him, I’d have to ask her to tell me how to do it instead. I guess that was why she was getting so hyped up about it.
She returned shortly and began her work on him. I helped to slide off his shirt and toss it aside. There was a bullet wound on his side, a bit lower than his waist. There was blood. Lots of it. I got a bit queasy. It wasn’t the sight of blood; I had seen plenty of that in these last few months. It was just the sight of my cousin’s blood, and probably the amount of it, too. It made me think of what would happen if we lost him, it he Turned.
And the wound also made me think of what caused it. I was relieved it wasn’t a Bite, but it was worse that it was from a bullet. That meant there was someone out there on the road that had shot him. And Tris was missing; either the same people had killed her or taken her. I didn’t know which one was worse. I didn’t want to think about it. I got up and made sure Marlene could handle it. She nodded, but didn’t look at me. She was too into saving Caleb. I left her to work.
Shauna was still standing by the entrance, with Christina. They were talking in quiet voices. I walked toward the two of them, glancing back at where Lauren and Molly were still seated, shooting Mar nasty looks. I furrowed my eyebrows.
“So, he was shot,” said when I got the other girls. I wanted to get straight to the point. Shauna gasped quietly, as she seemed to understand what this meant.
“You mean…” Christina trailed off next to her. I nodded.
“There were others there,” I continued. “They shot Caleb, which rendered him unconscious. I can’t think of a reason Caleb and Tris would have shot first. They must have posed a threat, or maybe the third party was just trigger-happy.”
“Chris tells me Tris is missing,” Shauna said. I looked to her, and she shrugged.
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “That’s what Caleb said, but he’s kind of out of it at the moment. We’ll get the full story when he’s back to normal.”
“But-“ Shauna tried to argue.
I shook my head to cut her off. “I know exactly what you’re going to say. And we can just sit here. In fact, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. It’s pouring outside. And it’s too dark to see anything anyway. We’ll find her, I promise. We just need to know what she and Caleb saw before we start looking in the wrong places. And if it does turn out that we can’t find her, we’ll still need to keep moving. We need to get to the city.”
Even as I said it, I knew I was trying to convince myself of it, too.
I was sitting against the bathroom cabinet on the floor. Zombie was next to me. We had been like this for the past four minutes perhaps, when Al had started making noise. I held my pistol in my hand, but it was limp at my side, anyway. To be completely honest, I hadn’t been expecting any movement from him for the next few hours, but right when I was finishing up making another sandwich for myself downstairs in the kitchen, I had heard his scratching up here. At first, I thought I had imagined it. This room was right above the kitchen, and I was certain I was being paranoid, but then a few white flakes had fluttered down from the ceiling, which had fully convinced me. I had quickly made a second sandwich and poured some Fruit Loops next to it on a plate.
I stacked the sandwiches on the plate and cleaned everything up. At that point, I was surely convinced he had woken up, so I grabbed the food, locked up both of the doors, and made my way up the stairs. I had set the food next to me and then proceeded to pick the lock, since it was locked form the inside. Once I had finished that, I pulled out my pistol and cocked it. I held it up and gently kicked the door open with my foot. I peeked my head around the corner of the door to find Al lying in the tub still, his hands tied to the faucet. He wasn’t quite awake, but he was coming to.
I moved in and sat against the wooden cupboards below the sinks. I began to count the time as it passed. A minute passed, then two. He was still working on waking up, but I was growing impatient. I needed to know if he was going to attack or not. I stood up again and faced the sinks, setting the plate of food on the counter, away from the edge. I grabbed the toothbrush holder from the counter and tipped it upside down, so that the stale brushes fell out and into the sink. They clattered quietly. I filled the cup with the only water that would come out of the faucet: cold. I wasn’t really set on filling it up to the rim, but rather just enough to dump on Al.
When it was about half full, I turned the faucet off and turned back around to where Al was still lying. He was squirming now, but still not conscious. I walked towards him and held the cup over his head. I dumped it quickly and backed up even quicker. I didn’t want to get hit by his blind wrath.
I was right to do that.
His head swung up, not really to fight anything off, but rather out of reflex. He would have fallen forward if not for his bound hands. I felt only a bit sorry for him when he was yanked back by his hands as the belt pressed into his skin. The feeling only lasted a second when I remembered what he had done to me.
He settled after a few seconds and sat back against the cold wall. I knew he was uncomfortable for him, but I resisted getting him a pillow or something. I mean, come on; I made him a sandwich.
