We shared the rest of the wicked – restless, light, constantly on edge. There was no way for us to just shut it all out and get the sleep we really needed.
We longed for Annie, for normal days, for the end of war.
There was no doubt we were heading into a war greater than we’d faced before – we were finished just surviving, we were heading to a fight with Harvey and whatever zombies lay between us.
Jay started from his uneasy sleep beside me, and was ready to go immediately. He twitched the curtains aside, then turned back to me, his mouth set in a grim line.
“It’s just getting dark.” He said quietly. “We should make a move.”
Time passed in a blur. We said a hurried goodbye to the others, the difficulties in our past long forgotten. Ken enveloped me in an awkward hug. Laura and I fought back tears. We told Toby to be good and paused in the doorway to look back at them one last time before sneaking off into the night.
Our packs felt light on our backs, despite being stuffed full, compared to the heavy stone of worry that sat in the bottom of our stomachs. We hurried through the night, Jay taking most of the precautions, as I felt caught between here and back with the others. My mind was unfocused, my heart uneasy. We darted down the side streets, Jay guiding us back to the bus stop where we’d ditched the bikes.
“They’re still here!” He said happily.
It seemed like a sign, a promise of things to come that set my mind slightly at ease.
The feeling of comfort was brief.
Jay uttered a startled noise and I felt his hand on my back, pushing me into the undergrowth behind the bus stop. I knew better than to ask, or move. I lay in the grass, my skin itching and prickling with fear.
Jay landed beside me, his breathing ragged.
I heard the shuffling footsteps next, the dry raspy breathing of several walking nightmares. We couldn’t see them from our hiding spot, but it sounded like easily a dozen, maybe more.
They stumbled past the bus stop, gradually entering our field of vision. A dozen was wrong – there were dozens, and they moved as a pack.
They were scrawny, ghastly, and they were hunting. Even in the low light the moon offered, we could see and hear them sniffing, looking. One grunted and limped faster, as though they were close enough to their destination – Lakes – for him to move with renewed excitement.
We waited a long time, until we couldn’t see or hear them any longer, before pulling ourselves to our feet.
“We have to go back,” We whispered it at the same time, our hearts racing. We’d stumbled out of the undergrowth around the bus stop and stood staring back towards the heart of Lakes.
Even as I took the first few steps, tracing the path of the zombies, I found myself slowing, then stopping. I turned back to Jay, who had been shadowing my footsteps.
“We can’t.” I said. My voice was flat, defeated. “We can’t go back.”
I could see him trying to study my face in the dark, a frown lining his forehead.
“We can’t help them.” I turned my back on Lakes, took a step back toward the bikes. “They have the soldiers, they’re better armed than us, we can’t do anything.”
“Shouldn’t we – ?”
“Jay.” My voice shook, I felt like I was betraying Ken and Laura, but I also felt like I was making a decision that had to be made. “We have to focus on Annie now. We can’t help them.”
He paused, faltering. “We can’t help them,” He repeated, his voice odd, disconnected.
Like me, he turned his back on Lakes, on our former allies.
We pulled the bikes free of the tangled weeds, and waited, checking the roads ahead for any further movement. When none came, we pushed off in silence, our hearts aching.
We cycled without pause for a long time, until finally we were closer to Harvey’s new compound than we were Lakes. The roads remained clear in front of us, and we didn’t speak of the pack we’d seen again.
We finally stopped to take a drink, catch our breath, and plan.
“I’ve been thinking about where we should go.” Jay said, putting the water bottle away and zipping up his pack. “And the best I’ve come up with is the old bus depot.”
I gave it some thought.
“It’s closer to home… But not close enough to town to have been bombed out,” He continued, “but maybe close enough to mean nobody else will be there.”
“And then what?” I pressed.
“If we can get into the buses, they’d make reasonable shelter – from the weather, anyway.”
Glass windows didn’t do much to keep zombies – or other people – at bay. But there was a couple of work sheds and an office at the depot too, and I nodded, slowly. “It might just work.”
“I’m not sure if it’s the place we’ll rebuild at,” Jay added quickly, “but it’s a start.”
Rebuild. The word was light with hope and happiness. My spirits lifted slightly, and I pushed the thought of Ken, Laura and Toby to the darkest part of my heart.
We cycled through the night, until it must have been well past midnight. We figured we were close enough to the depot to push forward, and so we continued, silent and determined.
