Eva started the engine of the motorcycle and strapped on her helmet. She glanced around the crowd pouring from the barred glass door of the bank. Eight waited on the curb for the vehicles to drive around from the parking garage. Eleven people in all.
“You okay?” Claire asked, her arm extended behind her, holding Devin’s hand. He started his own motorcycle and pretended to fidget with something.
“We don’t have our weapons. What we do have is eleven more mouths we might have to feed. Eleven more people that might endanger us all.”
“We don’t know that.” Claire sighed and bothered with her bottom lip. “Some of them might be incredibly nice.”
“Nice people don’t stick around with a guy like Grayson.”
“You did,” she shrugged.
“I’m not nice.”
Claire gave a small, unconvinced smile and patted Eva’s arm. “Ride safe, okay? Don’t let your emotions take control of the wheel.”
“I don’t have a steering wheel.”
“Fine,” Claire laughed. “The handlebars. I don’t want to fight this guy for leadership right away. I might not win.”
“If I crash and die, shoot him in the head and get on with your life.”
“I’m serious, Claire. If anything happens to me, kill him and protect the rest.”
“Okay.” She nodded with a worried frown, and hopped on the bike behind Devin.
“Ready?” Eva called to Grayson, slamming her visor down.
“Roll out,” he called and waved two fingers forward.
“Try to keep up. It’d be a shame for us to lose you,” she yelled back.
Eva revved her engine and took off in the direction of the air force base. She avoided the pit, and returned to the center of the road. Devin pulled up beside her, and Claire gave her a quick thumbs up.
Checking her mirrors, Eva saw the trucks keeping pace with her, and she rolled her eyes. She raced forward, but immediately slowed when one of the vehicles laid on the horn and refused to let up. She dropped beside them, and Grayson leaned out the window.
“Try that again, and I will make enough noise to attract every zombie in a three-mile radius, understood?”
“Fine,” she barked and slipped in front of the convoy.
A few minutes passed before a flock of birds fled from the treetops ahead of them. Her eyes followed their movement, sank to scan the woods, and saw the rustling of branches.
She raced to Devin’s side and motioned for him to speed up. Then she turned and did the same to the drivers behind her. She pointed directly at Grayson and held a finger up to the place her mouth hid underneath the helmet.
He held up his hands in question, and she pointed to the tree line. Branches snapped as they passed.
A deafening crash echoed around them followed by a flash of gray, decaying skin and ivory bone from the opposite side of the rustling. Over the sound of braking and tires screeching, a blood-curdling scream pierced Eva’s ears. She spun around to see a stegosaurus swinging its tail through the air. One of the trucks had a large gash down the side.
Another creature emerged from the tree line where she focused on the rustling, its head turned in the direction of the vehicles, and it began to follow.
Eva fell back to the damaged truck and gasped. The woman on the passengers side had blood pouring from a wound in her abdomen where the spikes had struck. The man next to her had ripped off his shirt and pressed it against her stomach. Panic filled his eyes as he looked up, wordlessly begging for help.
Eva raced forward. “Step on it,” she screamed at Grayson, who lead the pack.
They sped past the grocery store and on toward the camp. The gates appeared on the horizon. Kicked up dust from the other motorcycle danced low in the air. Eva twisted the throttle, praying her friends were prepared.
As she arrived at the gates, she saw Devin and Claire had gathered a group. Armed with rifles and shotguns, they formed a defensive line at the edge.
Eva parked along the wall, dismounted, and joined the line.
“Orders?” Kayla yelled down.
“Close the gates,” Eva yelled back.
“Are there anymore vehicles?”
“I don’t care.”
The last truck slipped through with inches to spare. A roar echoed in the distance.
“What happened?” Claire asked when the gates locked.
“The horn drew the attention of two stegos. Get Lily.”
“Is someone hurt?” Devin asked.
“Get Lily. Now.” Eva dashed to the ruined truck and pushed through the crowd. “Don’t move her. Stop!”
“We have to move her,” the worried man replied, his eyes wide and sparkling with tears.
“My doctor is on her way.”
“She’s not breathing,” he argued.
