By the time we woke, nighttime had settled around us and we fumbled around in the poorly lit room, gathering our gear and heading downstairs to leave.
Nervous energy bounced between us, gnawing at our stomach, leaving us in a hurry to get going and skip any kind of meal. The glow of excitement had worn off a bit, and we were seeing our plan for what it really was – a rough idea, a dream in need of serious work.
We left the house with few words spoken between us, but Jay took my hand and we walked back to the bikes, choosing to push them through the worst of the overgrowth around the house.
“Let’s do it.” I said, pushing my bike off through the grass. Even pushing through the growth, it wasn’t long before we reached the open highway. It lay before us, empty and free, the bright white line markings glowing under the moon.
We pulled up for a quick drink of water, the open road eventually too much for Jay. He threw his backpack over his shoulder and coasted out onto the road, laughing, and circling back to me with a massive grin on his face.
“We’re going to get there so fast!” He skidded to a stop beside me, his happiness contagious.
I laughed and took off, leaving him behind at the edge of the grass. It wasn’t long before he’d caught up, and we were tracking a lot of distance in no time.
High on adrenaline and the surging feeling of freedom, it felt like no time at all passed before we were approaching the outskirts of Lakes. We stopped on the roads well outside town, catching our breath and watching from afar.
“I think we should leave the bikes out here somewhere,” I said at last, “it’s going to be easier to hide if we’re on foot.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Jay said after a long, reluctant pause. “As much as I hate to admit it.”
We walked a bit further down the road, finally stopping at a rundown little bus stop. It wasn’t the best spot, but we were getting too close to Lakes – and the military presence – to keep going like this. Fighting our way through the thick weeds, we hid the bikes as best we could around the back of the stop, knowing there was every chance they’d be gone when we returned.
Jay checked the pistol and nodded. I fell in behind him, and we started the slow walk closer to town. It only took a few blocks before we could hear the low rumbles of their presence – a vehicle here or there, the bouncing headlights a few streets in.
“If they catch us?” I whispered as we stopped hidden in the yard of a rundown old house, watching the sweeping lights in the next street over.
“Don’t know.” Jay said, standing as the lights disappeared from view. “I don’t really figure it’s worth it to find out just yet.”
As the jarring noise of their trucks faded away, we kept moving again. We were probably only a couple of blocks from what had been my aunt’s house, and the soldiers’ presence seemed pretty thin at this hour.
Hearing nothing but their vehicles in the distance, we broke into a quiet half jog, covering the last of the distance in a few quick, undisturbed minutes. My aunt’s house was a welcome sight, and we paused to make sure nothing had followed us before Jay tapped, three times on the window, and then waited at the front door, pistol held at the ready.
“What – ?” I started.
After what must have only been about thirty seconds, Ken had inched the door open, looking cautiously out at us. Relief broke over his face when he realised it was just us, then a flicker of confusion. He stepped back and we ducked inside, the door clicking shut firmly behind us.
“Where’s… Where are they?”
Rachel. In our selfish excitement, we’d all but forgotten about sharing the news of what had happened to her out in the fields. My face felt hot suddenly, as shame and guilt gnawed at my stomach.
“Rachel didn’t make it,” I interrupted, placing my hand lightly on Jay’s. “We ran into a group of zombies out there and they… She was turned.”
“And you – ?”
“I did it.” I said quickly. “Annie… We couldn’t get to Annie.”
Grateful for the change of subject, Jay took over. “She’s okay. She’s good.” He paused. “It wouldn’t be fair to take her, not while we’re struggling out here. They have everything.”
“You left her there?” Laura had joined us from the back of the house, and sounded surprised.
I could feel Jay bristle, but he somehow kept his cool. “It’s… You had to be there, okay? I mean, they have everything and she… She was laughing. She had friends, kids her own age.”
Ken stepped forward, putting a hand on Jay’s shoulder. “It wouldn’t have been an easy choice, but you would have made the right one for her.”
“Thanks.” Jay nodded, and took an exhausted seat at the dining table.
They had a few candles lit, but the house was still and quiet apart from the small, flickering flames. Toby must have been asleep somewhere, so I dropped my pack quietly and sat beside Jay.
“We have a lot to talk about.” He said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
Slowly, deliberately, we explained our idea, adding embellishments as we thought of them. Ken and Laura were mostly silent as we talked, with few questions asked between them. They didn’t offer any suggestions or seem to disagree, but they hadn’t offered us much of anything.
We were running out of things to say, and they sat quietly before us, the table dividing us.
“It’s a lot to think about.” Ken said.
“We have Toby to think about, and Harvey… He’s dangerous.” Laura added, standing and pacing around the table. “What if it all goes wrong?”
“Toby won’t be involved,” I said quickly, “at no point will we let Harvey know where we are, we – ”
“You can guarantee that?”
I faltered. We couldn’t guarantee anything in this new world. Nobody could, not even Harvey.
Ken stood and joined his wife, looking down at us worriedly. “Look,” He said finally, “it’s not a bad plan. But it’s a risk. We’ve been thinking about approaching the soldiers, trying to … Well, we don’t know, but it’s been pretty safe here.”
I could feel our excitement, our hope, crumbling around us. Did we even need them? I wondered bitterly, but the truth was without their support, our idea felt weak, like it had failed at the first step.
“Let’s talk in the morning.” Ken continued. “You guys look exhausted, and we need to think this through.”
We were backed into a corner, and had no choice but to agree. I wanted their answer now, but forcing their hand wouldn’t make them want to join us.
Reluctantly, we watched in silence as they went to bed, looking worried and lost.