“The Beast. The antichrist. The fourth horseman is upon us,” Vega explained as if anything she said made sense to me. “The antichrist walks among us.”
“But it’s not Korech?” I clarified.
“No. He is just a weak, sinful man.” She looked away from me. “He had sex with all of the girls and called it a cleansing ritual.”
“What?” I was taken aback. I had strong suspicions he might be using the girls as his own personal harem, but Korech had referred to cleansing the boys. “Korech wanted to cleanse Lazlo. He wanted to have sex with him too?”
“I don’t know what takes place in the male cleansing rituals,” Vega admitted. “But the last time Korech ‘cleansed’ a man, it was Shiloh’s brother, and we had to bury him right after.”
“Seriously?” Lazlo came up behind us, and Vega looked over her shoulder at him, with that same eerie calm as Korech. “I narrowly escaped being raped and murdered?”
“I don’t know why that’s so shocking,” I said, trying to lighten the mood, and opened the car door for Vega. “You were almost killed by a zombie two days ago. Rape and murder seems a little mundane after that.”
“He wasn’t evil,” Lia interjected, her arms wrapped tightly around her, as if she were cold. Vega ignored her and got into the SUV, sliding up next to Harlow. “He was just misled. The devil works just as mysteriously as God does.”
“Fascinating,” I said and gestured to the car so she would climb in.
I was not in the mood to get into a religious debate.
When the world started ending, everybody became a convert and wanted nothing more than to spout the virtues of whatever apocalyptic religion they had latched onto.
I wasn’t sure who, if any, of them were right, but my best bet for avoiding hell was avoiding death.
“Hey, Lazlo’s gonna drive.” Blue leaned on the open car door, yawning. “I’m gonna hop in back and catch some sleep, if you wanna sit shot gun.”
“Sure, whatever,” I shrugged.
When I got in front, I moved the passenger seat forward as far as I could, giving Blue legroom to stretch out. I leaned down in the seat, resting my battered shoes on the dashboard so my knees pressed up to my chest.
Blue sprawled out in the back, as much as the space would allow, and almost instantly fell asleep. I grew envious of his ability to sleep and handle stress. He remained unruffled in almost every situation.
Harlow had fallen into an uncharacteristic silence, and I tried futilely to get her out of it. She sat on the far side of the car, staring out the window blankly. Whether I agreed with Korech or not, he had managed to build a world that was entirely separate from our own, and when our world had gone to hell, his became incredibly appealing.
The sky lightened to a grayish-blue, and the rest of the passengers had fallen asleep. For most of the ride, we drove in silence, but Lazlo was starting to fade. Any panic or adrenaline from the night had worn off.
“So… do you have any idea where we’re going?” Lazlo asked, suppressing a yawn.
“You’re the one driving.” I gave him an odd look, and he smiled tiredly.
“Yeah, but aren’t we on some mythical quest to find your long lost brother?”
“He’s not the Holy Grail, and he’s only been gone for a few days,” I brushed off Lazlo’s teasing and leaned my head on the headrest.
“So I used hyperbole,” he rolled his eyes. “You knew what I meant.”
“I already told you all I know. Go north, and hope we find somebody who knows something.”
I hated the vagueness of the information, and when I kept repeating it over and over again, it only hammered in exactly how unrealistic and ridiculous it sounded. Fortunately, nobody else really had a better plan, or any plan at all, so they didn’t question it.
“What’s your brother’s name? Max?” Lazlo asked.
“How come you don’t talk about him ever?”
“What do you want me to say?” I picked at a frayed string on my jeans.
“I don’t know. Whatever you want.” Lazlo shrugged. “I just think it’s weird that this kid is so important to you, and he’s the reason we’re all traveling across the country, and you never say anything about him, other than you have to find him.”
“I’m not forcing anyone to go with me,” I said icily. “And going to a quarantine is good for you, too.” Finding Max didn’t necessarily benefit everyone, but he had been taken to one of the only safe places I knew of on earth.
“That’s not what I meant,” he sighed. “I just… Why are we going after him?”
“He’s my brother.” I looked over at him. “Wouldn’t you go? If it was your brother or mother or third-cousin? Everybody else is dead.”
“So that’s it? That’s the only reason you’re going?” He arched an eyebrow. “There’s nothing special about the kid at all? It’s just some arbitrary action because he’s a surviving family member.”
“No, of course not,” I bristled.
“Then tell me about him.”
“We survived everything together.” My chest ached at the thought of Max. It was so much harder when I let myself think or worry about him. “He’s strong, a lot stronger than most kids. I never had to remind him to run or tell him to duck. He always just knew.”
“So what happened? How come he’s not with you now?” Lazlo asked.
“He’s sick.” I let out a deep breath, and it was shaky, so I swallowed hard. “He’d been in the medical center of the quarantine. Then the zombies attacked. Some of the army personnel and Max had already evacuated by the time I tried to get to him.”
“What’s he sick with?” Lazlo asked. I shook my head and looked away, unwilling to talk about it anymore.
“I know you’re just being nice and conversational, but I can’t talk about this. I can’t talk about him,” I said as gently as I could.
“I can’t talk about stuff because I can’t see it. If I want to do this, I have to put on blinders and go, and keep going. If I stopped and thought about all the shit I’ve done and seen this past year, I couldn’t…” I shrugged, unable to really speak anymore.
“I’m sorry,” Lazlo apologized and looked over at me. “You’re better with all this than I am.”