“Damn it,” Eva grunted. “Stabilize her neck. Let’s get her on the ground and start CPR.”
Two other pairs of hands helped to stabilize the woman as the man hopped down. Eva hovered over the girl, pressed on her chest, and blew into her mouth.
“What’s her name?” she asked during compressions.
“Tricia,” the man answered. He laced his blood soaked hands in his hair and stared down at the motionless body. “Please, you have to save her.”
Eva pushed air into Tricia’s lungs, and the woman coughed.
“Whoa.” Eva held her shoulders down. “Stay still. Help is on the way.”
“The baby,” Tricia whimpered and moved her hands toward her stomach. “The baby, please!”
The breath caught in Eva’s lungs, and she looked up at the man who had fresh tears in his eyes. He knelt before the woman, took her hand in both of his, and kissed her knuckles. “Tricia, they have a doctor.”
“Roger,” she cried and squeezed her eyes closed. “Roger, our baby.”
“It’ll be okay, honey,” he soothed, setting his jaw and softening his expression. “Focus on me. Trish, I love you.”
A tear rolled down her cheek, and her eyes fell into focus on Roger. “I love you, too.”
“Hang in there.”
“It hurts so bad.” Her eyes lost focus and fluttered to the back of her head.
“Someone’s coming to help.” He squeezed her hand tighter. “I’m right here.”
Eva stood up, moved through the crowd, and met Lily halfway to the infirmary. Andre and his partner Carla followed close behind, each carrying an end of a stretcher. “Hurry,” Eva said.
“What happened?” Lily quickened her pace.
“Stabbed by a Stego.”
“Eva, you know the chances aren’t in our favor,” Lily warned.
“The vehicle took most of the force. She’s not dead, so that’s something. Move, people!”
Lily crouched down next to Tricia and smiled. “Hi, I’m Lily. I’m a doctor.”
“My baby,” Tricia repeated, more tears falling from her eyes.
“I’m going to take a look,” Lily soothed. “You just hold on for me, okay?”
“Okay,” Tricia nodded.
Lily lifted the scraps of her shirt away from the wound, her forehead creased, and her eyes narrowed. “Tricia, listen to me carefully, okay? I’m going to bring you to the hospital. I’m going to do all I can for you.”
“I’m going to do all I can. Andre, help me get her onto the stretcher.”
Roger stepped back to make room for them to help Tricia, his hands once again wound into his hair. “I’m going with you,” he said.
“Fine,” Lily waved a hand, “but you will do exactly what I tell you the moment I tell you.” She parted the crowd, and rushed down the pavement behind Andre and Carla, giving rapid instructions to Roger.
Eva searched the crowd until Claire stepped in front of her.
“There are two stegos ready to pound through our walls.”
“They followed us this far?” Eva dropped her jaw.
“It seems unlikely, but they’re there,” Claire grimaced.
A series of shots rang off. The newcomers all ducked and covered their heads. Claire and the few of her crew in the crowd spun in the direction of the noise. Grayson stood on the top of the wall armed with an elephant rifle.
“What are you doing?” Eva hollered and dashed below him.
“Neutralizing the threat,” he said and glanced down without lowering the rifle. “You’re welcome.”
“You idiot,” she growled. “Their corpses are going to bring more.”
He raised the gun and fired off another few shots.
A massive roar and thud shook the ground. Eva placed her hand on the wall for support and glared upward. She watched Grayson’s lips tweak into a small smile and he aimed for the other dinosaur. The ground rumbled again and Grayson’s smile turned into a wide beam.
“You don’t have to thank me.”
“Why would I do that?” Eva snarled. “For making us even more vulnerable?”
Grayson jogged down the staircase of the tower and Eva met him at the base. “They would have crumbled your defense.”
“These walls are reinforced to withstand the military’s heaviest artillery and dropped bombs. I don’t think two half-decayed roamers would have torn them down.”
“Ah, the good ’ol military,” Grayson chuckled and pushed past Eva. “Are you going to show us to our rooms? I’m sure my people would like to settle down after such excitement.”
“Excuse me, but you need to take care of those corpses you left outside of my gates.” Eva grabbed his well-toned bicep and spun him around.
