“You mean…” I trailed off, confused. “Already?”
“That is the first time anyone has ever said that to me about the clean huts.” Tatum looked genuinely shocked, but then he shrugged, deciding that nothing made sense when it came to me. “I’ll be back for your tray in an hour.”
With that, he shut the door, leaving me with my thoughts. It felt like I’d been inside the clean hut forever, but it’d been three days. And I didn’t have any symptoms. They were giving me a clean bill of health. They didn’t think I was infected.
I leaned back against the cold wall and let that sink in.
They didn’t think I was infected.
Should I tell them about the bite? Maybe I needed more time. Maybe symptoms would show up later, and by then, it would be too late. I might end up hurting somebody, maybe somebody I really cared about. I needed to warn them before they let me out.
Or maybe I was like Max. Maybe I was immune to the virus too. Maybe our parents had been too, if the zombies hadn’t torn them apart.
Even if I was immune, should I tell anyone? Did the doctors and scientists need to know? More importantly, did I want them to know?
Max had been locked up for months. They kept him safe, but being locked up still didn’t set well with me. Before, Beck had been able to look out for Max and made sure they treated him right.
Now I’d have to do that, and I couldn’t if they kept me hostage too. I needed to be on the outside, not trapped in the same thing. Assuming I didn’t turn into a zombie first.
The night drug on painfully slow. I wished for a window so I’d have some way to tell time. I got up and paced the room, and my legs did not appreciate it. I had barely moved in days, and my joints had grown stiff. That worried me at first, since stiffness and paralysis were symptoms of the virus, but it quickly went away once I loosened my legs up.
When Tatum knocked on the door in the morning, he didn’t tell me to get back this time. He just opened it all the way, and bright light pierced the darkness of the hut. The chill from the air swept past him, reminding me that I needed to tighten the blanket around myself. I needed to keep the bite mark covered.
“Good morning,” Tatum grinned and stood back so I could walk out.
“I’m free?” I asked, still feeling uncertain.
“There’s one more thing you have to do first,” Tatum said.
Tentatively, I stepped out and squinted in the light. The other clean huts glinted in the sun. I looked around for Lazlo, Blue, or Harlow, but I didn’t see them. Other than a few older soldiers, I didn’t see anyone.
“Where’s Harlow? And Lazlo?” I asked.
“Already on their way through. You’re the last one.” He walked forward and motioned for me to follow. “Come on.”
“You have to get cleaned up,” Tatum stopped at a concrete building next to the gates. It reminded me of a rest stop on the side of the highway, except smaller and not as fancy. “Go inside and shower. Make sure you get everything off you. Put your dirty clothes in the bag provided they can be incinerated, along with that blanket.”
“What will I wear? I don’t have any other clothes.”
“There’s some in there.” He gestured at the door. “Go ahead. When you’re done, just go out the other door. I’ll see you on the other side.”
Inside building, it reminded me of a rest stop. Two free standing toilets and a sink were next to the entrance. Three showers had cement dividers that worked as stalls, but there were no doors to them. On the other side of the shower was another door, presumably leading inside the quarantine.
The door to the building didn’t lock, which I didn’t like, but I had to work with it. I took off my clothes and put them in a paper sack on the ground. For good measure, I put my hair tie in with it.
On the floor next to the bag, someone had placed a folded white towel with gray sweats, a white tee shirt, a sports bra, panties, and a pair of flip flops on top of it.
The showers had water pressure and real hot water. They even had fresh bars of soap and a wash cloth. I scrubbed hard on my skin, hoping to get off any of the virus I might be carrying.
The shower felt incredibly good, except for the bite wound on my side. I scoured it, hoping to get out any infection, and it burned like crazy. I bit my lip to keep from crying, and the water pooling around the drain turned red with my blood.
I got dressed, feeling really clean for the first time in ages, and stepped through the door into the quarantine. Tatum and another soldier waited outside with Lazlo and Harlow. Harlow dressed the same as me, but Lazlo had gotten a pair of jeans. Somehow, he looked great, but I suspected he’d look great in anything.
“Hey,” Harlow smiled at me, pushing her damp tangles of hair behind her ears. Her gold cross glinted around her neck, and I was glad they didn’t take it from her. Suddenly, she threw her arms around me and hugged me tightly to her. “I wasn’t sure if you’d make it.”
“I’m okay.” I hugged her back for a minute, and then pried her off me so I could breathe again.
“Do you all plan on staying together?” Tatum asked, and Harlow and Lazlo looked to me to answer.
“Um, yeah,” I nodded. I didn’t check to see if they felt the same way, but after everything we’d been through, I didn’t see the point in splitting up.
“I’ll show you to your unit.” Tatum turned and led the way.
My stomach twisted when I realized Blue wasn’t with us. I’d never heard him yelling or any one making death groans, but that didn’t really mean anything. I wanted to ask about him, but Tatum was walking fast, so I swallowed hard and tried not to think about it.
I looked around for the first time. Tall brick walls lined the entire perimeter. Mobile home trailers filled the interior, like the ones FEMA sent out after natural disasters. A three-story cement building sat in the center, looking very square, official, and governmental.
Tatum weaved us down the paths between the trailers, and for the first time in so long, I saw real signs of life. Clothes hanging on the line to dry. A small child playing with a toy car in the dirt. A woman pushing back the curtains to watch us from her window.
Even though this place had an internment camp vibe, it also had something hopeful about it.
“This was the first quarantine set up,” Tatum explained when he saw us admiring the area around it. “It had been planned long before the zombie virus broke out, in the event of any kind of major pandemic. It’s the most advanced community in the world right now.”