“Don’t move!” He seemed to decide I was the best target to focus on, leaving his rifle pointed at me but continuing to shift his glare between us both.
I couldn’t move even without him yelling at us – the sight of the rifle, his skittish movement in the dark – kept me locked to the spot, my eyes stuck focusing on his rifle.
I don’t know what Jay did, but the man was suddenly yelling again, angry, even jumpier. “Don’t fucking move! I’ll shoot her!”
“Look, man – ” Jay’s body seemed to lean forward as if considering moving closer to the guy, but he stopped himself, holding both hands up.
He responded only by swinging the rifle back towards Jay. I felt like the wind had been punched out of me. After all the battles we’d fought to get here, we were going to die at the hands of another survivor. I staggered, my knees buckling under me, as the fear tremored through my veins.
Annie moved behind me, leaning forward so she could take my hand again. This bastard – whoever he was, I hated him – had been moving to aim his gun back at me when he finally saw Annie. As he eyes rested on her, I felt my hatred bloom for him.
The expression on his face changed, and he took a careless step toward us before catching himself. “Are you… Have you been near any of those damn things?”
“One.” Jay nodded toward me. “She had to fight one off.”
The bastard’s eyes settled back on me. He left me with the same feeling the zombies did – like I were a morsel to be sized up and devoured. “Were you bitten? Any of you?” His focus shifted back to Annie. “The kid?”
“No – none of us. It was days ago – some scratches, no bites. We’re clean.” There was a strong note of desperation in Jay’s trembling voice. “Please. Someone told us about you. We’re just looking for some help.”
He finally lowered the gun, but I could see he held it ready, his trigger finger poised. “Rachel!” He called out behind him, his voice sharp and demanding.
A woman stepped out from behind the security office. She barely glanced at us.
“Take them in to see Harvey.” The guy was barking, his words clipped and decidedly pissed off. “Hold it – how did you find us?”
“The signs.” I replied, quietly. “On the highway.”
“That fucking idiot. Send your brother out here, Rachel. As soon as you’ve left these three with Harvey.” He turned and let himself back into the security office. I guessed that was their sentry point – although it didn’t offer a full view, with that gun he’d stop most threats.
Without a word, Rachel turned and walked away from him, silently demanding we follow her. Jay took Annie’s hand and we slipped under the gates, stepping foot into the actual grounds of the processing plant.
Apart from a grimy film that seemed to cover everything, the place looked untouched. Like everyone had just gone on an extended holiday and the machinery was intentionally without power. There was nobody around that we could see except us and the strangely silent Rachel.
She took us along a path leading to the left, to what looked like the corporate section. It was a small area, with a forgotten reception area and a small cluster of dark offices. The last one in the corridor had a flickering candle on the desk, with a man of considerable girth sitting behind it.
“Harvey.” Rachel finally spoke as she entered the last office. “Colin found these three out the front.”
The man called Harvey seemed momentarily surprised, but quickly regained his composure. “I see.”
The candlelight flickered and chased shadows across his sombre face, but the authoritative way he held himself was unmissable. He placed two massive hands on the edge of the desk and stood suddenly. “The signs…?”
“Yes. I’m going to find Danny now.” Rachel turned to walk back out of the office, this time looking at us properly before she left.
“Take a seat.” Harvey gestured to the chairs on our side of the desk.
We sat – Annie on Jay’s lap – assembled like school children. It struck me as ridiculous, to be subdued and fearful of a stern middle aged man after everything we’d been through, but we were. I felt a slippery feeling of nausea slide over me as I sat before him, and Annie’s face was a pale, timid mask of fear. Even Jay’s serious expression betrayed his fear.
“So you saw our signs.” Harvey continued, taking a seat himself. “Have you been out there alone this whole time?”
“Yes.” It was Jay who spoke, after an uncomfortable silent pause. “We met a man back in town. He suggested we look for you.”
I couldn’t be sure, but this seemed to be the wrong thing to say. The age lines on Harvey’s forehead deepened as he frowned.
“We’ve been surviving quite well out here.” He said finally. “There are just shy of twenty of us. I’ve been prepared for quite some time for something like this to happen.”
“You have?” I couldn’t help myself. It seemed such an odd thing to say.
Harvey indulged me in a patronising smile. “That’s right. So it’s just the three of you?”
“Yes. Annie is my sister. Charlie is… My girlfriend.” Jay had paused on that, then cleared his throat. “We haven’t met anyone but the man in town since it happened.”
“How old are you, Annie?”
“Six.” She whispered, then buried her head in Jay’s chest.
“I see.” Harvey stood again. “I need to go and speak with Colin, who you met at the gate. Please wait here.”
“This isn’t right, is it?” I whispered after we’d sat alone in silence for several long minutes. “They’re – ”
I was interrupted by shouts from down the corridor.
“ – because he’s a fucking idiot, and we should just send him out there to rot!”
“He’s my brother, Colin!”
“I don’t fucking care. It was a simple task.”
Colin and Rachel stopped shouting once they reached the office we were in. Colin no longer had the gun, and Rachel had obviously been crying.
“Right.” He said gruffly. “Harvey’s dealing with something else. You lot can stay and he’ll deal with you in the morning.”
“He – what?” Jay lifted Annie off his lap and stood. “Deal with us?”
“Look, bud, that’s how it works around here.” Colin held up a hand to silence Jay. “If you don’t like it, the zombies are that way.”
“I’ll show you to our sleeping area.” Rachel interrupted quickly. “Come on.”
We followed her in silence, leaving Colin alone in the office to do whatever it was he and Harvey did there. She led us across the plant, and into one of the large steel buildings. Among all the now useless equipment, they’d set up an area with sleeping bags, even some pillows and small tents.
“Wow,” I breathed. It was impressive to see any kind of organisation after the chaotic couple of weeks we’d lived through. There were a few people sleeping here and there, and Rachel had us tiptoe around them, into the farthest corner of the building.
“The three of you can sleep here tonight.” She whispered. “I’ll bring you some food – just something small, they won’t let me take anything much – and Harvey will see you again in the morning.”
Something was bothering me about all of them. The way Rachel scurried about and barely spoke, the way she wasn’t allowed to take food… Harvey was prepared for this kind of thing… Colin wanting to leave her brother to die… Harvey going to deal with us…
“Rachel.” I’d spoken before I even realised I was doing it. As she looked at me, startled, I said quickly, “Why are they so angry at your brother? What did he do?”
She shook her head. “I’ll go get that food.”
“What the fuck?” I whispered furiously to Jay as we watched her disappear among the tents and sleeping bags. “What the fuck is going on?”
“I don’t know.” The frown ran deep on Jay’s forehead, puzzled and worried. He helped Annie settle on one of the sleeping bags, pulling Teddy out of her backpack and setting him carefully beside her. “We’re going to have something to eat, okay, kiddo?”
She had barely settled when Rachel returned, with a cup of water to share and a couple of small tins of canned chicken meat. As Jay opened a tin for Annie, I reached out and grabbed Rachel’s arm before she could leave again.
“Rachel?” She didn’t pull away, but I could feel a heavy breath escape her chest. “Why are they so angry at him?”
I didn’t know why it mattered so much, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it did. The question burned within me, clamoring for an answer. She pulled her arm away from me and took a step forward, then looked around and turned back to me.
“He was meant to take those signs down, the ones that led you here.” She said finally. “They don’t want anyone to find us – not the zombies, and not you.”