“I just did.”
“You took care of the walking corpses.” She planted her feet and crossed her arms over her chest.
He blinked and shook his head a millimeter either direction. “You’re serious.”
“Does it look like I joke?”
Grayson turned with a flat expression to study a glaring Claire. “She doesn’t joke?”
“Never,” Claire hissed. “I wouldn’t go about ignoring her again.”
“Eva,” he dropped his voice and reached out.
Eva evaded his hand. “Stay here and wait for my orders.”
Claire squared her shoulders and snarled.
Eva suppressed a grin and stepped in front of the crowd of strangers. “I promise, you all are safe within my walls, if you follow my rules. We have protocol here that has kept us injury free for six months out of the walls, and since establishment within. Disobey my rules, and I will toss you out on your ass without so much as a weapon. Understood?”
People fidgeted and glanced around at one another, mouths popping open and closed. Heads nodded after a stretched minute of silence.
“Good,” Eva lifted her chin and placed her hands on her hips. “If you’ll be so kind as to follow me, I’ll show you to your quarters. Ah, leave the vehicles for now.”
Claire strode next to Eva and fished under her shirt. She snaked an arm around her friend’s back, and with her other hand, she passed the Glock to Eva. “Got something for you,” she whispered.
“What?” Eva suppressed her surprise as she stared at the gun.
“Snuck it out of the back of Grayson’s truck. Got Devin’s and mine, too.”
“Where can you possibly hide them all on your child-sized body?” Eva chuckled and slipped the Glock into the holster strapped to her thigh.
“You’ve got the biggest weapon,” she grinned. “Our guns are giving me the appearance of having hips, your knife is in my boot, and the knuckles are in my bra. They’re starting to get feely, so the next chance I have to sneak those out, I’d be grateful to get those off my chest. Oh ho!”
Eva laughed and nudged Claire’s side with her elbow. “You’re pun-ny, you know that?”
“Where’s Devin?” Eva glanced behind her.
The followers looked in all directions, taking in the different buildings and scenery. Some had their faces toward the sky, breathing deep, smiles on their faces.
“He’s spreading the word about the dangers Grayson poses,” Claire whispered. “One-by-one, of course. We thought it would draw too much attention calling a meeting.”
“Good thinking,” Eva nodded. “Although, I think Grayson did a decent job telling them himself.”
“Seriously. What was that?” Claire exasperated. “I mean, besides being a bad shot. He’s put us at risk for scavengers.”
“I’ll take care of it as soon as I have them settled. I’m going to need you to brief them on schedules and rules.”
“You’ve got it,” Claire nodded, “but I don’t like you going out again. It’s going to be a race against sunset.”
“Better than having roamers outside our walls in blackness.”
Claire pressed her lips together. “Okay.”
Eva clapped a hand on her friend’s shoulders. “Thanks for your concern, but I’ll be fine.”
“You better be,” Claire warned with a long finger pointed between Eva’s eyes.
“I’ll bring Grayson. If things get troublesome, I’ll shoot him for bait and make my getaway.”
Claire looked at her friend out of the corner of her eye. “You seem sold on that.”
“He pulled a gun on you earlier, Claire. I should do it anyway, regardless if I need an escape or not.”
“We don’t want a riot yet.”
“No,” Eva sighed. “Now help me with assignments. They like you better than me.”
Claire laughed, then turned to the group and gave a wide smile. “Welcome to our home. This street will be your new residence.”
“We have to share a house?” One hand shot in the air.
“If there are couples who want to reside together, absolutely,” Claire answered. “Otherwise, claim your quarters and settle in. We have no keys, so I apologize for that inconvenience, but the locks still work if you want privacy while home.”
Blank faces stared back. Claire shifted her weight from foot to foot, and then turned to Eva with her shoulders by her ears.
“Can I answer questions?” Eva held her palms outward.
One of the men who stripped Eva of her weapons stepped forward. “We get our own house?”
“Yes,” Eva said. “They’ll need some cleaning. We’ll provide supplies later.”
A few nervous laughs crackled through the air. Claire blew out a breath, and furrowed her brow. “Would you like me walk each of you to one?”
