“I’m not tired yet, either.”
Ripley had spotted me on the roof, and she stood on the sidewalk below us, swishing her tail and looking confused.
“Where’d you get that cat anyway?” Boden asked.
“Found her.” I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. “I think she used to be in a Vegas show or somebody’s pet or something.”
She paced the sidewalk in front of us, trying to figure out how to get up to where I was. She grunted a few times and kept swishing her tail.
“I’m sorry about your brother,” Boden said.
I chewed the inside of my cheek, refusing to let myself cry over this. I could still find him. I couldn’t give up hope and get upset so soon.
“I’m sorry about leading you here for nothing,” I said finally.
“What I told Nolita was true. It was worth the risk.” He paused. “We won’t last that long unless we find more supplies.”
Neither of us said anything after that. There wasn’t anything to talk about, except how imminent our demise might be, and that didn’t sound like fun.
Ripley eventually gave up trying to get up on the roof and just lay down on the sidewalk. I didn’t see anyone around, and other than the death groans, I didn’t hear anything.
That was until I heard someone calling the lion.
“Ripley?” The voice was soft and small, barely above a whisper.
Ripley heard it, though. She lifted her head and looked around. Then the call came again, and I swore I knew the voice.
I stood up. My heart was nearly pounding out of my chest, and then I saw a small figure emerge from the bushes across the street. I’m not sure how he got there without me seeing him, except that he was awfully sneaky, and it was a dark night.
But as soon as I saw him, I knew.
“Max!” I shouted, completely forgetting about the zombies and how quiet we needed to be.
He lifted his head, his eyes wide, and I couldn’t stop myself. I ran and jumped off the roof. I landed on the grass, falling to my back with a painful thud. I’d just gotten to my knees when Max made it to me. He’d run from across the street.
I grabbed his arms, almost forcefully, and I pushed his hair back from his face, inspecting him. He looked so much better than when I’d seen him last. Even an apocalyptic diet was better than the care he’d been getting in a quarantine. His face was dirty, his thick brown hair was a little long, but he was alive.
I wrapped my arms around and hugged him fiercely, probably painfully, but he hugged me back just as hard.
“Remy,” Boden said from the roof. His voice was quiet but his tone was plaintive, and I understood why.
My yelling had attracted zombies. I could see the jerky movements of three zombies as they walked down the street toward us, and when I looked around, there was movement in the shadows beside the house.
Then I heard that howl, the ones the zombies made to alert the others they’d found fresh meat. We were going to be surrounded within seconds.
I got to my feet and grabbed Max’s hand, meaning to drag him inside the house. I’m not sure how long we’d really last in there, but it was better than being on the street.
“No,” Max said and wouldn’t let me pull him. “This way, Remy.”
I wanted to argue with him, but he’d obviously survived here for a while. He probably knew better than I did where to go.
As he yanked me away, I looked back over my shoulder at Boden. “Don’t make a sound. We’ll lead them away. Don’t shoot or draw attention to yourself.”
Boden did as he was told, standing on the roof of the house, and watching as my little brother led me away.
Max was really fast, and I pushed myself to keep up with him. Once the zombies started giving chase, Ripley took after us, too. Max ducked and darted around things, taking the most complicated path to lose the zombies. They were fast, but they weren’t smart.
We eventually made it onto Main Street. It was the same street where my friend Lia had been killed, so I tried not to look around. Her body was probably still here, rotten and half-eaten on the road.
Max ducked in through a storefront window, shouting the name Stella as he did. I’m not sure what used to be in the building, since everything was destroyed, and there was a huge hole in the ceiling.
As soon as we came in, a rope ladder dropped down through the hole. The zombies were hot on our trail, and Max started scrambling up it before it even hit the ground. I was right on his tail, and I could hear the zombies howling to each other behind me.
Before I’d made it up to the top, Max started trying to pull the ladder up with me on it, and he was fairly strong. A broken board jabbed me in the rib as I climbed up onto the second story, but at least I’d made it up without getting eaten.
Ripley had been following us here, and she made her own way up. She jumped onto the store’s counter below us. Then she just crouched low and leaped up.
Of course, she had to swat away a few zombies before she could jump, and then she barely even made it. Her claws dug in the boards, and she scrambled to get up, but she eventually made it. Based on all the scratches in the wood, I guessed she climbed up here a lot that way.
I stared down through the hole, catching my breath and watching the pack of angry zombies below us, growling and making all kinds of noise.
“They go away eventually,” Max assured me. “Usually in the morning. I don’t think they like the sun very much.”
I sat back and looked around to see where my brother had been hiding out. A few kerosene lanterns were lit, bathing the room in light. It was just one big loft up here, with a wall of windows at the front of the building.
A metal door at the side appeared to be welded shut. I would later find out that it led to a stairway on the outside of the building, and that was the only way up here, other than the hole in the floor.
There were blankets and pillows piled up on the far end. Food and medical supplies were stacked up on top of a small table. Makeshift toys were discarded all over, dolls made out of Coke bottles and pop cans. All of the walls and the floor were covered in crude illustrations, mostly appearing to be things like ponies and flowers.
I presumed the artist was the little girl sitting next to Max, the only other person in the loft. She couldn’t be more than six, with dirty tangles of brown hair hanging around her face, and she clung to the old ragged stuffed bear in her arms.
“Who’s your friend?” I asked, motioning to her.
“This is Stella.” Max scooted toward her and put his arm around her to comfort her. “She’s shy.”