At first, when I saw the figure waving its arms over its head, I thought I was hallucinating. Then Stella pointed to it and asked who that man was. He was in front of us, off to the right of where we were heading.
My first instinct was to give him a wider berth, pass by him without interacting with him if at all possible. But I was starting to think that I might not be able to make it back to the farmhouse, and I didn’t want to leave Stella alone out here to freeze to death.
Besides that, I’d been worried about Serg, and he’d turned out okay. He’d helped us a lot, and maybe this guy would be the same. I had to learn to trust my fellow man, because I really couldn’t do this on my own.
“Are you zombies?” the man shouted when we got closer.
“No,” I said. “Are you?”
“No.” He laughed and started jogging toward us.
Stella had been walking beside me, but I picked her up. I held her on my hip, and her boot accidentally kicked my incision. I nearly threw up when she did that, but I swallowed it back.
The man coming over to us appeared to be in his early fifties, with gray hair kept short and neat. He had on an army-green trench coat, with a uniform underneath, the beige suit kind decorated with all sorts of pins and patches. It was in surprisingly good shape, unlike Boden’s and Nolita’s uniforms, which were worn to the nub.
“I’m so glad to see you.” He grinned broadly at us. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen other people. I got separated from my group after we left the quarantine, and I’ve been wandering alone.”
“You were at the quarantine?” I asked.
The snowflakes were sticking to my eyelashes, and everything looked blurry. I tried to blink them back, but my eyesight was still blurry. Then I realized the snowflakes weren’t the problem.
“Yes, I’m General Clark.” He held his hand out to me, but I didn’t shake it because I was holding Stella. He smiled understandably and put his hand back down. “You were at the quarantine? I don’t remember seeing you there.”
“Yeah, I’m Remy King,” I said. “I kept to myself a lot.”
“Who is this pretty little girl you have with you?” Clark asked, bending down to Stella’s level. She shied away from him and buried her head in my shoulder.
“This is Stella,” I said. “We found her outside of the quarantine.”
“We?” Clark looked around. “Is there more to your group?”
“Yeah, they’re back at a house, waiting for us,” I explained. “We’re heading there now.”
“Do you mind if I join you?” Clark asked. “I don’t want to be any trouble, but I don’t want to stay out in this snowstorm, either.”
“Yeah, that should be okay.”
As we walked, going in the direction I hoped the farmhouse was, Clark talked amicably at first. I said hardly anything in response, and Stella said nothing at all, so eventually he stopped. I did think it was a little weird how jovial he seemed. Especially for a soldier, and considering the whole zombie apocalypse.
But he said he’d been wandering alone for a long time. Maybe he was just relieved and excited to have found people again.
I didn’t have much strength to be paranoid, either. I still refused to put Stella down, and that was taking enough of my energy. Handing her off to a stranger felt wrong to me.
The snow kept coming down harder, feeling like icy glass stinging my cheeks. I was still sweating, but it was freezing in my hair.
The sky was darkening, and I prayed the house was getting close. I’d started stumbling a lot. Clark offered to take Stella or suggested I put her down, but I refused both.
Then finally, I could see the glow of a fire from inside the house. We were close.
My legs gave out and I fell to my knees, careful to keep Stella up so she wouldn’t get hurt.
“Remy, you should let me take her,” Clark said, holding his hands out to me. “Or let her walk. The house is right there.”
“No,” I insisted. “I’ve got her.”
But I didn’t really. Clark actually had to help me back to my feet, and even then, I was staggering and swaying as I walked. I was so dizzy, I felt like I might tip over at any moment, and my skin was on fire.
I stumbled up to the back door, and I couldn’t even turn the knob. I pounded on the door, with Clark asking me if everything was okay behind me.
“Remy!” Boden smiled when he opened the door, but his expression immediately changed to one of confusion when he saw Clark with me. “General Clark?”
“I found him on the way here,” I mumbled out a response and pushed past Boden into the house.
After being in the snow for so long, the house felt insanely warm. But since I was already so hot, that wasn’t a good thing. It was suffocating.
“Remy.” Daniels looked relieved as he walked into the kitchen, but that fell when he saw Clark. “Clark? How …”
“Here.” I shoved Stella at him, since I couldn’t hold her anymore. I probably could’ve put her on the ground, but that didn’t occur to me then.
“Remy?” Daniels took Stella, but he narrowed his eyes in concern at me. “Are you okay? You don’t look good.”
“She doesn’t have the virus, does she?” Clark asked, a new edge to his formerly cheerful voice.
“No, Remy doesn’t…” Boden waved him off, too busy eyeing me over to give Clark a good answer. “What happened?”
“No, I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” I pushed my damp hair back from my forehead, and put my hand on the counter to steady myself.
Honestly, I had no idea why I was lying, except that I’d been doing it for so long. I didn’t want anyone to worry about me or waste time and energy on me. But at this point, I couldn’t fake it anymore.
“You made it!” Max squealed and ran over to me. He threw his arms around my waist, crushing my incision, and I nearly screamed. He jumped back, alarmed. “Remy?”
“Kid, I’m sorry.” I looked at Daniels, and from the stark expression on his face, I knew that I did not look good. “Something’s wrong.”
And that was it. The ground gave out underneath me, and everything went black.
What I remembered after that was mostly a blur, fragmented images and sounds that didn’t always fit together. I knew that I passed out, but I kept fighting to regain consciousness. Being out cold wasn’t something I was comfortable with.