The man stepped forward and extended his hand. “My name’s Sam, and if I may speak on behalf of us all, we’re shocked is all.”
Eva accepted the handshake. “Despite the state of the world, I see no reason to live like animals, Sam.”
“No, ma’am,” he agreed with a shake of his head. “But this hospitality is incredibly generous of you.”
“We have the room,” Claire said and tilted her head to the side.
“We shared offices before,” a tiny voice broke through the crowd. A small woman in her early twenties stepped forward. Her fiery hair glowed in the sunlight. “It felt like living in a jail cell. I don’t think one of us ever believed we would live in a house again.”
Eva frowned and looked from face to face. Most had dirt smeared across cheeks or foreheads. Some people’s hair had begun to mat into clumps, threatening to dread. Fingernails collected dirt and blackened to the point of appearing painted.
“The showers should work. We’re in a bit of an energy crisis at the moment, so keep them short and everyone should be able to have hot water.”
“Hot water?” Another person’s laugh stuck in their throat. “Really?”
“You can take it from here?” Eva turned to Claire. “I want to get a jump on dragging those corpses away.”
“Absolutely.” Claire shoved her thumb over her shoulder after passing the knife and brass knuckles to Eva. “Keep an eye on that bastard,” she added under her breath.
Eva stalked back in the direction of the main gate and slipped her weapons into accessible locations. Raised voices drifted through the air, and her pace hastened.
“No one gets out of the gate without permission,” Kayla shouted from the doorway to the tower.
“Listen, you imbecile,” Grayson snarled and stabbed a finger into Kayla’s chest.
“Hey.” Eva shoved Grayson away and advanced upon him as he stumbled sideways. “Touch anyone again, and I will end you.”
“I didn’t hurt her.”
“Threaten, verbally abuse, insult, or anything else, and I will. End. You. Got it?” Eva locked her jaw and snarled.
“I’m trying to clean up my mess, per your instructions,” Grayson growled back.
“My instructions were for you to wait. So sit down and shut up.”
“Now,” she hissed and pointed to the ground.
Grayson mumbled and rested his forearms on his knees while studying a patch of grass.
“You okay?” Eva asked Kayla.
The woman swallowed and nodded her head. “Thanks.”
Eva stepped close to her guard and whispered, “When you’re on post, I want you to keep both the bottom door and the trap door locked. This man is not to be trusted.”
“You read my mind,” Kayla scoffed. “I’m going to ask Stanley to help me reinforce both doors for better protection.”
“Have him out here before the end of your shift, and he’ll walk you home, okay?”
“Thank you, Eva.”
“Go on,” Eva nodded and motioned to the tower. She waited for the second lock to slide into place then turned to Grayson. “Come with me.”
“You sure I shouldn’t sit here and shut up?”
“You’ve already failed at the second part. We need to get supplies to complete the job.”
“You expect to push the damn things away from here? By all means, I’ll have Kayla open the gates and you can have at it.”
Grayson scowled and pushed off the ground.
“Damn, I hoped you’d go for it.” Eva clicked her tongue and snapped her fingers. “Kayla, is Allen back yet?”
“He got back twenty minutes before you did,” she called down.
Eva headed toward the garage. Grayson followed a few paces behind her, until she stopped. “What?” he asked.
“I don’t like you walking behind me.”
“Don’t like people staring at your ass?”
“I don’t trust you to not try to kill me,” Eva turned with a cheeky grin. “Move.”
“It’s not like I know where I’m going,” Grayson planted his feet.
“The open hangar with the vehicles. Hard to miss. Now move.”
“When did you get to be so bossy?”
Eva set her jaw and focused her gaze, keeping Grayson in her peripherals. When they reached the garage, Eva snapped and pointed at the ground again. “Stay here until you’re called.”
“I’m not a dog,” Grayson spoke in a dull tone.
She checked the vehicles to see if anyone remained behind. When she found the garage clear, she closed the gun safes along the far wall and searched for any items that could be used as weapons.
“Get in here,” she called.
Grayson strolled in and leaned against a car. “What’s the plan?”
“You’re going to load these chains and hooks into the truck.” She pointed at the Titan. “I’m going to grab tarps.”