I looked down at his soaked shirt and figured he must have been pretty cold, too. His face was drenched and water dripped from his chin, which had a bit of stubble that I had just noticed. It must have appeared last night. That, along with the blood from last night’s incident made him look rough. I looked back to his face to see that he was staring at me. I swallowed, but my mouth was already dry. I remained looking at him until he decided that was enough. I looked away first.
I turned back around and grabbed the plate from the counter, still looking at him through the mirror to make sure he didn’t try anything. I turned back to him and moved towards the tub where he sat. I knelt down and set the plate on the edge of the tub. I leaned forward to untie one of his hands, and he flinched. I stopped, and he looked away. I raised an eyebrow as his face turned red. I continued with the belt. I undid it quickly and told him to put one hand in his lap or I’d set Zombie on him, who sat still a few feet away. She perked to attention when she heard her name. He did as he was told with his right hand.
I tied his left hand back again to the faucet. I backed up and rested by hands in my own lap. He looked at me expectantly. “What?” I asked him. He looked to the food. “There’s no way in hell I’m feeding you anything. I slaved for three minutes over the counter to make you something to eat; grab the fucking sandwich.” I finished with a little nervous laugh, letting loose a bit. I couldn’t remain hostile for the rest of his company. He had to get me to the city, where he was from. I knew he was my only chance of getting there. So I was relieved when laughed a bit, too and grabbed the slices of bread and took a bite hesitantly. I rolled my eyes. I fell from my knees to my butt and slid back against the counter. I then stood up and sat on the counter.
“So,” I started and pursed my lips. I cleared my throat, trying to think of a way to bring up the subject of getting to Chicago. “Al.”
He paused and looked at me. I opened my mouth and blurted, “I want to go to the city.” Idiot.
He scoffed and went back to eating. “Yeah,” he said. “No, you don’t.”
I scrunched my eyebrows and squinted my eyes. That was a peculiar answer and one I totally wasn’t expecting. “Yes,” I argued. “Yes, I do. I have people that I separated from, and I need to get to them. They need me.”
“No offense,” he said, pausing for my name. I couldn’t remember if I had told him what it was yet, or if he had just forgotten it.
“Tris,” I filled in.
“Tris,” he repeated. “Right. Well, Tris,” he continued. “The city’s a mess. Everyone was trying to get out, and very few succeeded. I made it out with my si-“ he paused and hesitated. “Another girl. She died after the third day. And it took me another two weeks to make it here. Only to find out my brother was dead.” He looked at me pointedly, and I looked back in the same manner.
“I didn’t kill them if that’s what you’re trying to say,” I defended myself. “He killed-“ I stopped myself my continuing. He didn’t need to hear that right now. “They were already dead when I got here. Which was only the day before you showed up. And tried to kill me.” I was turning the guilt on him, now. Maybe not the best idea, and he saw it, too.
“So, wait,” he said. “Why the hell would you trust me to take you to the city?” he asked.
A sandwich was sounding really good right now, but I looked down to see that they were both gone. Oh well. “You only tried to kill me ‘cause I knocked you out; what you did was in self-defense. You wouldn’t kill me out of cold blood,” I said. “I don’t think that’s in anyone’s nature. Not anymore. These days, we only kill to survive. I think most everyone had a sense of what the world has become and now, we know all life is precious.” He raised his brows, and I prayed in that moment that I was right. I quickly backtracked. “Don’t think I’m defending you, though,” I said. “I’m most certainly not. I’m just stating why you did what you did.” I paused as he filled his palm with the cereal and threw it back into his mouth like they were pills.
I rolled my eyes, but he remained looking at me.
“Where’s my brother?” he asked. “I’d like to see him, if he’s not…like the others. Only if he’s really dead.” I knew it. Well, I had suspected it anyway. They were brothers. And I guess Al had never met his sister-in-law. I looked up at him again and hopped off of the counter. I reached back and scratched the back of my neck.
“I was actually planning on burying them,” I told him, hesitantly. I wasn’t sure if he’d like that. “He and his wife.”
He tried to pull away from the faucet. “No,” he pleaded. “Don’t. At least, not yet. I’d like to help.” I looked away, but nodded still. I took the plate from his lap and tied both of his hands to the faucet and left. Zombie followed me. I locked the door from the outside again. I went back downstairs, getting myself ready for what I had to get done. I set the plate by the sink and rubbed my hands together. I closed my eyes one last time before moving the chair away from the pantry. I opened the door and looked at Al’s brother hanging from the rafter about nine feet above me. This was going to take a while.