It felt like a lifetime had passed, but finally we were greeted by the strangely welcoming sight of the metal husks of old buses, the depot abandoned and silent. The owners had obviously long since gone – dead or escaped – and someone had cut a man-sized hole in the security fence.
“Looters,” I muttered. We stashed our bikes behind some trees and ran at a half-crouch towards the hole in the fence.
Jay scrambled through first, and I gave him a moment before following. The depot was silent around us, but the air felt menacing, heavy.
The moon did a brilliant job of lighting up the gaps between buses, and we hid in the shadow of a school bus, listening. Waiting.
The air around us felt alive.
“Do you think – ?” Jay asked, his voice barely a whisper.
“Yes.” He didn’t need to finish the question. There was someone – something? – here. We could feel it, feel a hum in the air, the definite feeling of something sharing the space around us.
I wanted to protest, but instead I fell back.
Jay moved forward a few steps, peering around the corner of the bus. “Who’s there?”
He had shouted, and his words bounced off the buses, echoing through the night. A sharp, unexpected call, breaking the heavy silence.
“Who’s there?” He shouted, louder, fiercer.
The only answer was movement several buses down, closer to the depot office. I made to move, and Jay whipped around. “Stay there!” He hissed.
I sank back, the fear screaming in my ears.
Jay scuttled forward suddenly, and I couldn’t see him anymore. I listened, fighting myself to obey his orders. I grabbed at my knife, hands trembling, and braced myself.
I could hear footsteps crunching the dirt, rasping, and Jay swearing. He fired the gun – once, twice – and I couldn’t hold back anymore. I rounded the bus and took in the sight in front of me.
There were five zombies – one on the ground, Jay’s second shot had hit its skull, front and centre. Four of them weaved around in front of him, forming an ever tightening circle. They snarled, focusing on him, hungry and determined.
I dodged around the side of Jay, giving the zombies a wide berth. I chose my path carefully – hiding in the shadows of the surrounding buses – and watched Jay. He was in trouble and he knew it. He shifted the gun, pointing it to the zombie on the outer right of the circle.
I took a chance – a stupid chance – and ran up behind the zombies.
“Jay, I’m here!” I said sharply, timing my announcement with a swift kick to the back of the zombie on Jay’s left. The pause and distraction my announcement afforded us gave Jay a moment to act. They stopped and turned towards me, and Jay closed the gap with a few quick steps, landing a perfect shot at the zombie on the outer right.
It slumped to the ground, leaving three against two.
I lifted the knife and drove it into the closest standing one, missing and grazing its shoulder. It howled in pain and anger and lunged towards me, its mouth open wide and snarling.
I tightened my grip on the knife and staggered backwards, taunting it with my movements. It accepted the challenge and stumbled after me.
Jay fired off more shots, but nothing fell to the ground.
“Fuck,” he cried, and ran closer to the group. The one I’d kicked had managed to get on its knees and was about to stand. Jay towered over it and shot it, point blank, in the forehead. He kicked it away from him and spun to face the last two. I was leading my target away, but I was about to get cornered between a bus and a zombie. My back hit the cold metal of the bus and I steadied my shaking hand.
Jay spun around and landed a shot on the zombie stumbling after him. It crashed to the ground with a final grunt.
My zombie was right on top of me now, and I froze. Its arms were outstretched, only a step or two away from grabbing at me. I was locked up. I held the knife, and I thought I was ready, but I couldn’t move.
In my terror, I’d squeezed my eyes shut, and I heard its sudden cry of pain and fury. Jay had pistol whipped it across the back of the head, and it staggered backwards, caught in between us, uncertain of its target. Jay took the opportunity and fired two shots. The first hit its temple, and it fell to the ground between us.
“Jesus christ,” I gasped, sinking to the ground against the bus. “I just froze, I – “
“But you’re okay?” Jay wasn’t angry, his only concern reaching out to me and helping me to my feet. “It didn’t get you?”
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” I reassured him through tears, “you saved me.”
The night fell silent around us, and we looked around, shaking. Without speaking, we gathered our things and climbed through the office window – looters had been here before us, and we found an office that had been thoroughly raided and the useless items left to rot.
“What do we do now?” I had wiped my face but was still a wreck, my stomach and heart churning.
Jay’s voice didn’t rise above a fearful whisper. “We wait.”
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