“And what? We’re going to roll the bodies onto the tarp with our bare hands?” Grayson laughed.
“No, dumbass,” Eva sucked in a deep breath. She chucked her head toward a tractor in the corner. “With that.”
“How do you have a tractor?” His eyes widened and he took a few steps forward.
Eva smirked. “We’re resourceful. Start loading. The sun’s going down.”
The clinking of metal echoed around the hangar, then mixed with the sound of plastic crinkling as Eva collected the tarps. They loaded the truck in silence, staggering their trips to avoid coming into close space with one another. Eva checked on Grayson’s location a few times a minute, and anytime silence stretched more than five seconds.
“You really don’t trust me?” Grayson asked when they met at the truck.
“No,” she shook her head.
“You know me.”
Her hair whipped across Grayson’s cheek as Eva spun, her neck red and veins raised to the surface of her arms. She held her fists at her side. “Not at all.”
Grayson took a slow step backward and straightened his spine. “How can you say that with our history?”
“That was a decade ago. You’re a fool to think things haven’t changed. We’re strangers and nothing more. Bring our past up again, and you’ll regret it.”
“When did you become so hostile?” He masked his scoff with a laugh.
“You almost killed my best friend today,” she hissed into his face.
“I wasn’t going to shoot her,” he rolled his eyes.
Eva’s fist met his nose with a snap. Grayson hollered and brought a hand up to cup his face. She recoiled to strike again, but someone caught her elbow and pulled her backward.
“Whoa,” Devin held onto her waist as Eva huffed and attempted to lunge for Grayson. “Calm down.”
Eva shook Devin off her and paced on the other end of the hangar. She swung her fists at her side and shot daggers across the room at Grayson. Devin stood in between them, poised to lunge at either person if they made an attempt at a fight. Grayson smeared the blood gushing from his nose with his arm.
“You two done?” Devin drew their attention to him with a stern voice. “We have work to do. Our whole camp could be in danger.”
A heavy breath fell from Eva’s lips and she nodded. “Devin, I need you on the tractor.”
“That’s why I’m here.” He cautioned a warning at Grayson and exchanged places with Eva. “I want things prepped by the time I get out there.”
Eva took another calming breath and hopped into the driver’s seat. “Get in the back,” she said to Grayson.
He shot her a glare but climbed over the tailgate and pounded on the side panel.
Kayla signaled to Eva and opened the gate as she pulled up. “I’ve called upon Van for backup while you’re out.”
“Thanks,” Eva waved and hung out the window. “Devin’s coming.”
“On the lookout.”
Eva pulled through and listened for the gate to close behind her. She curled her lip at the corpses and stopped ten feet from the nearest one. Grayson hopped over the side and met her as she climbed down from the cab.
“I’ll lay out the tarp, you get the middle of the chains hooked up to the hitch.” She walked around him, leaving plenty of distance between them.
“I should let you do it alone. This is stupid.”
“If that’s how you feel, leave now, because you won’t be welcome through that gate without losing your life.”
He sneered and released the latch to the tailgate. “Why worry about more roamers if those walls are so strong?”
“I don’t take risks.”
“We can leave them overnight and burn them come morning.”
“A fire that large would attract more than I’d care to ever see. Shut up and get to work.”
“You’re the boss.”
“Now you’re learning,” she sniped.
With part of the tarp tucked under her arm, she dragged the rest across the ground until she dropped it in front of the corpse. She worked on unraveling it in line with the body at an angle that the tractor could push it on with ease.
“How’s it going?” she asked when she returned for the second tarp.
“I’ve never hitched anything before,” Grayson shrugged. “Should hold.”
Eva examined his work and kneeled down to test the security. “Lay two lines under the tarp equal distance apart to support and disperse the weight.”
She repeated laying the tarp by the second body as the gates opened and the tractor whirred out. When she finished, she kept watch on the tree line, armed with her Glock.
“Ready?” Devin called in position.
“Are you done?” Eva glanced over when Grayson didn’t answer.
“Yeah,” he grunted and stepped away from the tarp, his hand cupped over his mouth and nose.