It had taken me about twenty minutes to get to where I was now, which was on a chair, standing behind where the man hung. I had been struggling with the knot, which he must have tied for himself. And I swear, he must have been a fisherman, because this wasn’t a knot that any normal person would know.
I had tried to untie it for about ten minutes, and it seemed to get tighter with each minute. I was terrified the rope would get so tight that it would decapitate him at this point in his decomposition. I stopped when the rope began to fray at the knot, and my hands began to turn red. Instead, I hopped down to the ground and hauled in another chair. I slid it under where the man hung, and I started adding things from around the kitchen, like the carton of flour, and the bags of rice. I did this until he was sitting on the pile on the chair, and his legs were dangling in front. This way, I could cut him loose, and when he fell, his upper body would fall back towards me, but he wouldn’t fall off or anything. I left and came back with one of the knives from the knife drawer. It wasn’t the biggest one, but it was serrated, so it was the best for the job.
I began working at the rope and cut until it was hanging only barely by a few thin stands, at that point, I just pushed on, without really thinking because I was so ecstatic since this was working.
So when the rope snapped and the body fell, I wasn’t paying attention. The body fell forward, unexpectedly. And the knife fell from my grip and landed on the body. No, in the body. More specifically, in the chest of the body. Thankfully, nothing else fell from the chairs. I sighed. It had been going so well. I hopped from the chair and landed a bit off balance. I heard Al moving around in the tub above the kitchen and shouted, “Don’t you fucking dare, Al!” The moving stopped. He must have heard when the body fell, but there was no way he knew what it was.
I walked to it and bent down. I tore the knife from his chest and looked at it. Of course, there was no blood, but rather just some weird flaky substance. I walked back to the kitchen and wiped it on one of the towels. I set it away from the food so I wouldn’t make the mistake of using it.
I walked back to where the body lay and sighed. I had to do this. It was the respectable thing to do. I got behind him and grabbed his underarms like I had with the maid. I began dragging the body from the pantry to the front door, where Zombie was waiting for me. I had forgotten that she had to go outside every few hours. I was just scared she’d be loud and bark. I opened the door and let her go. She ran straight out of the door and down the porch steps. She didn’t bark, thankfully. I dragged the man from the porch to the ground level, which was frozen and covered in leaves. I was concerned about how I was going to go about burying the man and his wife. And maybe I’d bury the maid, too, in a different grave, of course.
I laid him down a few yards away from the house and retrieved the woman who was even further away. She was significantly lighter, and therefore easier to drag to the man. I left them sitting there for a few minutes while I went back to the house. Zombie remained outside, wandering around. I grabbed a few sheets from a linen closet in the house; it was upstairs in the last room, where I had almost kept Al. When I was walking back to the stairs, I stopped by the door of the master bedroom. I opened the door and walked to the bathroom door, dropping the linens on the bed and grabbing the knife from the dresser.
I knelt back down and picked the lock again. I opened the door and stepped inside. Al sat in the tub, staring at me. I stared back. “Let’s do this,” I said simply. I didn’t feel like talking, and I’m sure this would be difficult for him. I walked to the belt and undid the knot of the belt and walked back to the door. I knew he understood what we were doing now, so he stood quietly and stared still, not speaking. He wiped his hands on his jeans, which were mostly dry, like his shirt. “If you want to grab something of his or hers to bury them with,” I offered. “I’m just going to wrap them first. She doesn’t look too good.” He nodded, and I turned to leave.
I exited the bathroom and grabbed the linens again. I went to her nightstand, which I had left alone until this moment. I grabbed a red lipstick and some foundation. Al stayed behind for a few minutes while I returned to the outdoors, where the two bodies lay. I swallowed again and knelt to the couple sadly. I needed to know how this man had kept from Turning, but now wasn’t the time for that. I’d ask Al some other time.
I whipped the first sheet out and rolled the woman on first. Before I did anything else, I got close to her face. I was sorry that Zombie had killed her, but it was a better end than remaining Turned. I hoped she would have understood that. I pulled out the lipstick and applied a bit to her pale lips and some foundation to her skin to make her seem a bit for human. I made sure her eyes were closed as I wrapped the sheet tightly around her body, paying close attention to cover where Zombie had torn at her stomach. I patted her hair down and brought it to the sides of her face.
