“Maybe we should get going,” I interrupted before Vega could answer. I didn’t want to know what she did or didn’t believe. Indulging people in their delusions never helped things.
“‘For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be,’” Vega said, turning her attention down to Harlow.
“I don’t know what that means,” Harlow replied, still bravely meeting Vega’s gaze. “You say things all the time, and I don’t know what any of it means.”
“It is the end of days,” Vega said.
“Well, obviously,” Lazlo laughed dryly, but he stopped short when Vega glared at him.
“‘I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.’” Vega wasn’t speaking to us so much as preaching by then.
“Everything you see around us, that is the fourth horseman.” Vega gestured broadly to the barren landscape, knowing somewhere out there were legions of zombies.
“So what happens next?” Harlow asked, and I couldn’t tell if she believed anything Vega was saying, or if she was just asking questions to kill time.
“‘There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth,” Vega continued.
“We need to go,” I said, more forcefully than I had before. “We need to get somewhere before sundown. So, let’s pack up and get out of here.”
“But I’m still tired!” Harlow protested, and that’s probably why she had been engaging Vega. The longer they talked, the longer she went without walking.
“What’s going on?” Lia asked, returning from her bathroom break.
I tossed my beef jerky wrapper on the side of the road, since littering didn’t seem like that much of a problem when most of the world’s population was dead. I slung my bag over my shoulder again, carefully wedging the gun behind me.
“Can’t we wait just a little bit longer?” Harlow begged as everyone packed up
“Five more minutes won’t make your feet feel better,” I said. “And I told you to stop wearing those stupid shoes.” I nodded down to her oversized combat boots.
“They protect my feet.” Harlow admired them lovingly.
“By destroying them?” I scoffed
“Come on.” Lazlo held his hand out to her. He had already gotten to his feet and put his bag over his shoulder. “I’ll give you a piggy back ride, since it’s my fault we’re walking anyway.”
Harlow looked at his hand, almost too excited to trust him, then tentatively, she put her hand in his and let him help her up.
I watched skeptically as he hoisted her onto his back. Lazlo was muscular, but he wasn’t a big guy. Admittedly, Harlow couldn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds, if that.
With a surprising level of ease, he lifted her onto his back, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. I hadn’t seen her look quite that happy ever before, and I doubted I would again.
Harlow was too content to say anything, so she lapsed into silence as we walked. Ripley stayed behind, napping in the brush, but she’d catch up eventually. She always did.
I was afraid that Vega would continue with her sermon, so I tried to make small talk. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at it, but Lia picked up my slack. She talked amicably with Blue and Lazlo about everything under the sun, and that was okay with me.
The flat landscape gave way to soft hills, and the desert was getting increasingly greener. It was still early in the afternoon when we found a small brown A-frame sitting right off the road. We could see a few more houses in the distance, meaning that we were probably getting close to a town.
I didn’t really want to camp here, since it was still too early to stop for the day, but it might have supplies we could use. We didn’t know what was inside, so I suggested that Lazlo and the girls wait outside while Blue and I went inside to raid the place.
Harlow didn’t care what we did as long as she didn’t have to walk anymore, and she plopped on the front lawn the instant we stopped. Vega went a few feet away to kneel and pray, while Lazlo and Lia stayed close by the house, keeping an eye out for roving zombies.
The smell hit me the instant I pushed open the front door. The stench inside the house had become too familiar – rotting food and death. Blood splattered the walls, and a human arm lay on the floor in the front room. The arm looked like it had been there a while, and I couldn’t hear any zombie groans.
I went into the house further, and that’s when things got weird.
At first, the place seemed trashed in the way everything did after zombies tore through it. But then I got the impression it was more than random ransacking. In the kitchen, all the cupboards had been opened, so only perishables were left.
A raccoon lay dead under the table, but it hadn’t been mauled by zombies. It’d taken a bullet to the head, and not that long ago, based on the total lack of maggots.
“People were here,” Blue said.
“Pretty recently too,” I nodded.
“That’s a good thing… right?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. I looked out the window, where Lia laughed at something and Harlow plucked at a flower in the overgrown lawn. “This place has been gutted, though. We should move on.”
“We’re not that far from a town anyway,” Blue said. He moved towards the door, but I stayed put, surveying the carnage. “What?”
“Nothing,” I lied.
Something about the state of the house gave me a bad vibe, but I couldn’t place it. Zombies had trashed it, and other survivors had gotten supplies. That wasn’t any different from what we did.
They had killed a raccoon, but that wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s not what I would’ve done, but I didn’t always make the best decisions.
“We might be getting close to the quarantine.” Blue tried to alleviate my anxiety. “Maybe soldiers were here.”
“Maybe,” I said, but I didn’t think so, at least not the part about soldiers doing this. “Come on. Let’s go.”
We went to the front door, and I stopped short. When we had come in, we hadn’t looked at the back of the door, but I did now. Someone had scrawled Helter Skelter across it, using thick, poisonous zombie blood as ink.