“Go for it.” Eva nodded to Devin and returned her watch to the forest.
The engine of the tractor raced. Bones cracked and flesh plopped with a splat onto the plastic as it fell from the body.
“I’ve got watch,” Van called from the wall. “You’re good.”
“All set here,” Devin alerted.
Eva rushed to the tarp, grabbed the end, and beckoned Grayson to do the same. “We’ve got to throw it over.”
He cringed and grabbed the other corner. Eva held up three fingers, curling them back one at a time. When the last one fell, they tossed the end over with a grunt. It covered the beast and Eva blew out a breath.
“Now the chains. We’ll hook them tight against the tarp and drag the body away.”
Grayson grunted and followed her orders. “Where are we taking it?”
“Until the density of trees prevents us from going any farther,” she answered as she checked the security of the chains. “Devin, prepare the tractor into position, then get on the roof and keep lookout. We’ll be back in fifteen.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Grayson grunted and climbed into the back.
“Of course you don’t,” Eva huffed.
She kept the truck in a low gear and pulled the body down the road until the gate disappeared from view, then turned into a break in the trees where she could pull the body through. When the roamer got wedged between multiple trees, she stopped and hopped out.
“Stay in the back,” she ordered and unhitched the chain.
“We’re leaving it like that?” Grayson narrowed his eyes.
“Have a way to get it off the tarp?”
“Seems like a waste of supplies.”
“We’ll collect them once it’s been picked clean.”
“Picked clean? By what? It’s rotten.”
“You’re an idiot,” Eva mumbled and closed the door. “By the scavengers.”
“Or other roamers.”
“They do that?” Grayson’s jaw hung open.
Eva rolled her eyes. “You’ve missed a lot in your tower.”
She backed up to the other tarp, and ordered Grayson to start laying chain as she secured the center to the hitch once again.
“You’re good.” Eva gave a thumbs up.
Devin moved the corpse onto the tarp. He helped wrap up the corpse and wiped his hands on his pants. “I’m going to bring the tractor inside and join Van on the wall for your return.”
“Good.” Eva nodded and returned to the driver’s seat. “Fifteen minutes.”
He saluted and watched the truck drag the body away from camp. Eva followed the same trail and dropped the body twenty feet from the other. “Get in the cab,” she said to Grayson as she passed.
“Unless you want to stay vulnerable back there.”
“No, no.” He shook his head and slipped inside the truck. “I’d rather get a knuckle sandwich than munched by a zombie.”
“Still know the definition of self-preservation. I’m shocked.”
“You have an issue with me.”
Eva performed a three-point turn and gave a wide berth to the discarded bodies as she exited the forest back to the road. “Congratulations on your observation.”
“What did I do?”
“Besides attract those stegos by blaring your horn?”
“You were going to ditch us.”
“I was keeping point with my team. We act as distractions, easily maneuverable and quick. If they come in front, we can avoid them easier than a convoy and be bait. If they come from behind, there’s enough room we don’t get hit when the rest speed up.”
“Oh,” Grayson ran his tongue over his teeth. “You have a system.”
“For everything. The sooner you learn that, the sooner I get off your back.”
Grayson stuck his elbow out the window and stared at Eva. “Still haven’t forgiven me?”
“For what offense, exactly?”
“Whatever I did.”
“Threatening my best friend? No. Endangering everyone in my camp? No. Being a complete douche? Definitely not.”
“I meant whatever I did that caused you to dump me.”
“I told you to forget about our past.”
He shrugged and looked out the window. “Can’t, Eva.”
“Another word and I’ll shove you out for the roamers.”
Eva paused at the gates and waved to Kayla to open them. Devin and Van returned to the tower. She dropped Grayson outside, then parked. He leaned against the wall as Eva checked the garage once more and closed up.
“Come on,” she grumbled and shoved his shoulder. “Wipe that look off your face.”
“What for?” he teased.
“One of yours might be dead right now, and you’re grinning like a horny schoolboy. You sicken me.”
His face fell. He parted his lips, made a small noise, and then closed his mouth when Eva shot a viscous glare at him.
“Let’s hope Lily has good news,” she said.
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