I stood again and did the same to the man, without the lipstick, of course. I brought them together and looked back to the porch. I noticed Al standing there, staring at the scene. I wondered how long he hand been observing me. I cleared my throat and waved him over. Maybe he had just been waiting for me to finish covering his brother. He picked the maid up from the wicker bench, where I had placed her yesterday, making her look like she weighed nothing. I totally forgot to get a third sheet for her. He climbed down the steps carefully, making sure he didn’t drop her.
When he got to where I stood with my hands on my hips, he dropped the maid to the ground gently. I wiped my brow and started moving the leaves around on the ground to clear the area where the dead would be buried. Al left to get another sheet, but told me where I could find a few shovels.
“Just go around this corner of the property,” he said, pointing to the left of the house. “There’s a small shack-closet thing with a few some gardening supplies. “Diane liked to do yard work.” I nodded as he left. I also went to grab the shovels, and found the shack right where he said it would be. I opened the door and grabbed two. When I left and closed the door, I noticed a storm cellar entrance a few feet away. There was a huge padlock on it. It had a heavy chain attached to it. I raised my eyebrows, but then remembered the generator the house had to have. I must be in there. I nodded and returned to the bodies. Al was kneeling on the ground by his brother and had a hand on his chest. His shoulders were heaving gently, and I didn’t want to interrupt, but what else could I do. I continued towards them, but cleared my throat subtly to make my presence known. He sniffed again to pull himself together, and he stood. I handed him a shovel without a word. I told him the dimensions of the two graves. We were going to bury the couple together and the maid apart. They were never really close.
I began on the couple’s grave so he wouldn’t have to dig his brother’s grave. So we dug.
It took about six hours, without any breaks since the ground was frozen. When we were finished, Al lowered the three bodies into the graves and heaved himself back out. I helped him, but he quickly dropped my hand. I wiped mine on my jeans to get rid of the dirt.
Al said a quick prayer and I stood behind him quietly. He dropped a piece of jewelry onto Diane and an old-looking watch onto his brother. It meant something, probably, because of the look on Al’s face. It was probably a family heirloom. We covered them first, then moved onto the maid. That took all of about ten minutes.
When we finally finished, it was late. And dark. We moved quickly, bringing the shovels inside the house, rather than returning them. Zombie was worn out, and she practically passed out the moment we got into the house, dropping by the front door. I, on the other hand, continued upstairs to the master bedroom. Al continued to the second door, which I hadn’t been in yet, but I assumed he knew where he was going. Or maybe he didn’t, but was just trying to be alone. I called Zombie from upstairs, thinking we’d both be safer if she was with me. It took her a minute to get her up there, but she came. I closed the door behind her and locked it. I had said I trusted Al not to hurt me, and I wanted to mean it, but it was hard. There was always a chance that he could snap from emotion, or maybe he hated me for being here, or for hurting him, or for the deaths of his family.
I slipped off my – Diane’s – clothes. They fell to a puddle on the floor, and I climbed into bed. Zombie hopped up, too. She lay a few feet away from me. I fell asleep like that, with Zombie sleeping next to me, protecting me.
I thought back to before anything had gone so badly. Not the disease, really, but rather when Caleb was shot and those awful people took me.
I’m sure they weren’t awful people; in fact, the guy who had suffered my beating had seemed cool. He seemed chill before he knew I was a threat. But that girl and the other guy didn’t need to shoot anyone, or kidnap anyone. That was unnecessary.
Then I thought about the fourth man.
I had though he had been sadistic when he called me the “new visitor.” Like I was pleasant and nothing was wrong and he was glad to see someone new. But now that I thought about it, I began to think what he said was genuine. What if he had really meant it? What if he had been genuinely pleased to see a new face?
What if he was single?
Oh, Jesus Christ, Tris. Really? I made a face of revulsion. Not because I was disgusted with the idea, but rather with myself. I had been alone for far too long. I was getting desperate, having fantasies about some guy whom I hadn’t even met. Yet, we had tried to kill each other. That was a form of bonding, right?From what I remembered, I thought he was pretty cute. But it was dark, and I had been unconscious for a few hours prior. This was stupid. This wasn’t a movie; no one found love in real life. And surely not in this life. Not likely.