All his clothes were soaking wet, and his jeans weren’t much more than rags. The gray army jacket he wore was stained heavily with zombie blood. The shoulder straps to his pack were held together with worn duct tape.
“I’m not a zombie,” he repeated when we didn’t say anything, but his voice had gotten quieter. “I’ve been wandering out in that rain, and I just wanted to get somewhere to dry off and warm up for a little bit. I don’t want to hurt anybody.”
“Are you alone?” Nolita asked, her gun still pointed at his head.
“Yes, I’m alone.” He nodded.
“Are you army?” Boden motioned to his jacket.
“What?” His face scrunched in confusion, and then he looked down at his clothes. “No. I found this.”
“You took it from a soldier then?” Boden crossed his arms over his chest, eyeing him up.
“I took it from a zombie,” the guy clarified. “I was cold, and I needed a jacket.”
Bishop stepped forward to get a better look at him. She’d been standing in front of Max, but when she moved, he came over to me. He was half hiding behind me, and he put his hand on my back.
I almost jumped when he touched me. I wasn’t used to having someone just come up and put an arm around me. Physical contact was something I’d learned to live without.
Since Max seemed nervous, I wanted to calm him. I reached back and touched his head, leaving it there to reassure him.
“What’s your name?” Bishop asked the stranger.
“Serg.” He extended his hand and stepped forward, like he meant to shake hands with her, but nobody moved toward him, so he dropped his hand and stopped. “I just want someplace dry to stay for the night. I won’t bother any of you.” He paused. “Please.”
Bishop seemed to consider him for a moment, then nodded. “You can stay the night.”
“Thank you,” Serg smiled, relieved.
“Whoa. What?” Boden held up his hands and walked over to Serg. “You don’t get to decide that without talking to anyone.”
“Sure I do.” Bishop smiled thinly at Boden, and turned to walk back to the fire.
“No, you don’t.” Boden stalked after Bishop, his feet slipping a bit in the gravel of the embankment.
Nolita had lowered her gun, and she chewed her lip, watching Serg uncertainly. For his part, he stayed by the entrance of the underpass. His hands were on the straps of his bag, like he wanted to take it off but wasn’t sure if he should.
Bishop led Boden past the fire, to the opposite side of the underpass from where Serg was waiting. When she finally stopped, she rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest.
“You’re not in charge here,” Boden said, purposely keeping his voice low and trying to keep the edge out of it.
“Who says?” Bishop asked, staring up at him with her intense hawk-eyes. “You?”
“Yeah, me. I appreciate your age and experience – ” Boden said, and she scoffed and laughed.
“I ran the civilians at the quarantine,” Bishop reminded him, her tone icy. “I know how to take care of people.”
“Yeah, maybe in there you do.” Boden pointed in the direction the quarantine was. “But this is out here. We’re at war with the undead, and I’m the soldier. I pull rank over you.”
Bishop was probably twice his age, but she was much smaller. He was nearly a foot taller, and his shoulders were broad and strong.
While they continued arguing about who was in charge, Daniels decided to do something. He walked awkwardly over to Serg and extended a hand to him.
“I’m Craig Daniels.” He smiled at him, glancing back over at Bishop and Boden when Bishop raised her voice, and Boden hissed at her to quiet down.
Serg shook his hand and smiled wanly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause problems for you all.”
“That?” Daniels waved off Bishop and Boden. “That’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“So… it’s okay if I stay?” Serg asked hesitantly.
“Uh…” Daniels glanced back at Nolita, who shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
“Thank you.” Serg smiled again and took off his bag, setting it carefully down on the bank.
“So, where are you from?” Daniels asked, attempting strained small talk.
“I was from Michigan originally, but that was a very long time ago.” Serg’s expression went a dark.
It was a familiar look. The one people got when they thought about the past, when they remembered what life had been like before zombies roamed the Earth. Everybody who’d lived this long had lost so much to survive. We outlasted our homes, our pets, our friends, even our society.
Nolita went over with Daniels to continue the banal introductions, so I turned my attention back to where Boden and Bishop were still fighting.
“Max, go sit with Teddy,” I said. Teddy was sitting by the fire with Stella on his lap, and I knew that if Serg suddenly went ballistic, Teddy would protect the kids.
“Why?” Max asked.
“Just go do it,” I commanded, and I went over to Boden and Bishop.
“You can’t compare that.” Boden was shaking his head when I reached them. “What you did at the quarantine is not the same as running an army.”
“Well, this isn’t an army, is it?” Bishop shot back.
“Enough,” I said, loud enough to get the attention of both of them. “It doesn’t matter who’s in charge. And besides that, neither one of you have the right to make decisions carte blanche for all of us.”
Boden fell silent for a few seconds before quietly saying, “Someone is the leader, though.”
I shot him a glare, and he lowered his eyes and stopped talking.
“I don’t know if he should stay the night with us,” I said, lowering my voice so it was barely audible over the rain. “I don’t like the idea of just picking up strangers. You never know who you can trust anymore.”
“This isn’t our bridge, Remy.” Bishop looked at me incredulously. “We can’t just kick him out. Not when it’s raining. We should help our fellow man in times like this.”
“I know that, and ordinarily I’d agree with you.” My gaze went back over to where Stella and Max were sitting with Teddy. “But it’s not just us. We have kids here that can’t defend themselves very well.”
“Your brother seems pretty resourceful to me,” Bishop pointed out. “He took care of himself against a town overrun with zombies.”