“Yeah. He’s eight. He’s just a little kid.”
“Hmm,” London said, but then nothing more. There wasn’t anything judgmental in his eyes, but I could tell he’d figured out there was more to the story than I was telling.
– 12 –
London didn’t know any more about the quarantines, and he didn’t have any other insight into the evolution of the zombies. He did explain a little more about the compound. They were made up mostly of people from the town. Since it was so isolated, they had been one of the last to get hit with the virus and had a chance to prepare.
Unfortunately, the town split into two camps; London and his people trying to live quietly, and the marauders who wanted to live out some kind of Mad Max fantasy where they robbed and murdered at will.
The people in the compound survived on canned goods and hunting. A water filtration system in the basement kept the virus out of their drinking water. Kerosene lamps and wood burning stoves allowed them to have heat and cook food.
Over fifty survivors were able to live here comfortably, and London insisted they would be happy to take on a few more.
The facility itself was divided up into many rooms, with hallways connecting them like a labyrinth. It was designed to keep both zombies and marauders from being able to infiltrate.
I wasn’t given a full tour, but I didn’t really want or need one. London showed Lazlo and me to the dining hall, where Blue and Harlow were already. Vega never ate before sundown, so she’d gone back to a room to rest. The food seemed to be of the canned vegetable and whatever they could shoot variety.
A few other people were eating down there, looking as mangy as Sam, and they introduced themselves. Other than polite salutations, I didn’t talk to them. I was not staying here long enough to get to know people.
Lazlo, on the other hand, was chatting with anyone who would let him. From what I could gather, the people seemed friendly and as sane as the situation would allow.
“You guys won’t believe this,” Sam said. He came into the dining room after checking the perimeter, and he looked about as shocked as his blank expressions could manage. “There’s a lion outside.”
“A real lion?” a woman asked in a hushed tone.
“Oh, yeah, she’s Remy’s,” Lazlo said, and I lowered my head.
“You have a pet lion?” Sam asked skeptically, and everyone’s eyes turned to me.
“She’s not a pet,” I said. “Not like a cat. But… yeah, she’s with us. So… don’t shoot her.”
“You’re lucky I didn’t. She took off when I saw her, but she’s hanging around here.” Sam had already lost interest in the lion and moved onto fixing himself a plate, which consisted of some kind of bitter meat and canned wax beans.
After we finished eating, Hope took us to where we would be sleeping, giving us one of the empty rooms. It held ten army style metal bunk beds, but nobody was in it.
Vega set up in the far corner of the room, away from everyone else, and immediately began praying. Blue left with Hope to check out the medical care, and the rest of us settled in.
Harlow had seemed better over dinner, but when she lay down in the bottom bunk, everything that happened today must’ve hit her. She slipped off her boots without complaining of the damage to her feet, and lay on the covers, twisting her gold cross around her neck and staring up at the bunk above her.
“How are you doing?” I asked, tossing my bag on the bed across from her.
“You need some rest.” I went over to her bed to pull the covers up and noticed she had bled through her socks again. “Your feet don’t look so good. I’ll have Blue check on them when he gets back.”
“Whatever.” Harlow pulled the thin white sheet up to her chest and rolled over so her back was to me. I sighed and decided to leave her be.
Lazlo, in his usual fashion, had called dibs on the top bunk of my bed, even though there were plenty of empty beds in the room. After giving up on Harlow, I sat down on my bed and took off my shoes. I was about to slip off my jeans when Lazlo dangled his head over the edge of the bunk to look at me.
“Do you want me to leave so you can change?” Lazlo asked.
“You could just stay up on your bunk,” I said.
He pulled his head up over the edge, and I slid off my pants. I had a small pair of pajama shorts shoved in my bag, on the off chance I got to sleep comfortably, and I dug around for them.
Meanwhile, the whole bunk shook as Lazlo wriggled around, and I didn’t understand why until I saw his jeans drop over the side of the bed, followed by his tee shirt.
“Done!” Lazlo announced with some pride.
“I didn’t realize it was a race,” I muttered as I yanked on my shorts.
“Well, now you do,” he replied. “This isn’t so bad, right?”
I climbed underneath the covers. The bed, the pillow, and the sheet were all incredibly thin, but it was better than sleeping on the ground. And it felt better than sleeping at Korech’s ranch.
I looked over at the bed next to me, and based on her breathing, Harlow was already asleep. I think even she felt better here. Or she would, once she got past how she felt about losing Lia.
“I mean, you’re glad I talked you into staying the night?” Lazlo asked when I didn’t say anything.
“Yeah, I’m glad.”
“We can leave in the morning, and we’ll do better because we’re rested,” Lazlo said, almost cheerily, and my stomach knotted up.
I stared up at the bunk above me, where Lazlo was hidden on the other side. I had no intention of taking him, or anyone, with me tomorrow. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have the argument now, or first thing in the morning.
“You’re not coming with me tomorrow.” I grimaced and decided it would be better to get it out of the way.
“What?” The bed moved and his head appeared over the edge. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m going by myself tomorrow,” I reiterated and refused to look him in the eye.
“What? What the hell? Why?”
“Shh! Harlow is sleeping!” I said. I glanced over at her, and she moved a little, but I don’t think she woke up.
Lazlo turned around and dropped to the ground, wearing only his boxers. He had tangles of ivy tattooed across his hips and lower abdomen, and the lyrics from one of his songs scrawled across his chest. I didn’t want to notice him shirtless so I kept my eyes fixed on the bunk above me.