“Who is it?” a voice said from the other side of the door.
“Sam. Open up!” Sam shouted.
A moment of silence, followed by bolts clicking unlocked. The door opened, bathing the hall in bright light. Sam walked in, and we all followed.
It reminded me of any other basement. The walls and floor were brick and cement, and they had that cold, damp look to them. Kerosene lamps were placed all over the room, so it was actually well lit.
One wall was lined with old, moldy looking books on a metal shelves. A huge wooden table sat in the middle of the room, covered in papers and maps. In the corner, another table was covered with weapons; guns, knives, ammunition, pipes.
A doorway was off to the side, but I couldn’t see past it.
Sam went over to the weapons table to discard his own guns, without introducing us to the man and woman standing in the middle of the room.
The man looked to be about thirty with a confident, handsome face. He was dressed similar to Sam, his clothes dirty and worn. The woman had short blonde hair and a warm smile.
“I found them out in the streets,” Sam said absently as he unloaded his ammunition.
“Hello,” the man extended his hand, first to Blue, then to me, shaking our hands. “I’m London, and this is Hope.”
“Hello,” the woman smiled at us but didn’t move forward.
“This is our compound.” London gestured to the room around him. “You all look very worn. How long have you been travelling?”
“Awhile,” I answered vaguely, unsure of the exact amount of time that’d passed.
“They had a run-in with the marauders,” Sam said. He leaned up against the weapons table, crossing his arms over his chest.
“The marauders?” Lazlo asked.
“The men with guns in black camouflage,” London clarified. “They raided an army base, and they’ve been trying to rule the town with nihilistic brutality. We’ve been maintaining a stronghold against them.”
“Remy shot some of them,” Lazlo said, almost proudly. “How many did you kill?” He looked to me for confirmation, but I shook my head.
I swallowed hard and clenched the fist that didn’t have Harlow’s hand. I wasn’t about to brag about anything I had done when Lia had died. I had failed, and four uninfected people died today. Anger flared in me like I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I’d been forced to kill healthy humans, and even if it had been in self-defense, I didn’t like it. We had so few people left in this world, and it was such a horrific waste.
“We lost… someone.” Harlow sniffled next to me.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” London said earnestly.
“Why don’t you get cleaned up and get some rest?” Hope suggested. “You all look so exhausted.”
“We have plenty of room for you all,” London said when we hesitated. “We try to look after the people who are left.”
“Would you like something to eat?” Hope asked, and she held her hand out for Harlow.
Harlow looked up at me, checking to see if it was all right, and I nodded. Somewhat reluctantly, she let go of my hand and let Hope take her. Hope took her into the next room, with Vega.
“Are you coming, Remy?” Blue paused before following Hope and the others into the other room. I shook my head, and he nodded understanding. “Don’t take too long.”
Blue left with Harlow. Since I didn’t go, Lazlo stayed behind. I thought about telling him to go, but I didn’t want to tell anybody to do anything anymore. Sam eyed us up, and I couldn’t tell if he trusted us or not.
“You’re the leader?” I asked London.
“You could say that.” London leaned against the table behind him and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Do you know anything about government quarantines?” I asked.
“Not much,” London shook his head. “I haven’t been to one.”
“Do you know if there’s one nearby?”
“There’s supposed to be one in Idaho.” He turned to the map on the table behind him. “I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard there was one near the Wyoming border.”
I walked over to him to inspect the map myself. It was covered in circles, some black, some red, some green.
“There might be one there.” London tapped the map. The one he pointed to in Idaho was red.
“What do the colors mean?” Lazlo asked, peering over my shoulder.
“Red are quarantines, green are safe zones, and black are … lost causes,” London said. That explained why the map was almost entirely covered in black circles.
“Thank you.” I took a step back. “I have to go.”
“Right now?” Lazlo looked up sharply.
“You are welcome to stay as long as you want,” London reiterated.
“I know, and I thank you, but I can’t.” I shook my head. “My brother was taken to a quarantine, and I have to find him.”
“We should at least get some rest,” Lazlo said. “You always say we shouldn’t travel after dark, anyway.”
I hesitated, hating the truth in his words. I didn’t want to stay here. I didn’t want to wait anymore. I just needed to get to Max and know he was all right. Then… I don’t know. But after what happened today, I didn’t want to slow down anymore.
“Who took your brother to a quarantine?” London interrupted my internal debate.
“Soldiers,” I said. “We were at another quarantine that was infiltrated by zombies. They organized some kind of attack and destroyed the base.”
“Yes, we’ve been hearing about that,” London said sadly.
“Hearing about what?” My heart sped up.
“Zombies working together. They’re still raving monsters, but they seem to have a more cohesive system,” London elaborated. “The virus has been evolving and adapting, and they’re able to communicate somehow. Perhaps using pheromones like ants. They group together and find the hidden pockets of human life.”
“Well, that’s pleasant,” Lazlo muttered.
“When your quarantine was attacked, why did they take your brother and not you?” London asked, returning to the topic.
“He was in medical care, and I wasn’t. They evacuated him, and I escaped later, but I haven’t been able to catch up to him,” I said hurriedly.
“He’s sick, and they evacuated him first?” London questioned.