Her long blond curls framed her face, speckled with blood, and a gold cross hung around her neck on a chain. To top off the ensemble, she had on black combat boots that were at least a size too big. With th gun shoved in her skirt, she was the poster child for post-apocalyptic fashion.
I clicked the safety on my own gun and wedged it between the strap of my messenger bag and my back, so I wouldn’t have to carry it. The farther we walked, the quieter it got, and I would be able to hear a zombie coming from a mile away.
“What if she doesn’t turn into one of those zombies?” Harlow asked.
“They all do.”
“Why didn’t you say anything to her?” she asked.
“Like what? That I’d never forget her?” I shook my head. “I hope I do forget her. I don’t want to remember every person who died. That’s far too many people.”
“What about that soldier? Beck?” Harlow asked. I swallowed hard and quickened my pace. “Was he your boyfriend?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “He taught me how to shoot.”
When Beck had found my brother and me, it was a miracle we were still alive. I didn’t know anything about survival or fighting off zombies, and Beck taught me everything I know. Without him, I’d never have been able to make it through the last few months.
“Were you in love with him?” Harlow asked, matching my pace.
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Sorry,” she said, but she wasn’t easily deterred. Within a minute of falling silent, she started asking me questions again. “Where are we going?”
“North. Another quarantine.”
“Why?” Harlow asked.
“To find my brother.” I glanced down at her. “Weren’t you listening when I was talking to Beck?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t really understand. He said something about them evacuating your brother. Why would they do that?”
“Because the quarantine was compromised.”
“Why didn’t they evacuate all of us?” Harlow asked.
“I don’t know. I’m not in charge of the army.”
“But he was sick, right? That’s why he didn’t live with us?” She had asked me about him before when we were living in the quarantine. I hadn’t said much then, and I didn’t want to say much now.
“Right,” I sighed.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“But that’s weird that they would evacuate a sick kid, but not a bunch of healthy people.” She talked more to herself than to me, so I didn’t feel the need to respond. “When you think about how low the population is, it’s even weirder that they’d prioritize one sick kid over all of the healthy people they left on the second floor.”
I ignored her and walked even faster. By now, I was almost jogging, but she somehow kept with me, even though she was shorter than I was.
“How old is he?” Harlow asked.
“How old are you?” Harlow cocked her head at me, speculating.
“What’s his name?”
“Max,” I sighed and slowed down. I couldn’t waste all my energy trying to hurry her into dropping the subject. “His sign is Pisces, his favorite color is green, his eyes are blue, and he loves spaghetti but hates meatballs. Is there anything else you’d like to know about him?”
“No,” Harlow sounded a little dejected. “Sorry.” She had gotten quieter, so I glanced over at her. She stared down at the ground and fiddled with her cross necklace. “I just wanted to talk so I wouldn’t have to think about everything that happened at the quarantine. I actually felt safe there, for the first time since before my mom died.”
I exhaled and guilt crept in. I was one of the very lucky few who still had a surviving family member. Max and I were orphans, but we had each other. The only thing Harlow had was… well, me.
“I’m sorry,” I softened. “I know how rough this is. I try not to think about any of it, ever.”
“I know. Me too.” Harlow kept fidgeting with her cross necklace, but she looked up as we walked. “It is weird what happened back there, right?”
“Weird is kind of a relative term,” I said. “It wasn’t that long ago when zombies would’ve been defined as weird.”
“Yeah,” Harlow smiled at that. “I meant the way they were all together. I’d never seen so many of them all at once. Usually it’s like five or maybe ten. There had to be hundreds back there, to take out that many soldiers.”
“There weren’t that many soldiers,” I said, deflecting the point she made. “There were only about fifty soldiers, and two hundred or so of us.”
“But they were working together,” Harlow pressed on. “Didn’t it seem that way? That the zombies had planned the attack?”
“Zombies can’t plan anything.” I shook my head. “If they were capable of rational thought, then they’d be people. The infection eats at their brain, stripping away all the things that make us human.”
“I know that’s what they told us,” Harlow said. “But how much do they really even know about the virus? It hasn’t even been a year since the outbreak started, and then once it started spreading, everything pretty much shut down. Nobody is an expert on it.”
“All I know is that if you shoot them, they die. If you get their blood or saliva in your blood or saliva, you die,” I said. “That’s all I need to know.”
“I just think this whole thing is weird,” she muttered.
“Yeah, this whole thing is weird,” I agreed. “Don’t try to make sense of it because you can’t. Everything is just really, really messed up.”
“If you really believe that, then why are you trying so hard to find your brother?” Harlow asked.
“Because. He’s my little brother. If the world is gonna end, I’d like to be with him.”
“And you don’t know where he is?”
“I’ll find him.” I was surprised by my own conviction, but I knew that I could. I’d made it through everything with him. Finding him at a government quarantine couldn’t be that hard.
We were somewhere in the desert in the South Western United States, but I didn’t know exactly where. Max and I lived in Iowa before all this happened, and then we started running. We kept moving until Beck found us and shipped us out here.