Another body lay a few feet from the truck, but still out of the range of the lion. It’d been torn apart, and it was safe to say that zombies had gotten it.
“What happened?” Harlow asked.
I looked around for the first time since we’d climbed over the hill. A highway ran about twenty or thirty feet on the other side of the truck, and relief rushed over me. We needed to find a highway if we wanted to find somewhere to camp out.
“I think they were driving, and they went off the road, crashed. One of them died in the wreck, and the zombies got the other one. And for some reason, they had a lion chained up in the back.”
“Do you think she’s tame?” Harlow asked.
I eyed up the lion. Her ears were up, her eyes were wide, but her tail kept flicking back and forth. From my experience with house cats, that usually meant they were going to pounce on something.
“Maybe. But I don’t know how tame lions can really be.” I took a careful step closer to the lion, and she didn’t move. “Take your gun out.”
“You want me to shoot her?” Harlow asked nervously.
“Not unless you have to.” I set my own gun on the ground. I didn’t want to scare her, but I didn’t want to be completely exposed.
I took slow, deliberate steps towards the lion, and when I got to the edge of her reach, I waited a beat. I half-expected her to pounce, but she didn’t move. She just watched me.
I wasn’t stupid enough to go and undo the chain from around her neck, so I headed towards the truck. I held my hands out in front of me and made sure I always faced her. In some part in the back of my mind, I was freaking out about how much of an idiot I was being.
All I wanted to do was get to my brother, and I was risking my life trying to free a stupid cat.
I got to the truck without her mauling me, but I found a new problem. The chain was looped through a hole in the truck, held in place with a giant lock in need of a key. I’d never tried shooting through a chain to break it, but I suspected that this one was too large.
“Aw, hell.” I looked back at Harlow. She had the gun pointed at either the lion or me, I’m not sure which, and her hands were shaking. “Harlow, put down the gun.”
“Are you sure?” Harlow asked, but she looked relieved. If we ever found extra bullets, I’d have to teach her how to shoot.
“I need you to go into the cab of the truck and get the keys,” I said. “The chain is locked to the truck, and I need a key.”
“But there’s a body in the truck,” Harlow grimaced.
“There are bodies all over. Please just get the keys before the lion eats me.”
“Why don’t we just leave her here?” She was tired, scared, and did not want to crawl around a decomposing corpse. “I mean, you left Sommer in the desert-”
“Just get the damn keys, Harlow!” I snapped before she could finish her thought. I didn’t need to be reminded of all the people that I couldn’t save.
When I shouted, the lion bent back her ears but didn’t move. Harlow opened the door to the cab of the truck, and flies swarmed out. She made a retching sound, and the lion growled. When she climbed inside the cab, she swore loudly.
The lion started pacing, and I again reminded myself that I could die over this. I could die for no good reason at all.
Harlow gasped and jumped out of the cab faster than I had ever seen her move before. She gagged and threw up in the sand. I looked away, but the lion watched with intense fascination, her tail still flicking wildly.
“I have never smelled anything that bad in my entire life!”
“Yeah, that really sucks. Toss me the keys please!” I shouted.
Harlow spit a few times, pushing dirty tangles of hair back from her face, then stood up and threw the keys at me. They landed at my feet, and I picked them up.
“What happens when you let her go?” Harlow asked between spitting on the ground.
“What?” I asked, trying a key in the lock. It clicked open, and I almost shouted with happiness.
“I mean, she’s not gonna be on a chain. What if she wants to eat us?” Harlow asked as soon as I’d unlocked the lion.
I stood there, debating on whether or not I should lock her up again, then shook my head and pulled it off.
“She won’t eat us,” I decided. I pulled the chain free from the truck and tossed it on the ground. “There you go! You’re free! Go!”
The lion stared at me. I don’t know what I expected her to do, but it wasn’t this. Her tail swung more slowly, but she wasn’t going anywhere. I waved my arms to shoo her along, but she just bent an ear back and looked around.
I walked back to Harlow and picked up my gun. It was slick with zombie blood, so I wiped it off on my jeans. As soon as we got some place we could rest, I had to change these pants. They were disgusting.
The lion kept staring at us, so I carried my gun as we walked towards the highway, in case she decided to pounce. We made it halfway to the road when the lion started walking in our direction. She wasn’t running, like she was chasing us, but she walked kind of fast.
“Should we do something?” Harlow asked.
“I don’t know.” She looked back at the lion. “I feel like we should do something.”
“She’s not doing anything.”
“Yet,” Harlow amended.
“Right. When she does something, we’ll react accordingly,” I said, as if I knew what that meant.
The lion kept following us, getting closer as we walked along, but it didn’t feel like she was stalking us. Despite her size, she didn’t seem that old. She’d probably been raised in captivity and didn’t know how to be alone.
Eventually, Harlow stopped being freaked out by it. The sun had gotten higher, and it beat down on us. She pulled her hair back into a loose bun, the way I always wore my long hair. I couldn’t defend myself when my hair was in the way. I had been wearing a button up shirt over a tank top, but I tied the shirt around my waist a long time ago.
“I am so tired and thirsty and my feet are killing me,” Harlow said, but it was too weak to even be a whine.
She trudged along, dragging her feet on the road. The lion walked a few feet to the side of her, and it didn’t even bother her anymore. She shoved her cardigan in her messenger bag, but one of the sleeves hung out, dragging on the ground.
“We’ll get there soon,” I said.
“Where?” Harlow asked.