“If it’s so great here, then why don’t you stay?” Harlow countered.
“You know why I can’t stay.” I zipped my bag shut and turned back to her. “I have to find-”
“Your little brother, yeah, yeah,” she cut me off. “You do realize he’s with the army, right? I mean, that’s why you’re running across the country, fighting zombies and cult leaders. So you can get to a government run facility surrounded by armed soldiers. To rescue your brother.”
“I’m not rescuing him,” I rolled my eyes. “He’s just a little kid, and I need to be with him.”
“Why?” Harlow asked. I slung my messenger bag over my shoulder, preparing to storm out, but she blocked my path. “Remy, you know it doesn’t make sense. Either he is safe, and you can’t protect him any better than he already is, or he never made it to the quarantine, and there’s nothing you can do.”
“It doesn’t matter! I need to know he’s safe! I can’t just hope for the best and forget about him!” I threw my hands up on the air, exasperated. Fighting about this would only waste more time. “Fine. Whatever. You wanna come with and get yourself killed, that’s your problem.”
“Wait. So, we’re leaving right now?” Lazlo asked when I started walking away, and in reply, I kept walking. “But I’m not ready! Hold on!”
I heard him scrambling behind me, but I didn’t stop. I shouldn’t even be letting them go with me. They would only slow me down, and they’d probably just end up dead or infected.
I couldn’t even figure out why they wanted to leave the safety of the compound. I wouldn’t. But some things mattered more than safety, and for me that was Max.
“I’m not gonna get myself killed,” Harlow said as she caught up to me. Her thin legs carried her surprisingly fast, especially considering the clunky footwear she insisted on. “I just won’t be left behind.”
“I don’t know what you think you’re being left behind from, but trust me, it’s way better than what I’m doing.”
Lazlo ran up behind us, already out of breath, and we hadn’t even left yet. Before leaving, I found Blue talking with London. He once again reminded us that we were free to stay on, and I encouraged both Lazlo and Harlow to take him up on that.
London offered to help us out. He gave us another shotgun and some ammunition, and then he gave us the best gift ever: a vehicle. They had stockpiled several cars and trucks, and he figured they could spare one. Admittedly, it was a beaten up old station wagon with brown paneling, but it was much better than walking.
The car was hidden in an old carriage house in the woods behind the compound. The marauders had a tendency to damage or take anything they wanted, so London and Sam stored and hid anything of value. They rarely used vehicles anyway, since it made them more conspicuous to marauder attacks.
Sam led us through the intricately linked hallways, so we exited through an entirely different set of doors than the ones we came in. Like the cellar doors, a few strategically placed bushes all but blocked the doorway.
When I slid by, the branches stung at my skin, making me acutely aware of the ramifications of having an open wound. I had gone out first, after Sam, and I pushed the branches back with my arm, waiting until everyone else made their way out.
A startling chill nipped at the air, the first real chill I’d felt in our travels. Time moved differently than it had before, but fall had to be arriving. Dense fog settled around us, making it hard to see, and everything I heard sounded muffled and far away. The circumstances weren’t ideal for an escape plan, but I didn’t want to wait any longer.
“It’s over that way,” Sam pointed to an area to the east of us. With the fog, the trees looked like shadows, since I could only see the silhouettes. “In those trees.”
“You’re not coming with us?” Harlow asked.
“I’ve got things to do,” Sam replied noncommittally. Maybe that was true, but based on his quick exit back into the compound, I bet he felt it too. Something just felt… off. Like an electricity in the air. Uneasiness seemed to set in, and even Blue didn’t look right.
We walked towards the car, and I tried to pretend like nothing felt strange to me. But we moved in a huddled mass, and at a much slower pace. Part of that was because we were unfamiliar with the unstable terrain. Broken bottles, car parts, random garbage, even a dead zombie or two littered our path to the carriage house.
“How far away is this thing? I’m getting cold,” Harlow said. I glanced down at her and saw her bony knees were covered in goose bumps.
“Almost there,” I said as if I really knew. The closer we got to the trees, the farther away they seemed to be. The fog created an unnerving optical illusion. “It wouldn’t kill you to wear pants.”
“Just because the world is full of zombies doesn’t mean I need to dress like one,” she shot back, and Lazlo laughed under his breath.
“She has a point,” Lazlo agreed. I would’ve glared at him, but I heard something and stopped short. “What? What’s wrong?”
“Shh,” Blue held up his hand and cocked his head, listening.
I held my breath as the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Harlow’s breath came out in shallow rasps, and from the corner of my eye, I saw her slide her small hand into Lazlo’s. For his part, he scanned the area around us.
Then I heard it. A low, hollow rumbling, but the blanketing effect of the fog and the echoing from the trees made it impossible to tell where it was coming from or how far away. It came again, this time louder, and another one joined in. They were death groans, and they were increasing in decibel and number.
“Here.” I pulled my gun out. I flicked off the safety and handed Lazlo the ammunition clip, praying he knew how to use it.
“What?” Lazlo’s eyes widened, but I didn’t have time to explain.
Blue had a shotgun London had given us, and Harlow had the handgun. That left me the only one unarmed, but the branch on the bush had left a nasty scratch down my arm, a thin line of blood on my tanned skin. Chances were I wouldn’t make it out of a zombie fight uninfected, so I didn’t want to waste a gun on a lost cause.
I grabbed a long, bent pipe from the ground. It had belonged to a car, but right now, it looked strong and heavy enough to ward off a few zombies. I took another step forward, with Blue and Lazlo flanked close behind me.