“Let’s go show Max!” Stella grabbed my hand and started pulling me out in the hall.
I’d actually wanted a moment alone, to find out more from Daniels, but he followed us. She dragged me all the way down the stairs to the dining room, where she proceeded to show off her new do and clothes for the guys.
Serg and Boden responded in the appropriate ways, telling Stella that she looked very nice. Max was more focused on the poker game, so he offered a very quick, “Yeah, pretty,” before turning his attention back to the pile of pennies in front of him.
“When are you gonna play dress-up?” Clark asked me, totally ignoring Stella. He leaned back in his chair, the glass of scotch in his hand.
“I… I’m good,” I stammered. “Daniels was actually the one playing dress up.”
“Got the nice beads to prove it.” Daniels gestured to the necklace he hadn’t taken off.
“I’d love to see you dress up.” Clark smiled at me, ignoring Daniels.
“Wow, sir.” Boden scratched behind his ear and looked at Clark. “How much have you had to drink? I think that’s probably enough.”
“Oh, Boden, are you jealous?” Clark asked. “Your hair’s long enough. I’m sure Remy can put braids in your hair just like she did the little girl.”
“Very funny, sir,” Boden muttered.
“Stop being such a girl!” Clark playfully punched Boden in the shoulder, and I could see Boden clench his jaw. “Have a little fun, Boden! It’s the end of the goddamn civilized world! We can do whatever we want!”
“Max, I think it’s time for you to go to bed,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say, and I didn’t want him around this anymore. Clark was getting drunk and rowdy, and Max didn’t need to be exposed to that.
“But Remy – ” he started to protest.
“Max!” I snapped.
“I was winning,” Max grumbled, but he set down his cards and pushed out his chair.
“Take Stella up to bed with you,” I told him.
“Come on, Stella.” He took her hand, and the two of them trudged up the stairs.
“You sent the kids to bed, so the real party can start,” Clark said, taking a drink of his scotch.
Serg laid down his cards and stood up. “I think I’m out, too.”
“You’re no fun.” Clark glowered at him, then turned his attention back to Boden. He leaned forward, almost rubbing Boden’s shoulder. “You like to have fun, don’t you, kid?”
“I’m tired, sir.” He pulled away from Clark and stood up.
“Oh, come on!” Clark groaned. “Doesn’t anybody know how to have a good time?”
Boden paused as he brushed past me on his way upstairs and spoke into my ear. “We’re leaving first thing tomorrow morning, whether he comes with or not. Preferably not.”
Ripley had been hiding out in the garage, and she definitely didn’t like the cold. It had warmed up significantly from the other day, and the snow was turning the ground to mud and puddles.
The warmer temperatures explained why I’d woken up in the morning to the sound of death groans. It was still dark, but I could hear them in the distance. I got up quietly, creeping around the house as I woke everybody up and told them to pack.
We tried to sneak off without Clark, but he’d heard us and got ready. The sun was just starting to rise over the horizon when we started out.
Ripley followed us, but I wondered how much longer she would. I knew she liked me, feeling some kind of pack loyalty to me, but eventually, her urge to be warm and survive would outweigh her fondness for me.
Stella was still sleeping when we left, and Daniels carried her draped over his arm. Max was tired, but he walked just fine. I was glad I’d sent them to bed early last night. It worked out for the best, since we left so early.
Clark seemed hungover and lagged behind us, so we all sped up, purposely trying to leave him behind.
None of us said much as we walked. We travelled all day, and when the kids were too tired, we carried them. Boden even offered to carry me after Daniels suggested I rest, but honestly, I was feeling better than I had in a while, so I pushed on.
Even though we were heading farther north, it was getting warmer the longer we walked. The snowstorm must’ve been a random cold snap, and we were moving into the nicer temperatures of spring.
The zombies were still following us. Or they just happened to be all around us. We could hear them, but we never saw them. They stayed far enough back. They were like vultures, circling and waiting for us to die.
We camped out in a tree in somebody’s back yard. Boden surmised that zombies wouldn’t be smart enough to figure out the ladder, which was a few boards spread apart and nailed to the trunk.
They didn’t, but in the morning we had three of them waiting for us at the bottom of the tree. It would’ve been more, but Ripley had already taken care of a couple of them. She was munching on a leg when we woke up.
Our plan to kill them was simple: We dropped our bags on them, starting with the heaviest ones filled with food, like Boden’s duffel bag. That knocked the zombies down, and then Serg and Boden jumped down to finish them off.
Using his hunting knife, Serg cut the head off an older zombie. The bag had knocked the zombie face down, so Serg jumped on its back, then sawed through its neck. It went surprisingly fast, but that was because older zombies had such weak bones.
Boden fought them the old-fashioned way. He stomped one’s head in, then crushed it into the semi-frozen ground. By then, the other one had gotten up and started lumbering toward him. He punched it, then grabbed its head and snapped its neck.
The zombie was still alive, even after that, stumbling confused in a circle. Ripley had just been lying in the lawn, watching them fight, but she got up and pounced on the zombie, finishing off the job Boden had started.
After that, the rest of us climbed down, and we started the day’s walk. Boden was carrying Stella, but she was sound asleep, her cheek pressed against his shoulder.
“Are we ever gonna get far enough north?” I asked him quietly as we walked.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Do you think the cold will really stop them?” I asked. “I mean, it’s spring now, but it’s been winter. It’s been cold and snowy around here until recently. But there’s still zombies.”
“I’ve thought of that, too,” Boden said. “But maybe it’s just not cold enough. There has to be a point where it’s too cold, where they freeze just trying to walk.”